In a convincing season-opening 67-30 victory over Kansas City on Friday night, the Bismarck Bucks unveiled an offense built around a two-headed, four-legged monster.
Running backs Zavier Steward and Cody Paul ran for a combined 116 yards and four touchdowns as the Bucks outgained the visiting Phantoms 119 to minus-10 on the ground.
Steward, a 5-foot-10, 210-pounder, gained 66 yards and scored twice on 17 carries before leaving the game early in the second half for precautionary reasons.
"I got my ankle rolled on," Steward said.
Paul, a 5-5, 180-pounder, kept up the pace, cranking out 50 yards and two scores on seven carries.
Quarterback Tyler Johnson provided the air arm to the Buck attack, hitting on 14 of 18 passes for 156 yards and four touchdowns.
Steward said the determination to run the ball wasn't a one-time thing cooked up by the coaching staff to exploit a Phantom vulnerability.
"When we came into camp this year coach (Richard Davis) told us he wanted to run the ball. ... We have a pretty good running game between Cody Paul and me," he noted.
Steward isn't used to sharing the load, but said he and Paul, are supportive of one another.
"Everywhere I've been I've been the featured back, and I like it. But I want to see Paul play, too. I like to watch him run," he said.
Paul and Steward both played at Chadron State in Nebraska, Paul following Steward by two years.
While the Buck offense was outgaining the Phantom attack 275-167, the Bismarck defense was little short of outstanding. The Bucks limited the visitors to four scores and 11 first downs on the Event Center turf, forced four fumbles and two turnovers.
The Phantoms used two quarterbacks against the Bucks. Donavan Portorie, who had a brilliant season last year for Duke City in the CIFL, went 5-for-11 for 61 yards and a score before leaving the game with a shoulder injury late in the first half. Trey Cooper came on to hit on 16 of 20 passes for 116 yards and three TDs.
Steward, who played for the Colorado Crush in the Indoor Football League last season, considered two other teams before coming to Bismarck.
"Coach told me he wanted to bring us in and win a championship. I thought that sounded pretty good," he observed.
The Bucks return to Champions Indoor Football League action March 17, visiting Salina, Kan. Kansas City plays host to Omaha, Neb., the same night.