AUGUST 5, 2010

AIFA Founder John Morris (left) presents the AIFA national championship trophy to Chris Simpson, Baltimore Mariners’ Head Coach and 1981 Orofino High School graduate.

Orofino graduate leads team to national title

   When former Orofino High School football All-American and All-State performer Chris Simpson stated his goals for the 2010 season he kept it simple: “Our goal, and statement, was simply; win the AIFA Championship. Anything less for us would have been a disappointment.”

   Little did the Baltimore Mariners Head Coach know how emphatically his team would reach that goal. Playing in front of a record crowd of 6,075, Simpson’s Mariners defeated the Wyoming Cavalry 57-42 to take the American Indoor Football Association’s (AIFA) national championship. In doing so, the 16-0 Mariners completed an amazing run, which saw them set records on all sides of the ball and also become one of the elite few in American professional football to complete a season as undefeated champions.

   The Mariners’ journey to a perfect 2010 season started March 6 on the road against their I-83 rivals, the Harrisburg Stampede. With the Mariners clinging to a 55-48 lead with 2:33 left in the game former Stampede player and new Mariner Jermaine Thaxton picked off a Kelvin Robinson pass at the Baltimore one to secure the Mariners’ victory.

   Baltimore then returned home for a successful three-game home stand to finish out their March schedule. They started off with a 61-23 win over the New Jersey Revolution, next came a resounding 59-0 win over the Fayetteville Guard; the first shutout in AIFA history, and they completed the three game sweep of the home stand with a 49-45 win over the Richmond Raiders, a victory preserved with a goal line stop with 54 seconds on the clock.

Coach Chris Simpson and members of his Baltimore Mariners team proudly display their championship trophy.   As the Mariners prepared for five of six games on the road Head Coach Chris Simpson, a 1981 Orofino graduated, noted, “We must win on the road to establish ourselves atop the East. We must control our own fate. What other teams do versus another team cannot be our concern. To be a championship caliber team, you have to prove it on the road.”

   Like the three games at 1st Mariner, the Mariners started their road trip with a win over the Revolution, 61-27. Next was a resounding win over the defending AIFA champions, the Reading Express, 51-27 in Pennsylvania. Then another record breaking performance as the Mariners toppled the Guard 91-19 and tied a league record for most points in a half (59) and also set a new Mariners’ record with 91 points in a game.

   The Mariners returned to Baltimore for a one-game home stand on May 2 and again proved they were the team to beat in the Eastern Conference by halting the Harrisburg Stampede 51-17.

   With an 8-0 record in hand the Mariners hit the road again for a two-game trip in which the defeated the Guard for the third time in the 2010 season, 63-34, and then with a convincing 57-39 victory over the Richmond Raiders they ran their record to 10-0 and clinched the team’s second straight playoff berth.

   In a key match-up against the Erie Storm, back at 1st Mariner Arena, the Mariners grabbed six interceptions and stopped the Storm 51-34. The win also secured the Eastern Conference regular season championship for the Mariners and an all-important first round bye.

   Next the Mariners headed to Erie for one final away game. With six lead changes, the Mariners and Storm took part in arguably one of the AIFA’s most intense games of the season. Following a kickoff out of the end zone, Baltimore took possession on their 20. Coach Simpson called for veteran kicker J.R. Cipra, and as time expired Cipra’s 47-yard kick sailed through the uprights for a 39-37 Baltimore win and the Mariners’ unbeaten streak would continue.

   After the nail-biter against Erie the Mariners offense re-grouped and pounded the 0-13 New Jersey Revolution 84-6 at 1st Mariner and set a new team margin of victory record. With one game left on the regular season schedule the Mariners sought to become the first team in AIFA history to finish a regular season unbeaten. Their final opponent of the season, the Express, was playing for their playoff lives needing a win over the Mariners to clinch the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot.

   After a tight first quarter, in which the Mariners led 7-5, Baltimore blew the game open in the second period and went on to win 69-35 and secured the first undefeated regular season in league history.

   On July 10 the 12-3 Stampede came to Baltimore for the AIFA Eastern Conference Championship. Despite Baltimore leading the series four game to one, four of the contests had been tight and most expected another tough battle for the Eastern title. The Mariners quickly put those notions to rest as they jumped to a 40-7 halftime lead and went on to cruise to a 63-15 win.

   On Sunday, July 25 with former Baltimore Colts great and Hall of Fame legend Lenny Moore acting as the Mariners’ honorary captain, including an introduction with the team, a record crowd of 6,075 in attendance at 1st Mariner Arena were quickly on their feet. Just 6:58 into the national championship game they were stunned as the Cavalry quickly jumped to a 16-0 lead.

   Like they had all season the Mariners battled back and had whittled the lead to 24-17 by halftime and with a dominating third period, in which they outscored the Cavs 22-6, the Mariners held a 39-30 lead at the end of the third quarter. Refusing to give way to the Mariners, Wyoming also battled back, and with just 7:09 left in the game the scoreboard read Baltimore 43 Wyoming 42.

   For the sixteenth straight time the Mariners pulled away from their opponent with a two touchdowns and two interceptions of Wyoming in the final 4:35 of play and secured the 57-42 win for the Mariners.

   Coach Simpson commented, “When you have several individuals fight and sacrifice for one common goal, it is amazing what we were able to accomplish. To win the championship is one thing. To do it without a blemish on our record is entirely different. There are not many teams out there at any level of professional sports that have done that.”

   With their victory the Mariners clinched the first championship in the team’s brief three-year history, became the first team in AIFA annals to finish a season as undefeated champions, and became only the ninth team in over 170 seasons of American professional arena, indoor and outdoor football history to complete a perfect championship season.

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