Two hometown heroes were a big part of the Kansas City Phantoms’ 61-60 Champions Indoor Football victory over the Bismarck Bucks Saturday night at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena.
Independence police officer Tom Wagstaff, who was shot in the line of duty last year and is making a remarkable recovery, took part in the opening ball ceremony and Truman High School grad O.J. Simpson caught touchdown passes of 5 and 15 yards and added two 2-point conversion receptions to again star for the Phantoms in his last season of professional ball.
But it was an unlikely hero who saved the day for the Phantoms as new kicker Jimmy Kazalski, who missed two of his first three extra point attempts, redeemed himself with a game-winning 20-yard field goal with 6:08 left in the fourth quarter to put the winning points on the scoreboard.
“I just got in town from Nebraska,” said Kazalski, who replaced Dallas Herndon on the roster as Herndon was unable to make a commitment to the team because of his job, “and the night didn’t start very good, but I like how it ended.
“I was bothered by my hamstring the first half, and I had to get it worked on and loosened at the half. I didn’t even play high school football, but played at a small college (State University of New York) and here I am living my dream.
“I want to be a part of this organization as long as they want me. I love this team and the fan support tonight was amazing.”
Kazalski’s heroics were nearly wiped aside by Bismarck quarterback Aaron Aiken, who fired a 43-yard touchdown to Jauhem Byrd with just one second left on the clock, but a Bismarck penalty nullified the touchdown pass and Kansas City’s Thailand Pierce batted away Aiken’s final pass to secure the win.
That final series prompted some classic comment from Phantoms coach Meadow Lemon.
“Do you why I wear a hat at games?” quipped Lemon. “To hide all this gray hair.”
He then removed his Phantoms cap to reveal more than a few gray hairs that were hidden by his cap.
“What did I tell you when we got to town?” he quipped. “I told you we were going to bring an exciting brand of football to the Silverstein Eye Centers Arena. Now, was I telling the truth? What about this game tonight? It was great for the fans, but not so great for the ol’ coach.”
The Phantoms got off to a hot start as quarterback Donovan Portier threw for two of his six touchdown passes in the first quarter and Andre Taylor added a 14-yard run to make it 20-7.
But the Bucks made a second quarter charge and the score was tied 28-all at the half.
“There was no panic in the locker room at the half,” said Simpson, who had 10 receptions for 83 yards and 93 kickoff return yards to pace the Phantoms. “We knew we had to come out and play our game – which is a high-scoring, offensive game - and do everything we could to shut them down.”
Simpson scored on a 5-yard pass and 15-yard pass, added the two 2-point conversions and the 2-5 Phantoms claimed their second home win of the season.
Portier, the leading passer in the CIF League, completed 28 of 42 passes for 260 yards. He also had a 2-yard touchdown run.
“We’re improving every week,” Lemon said, as he signed autographs on the field for fans. “We’re not where we want to be, but we’re getting there. And we want to take every football fan in Independence and the surrounding cities on that journey with us.”