By Mallory Allen
ASHWAUBENON— As the old saying goes, “It’s not how you start that’s important, but how you finish.”
That’s the mantra the Green Bay Blizzard are living by as the team begins to close out its 2023 Indoor Football League (IFL) season, with major playoff implications hanging over their heads.
After a disappointing 2-4 start to the year, the Blizzard have hit their stride on both sides of the ball and climbed their way back into the postseason race.
Now sitting at fifth place in the IFL’s Eastern Conference with a 6-5 record, Green Bay must secure some important wins in their remaining four games in order to sneak into one of the top four spots in the conference and earn a playoff bid, their first since 2019.
One of the keys to Green Bay’s late-season surge has been its offense finding a more consistent tempo.
The Blizzard have notched victories in four of their last five games – including three key wins over conference rivals – and are scoring an average of 57.9 points through their seven previous contests.
Offensive Coordinator Matt Behrendt attributed this to his players ‘clicking’ as a unit and fully recognizing their potential.
“We’ve been in a really nice rhythm as of late. You can just tell the vibes on the offensive side of the ball are a lot different than they were,” Behrendt said. “I knew we had a very talented group from the jump, and once they realized how explosive and dangerous they were, we started seeing instant success.”
Quarterback and Wisconsin native Max Meylor has taken a commanding lead over the Blizzard offense, stepping in flawlessly for the team’s starting QB Ja’rome Johnson, who was placed on short-term IR in mid-May.
In his five games under center, Meylor has scorched the opponents’ defenses both with his arm and his legs, recording 23 total touchdowns (14 passing, nine rushing) and 886 all-purpose yards while throwing only one interception.
Wide receivers Marquise Irvin and Steve Newbold have also been crucial to Green Bay’s recent offensive flourish, providing Meylor with consistently reliable targets on the outside and in the slot.
The pair have combined for 12 touchdowns and more than 400 receiving yards in the past month of the season.
Running back Terrence Smith has proven himself to be a deadly threat in the Blizzard backfield, with 10 of his 18 touchdowns coming in the team’s five latest contests.
Also deserving of credit for all this success is Green Bay’s offensive line, which has been vital in creating holes for Smith and protecting the quarterback, with the line giving up only two sacks so far – the fewest in the league.
However, Behrendt said neither he nor his offense are content to stick with the status quo.
“The best thing about this group is the expectations just continue to grow each week. We need to continue to compete and keep building as we make this end of the season run.”
Just as critical to the Blizzard’s recent playoff push has been high-quality play from its defense.
Through their last five games, Green Bay has held its opponents to scoring just under 10 fewer points per game, on average, in comparison to the first six games of their season.
Making big defensive stops, especially on third and fourth downs, is an area where the team has seen major improvement.
Second-year veterans Trévon Claybourne and Shawn Steele II, along with rookie standout Ravarius Rivers, have stepped up to provide a commanding presence in the Blizzard secondary, with this trio of defensive backs leading the team in tackles.
“We’ve had less mental errors [lately] on the back end in the secondary,” said Head Coach Corey Roberson. “They’ve been able to grasp an understanding of what we’re trying to do. It just took them a little longer to get there.”
As a whole, the Blizzard defensive unit has seemed to find its groove through the last five games with an almost back-to-the-basics approach – making more stops, putting more pressure on the opposing quarterbacks and forcing more turnovers.
“Linebacker play has been much better as well,” Roberson continued, acknowledging the renewed energy Allaah Sessions – a second-year playmaker who re-signed with the Blizzard midway through this season – has brought the defense.
“Our defensive line is playing together instead of as individuals. Everyone is believing, and it shows.”
Green Bay will close out its regular season with four games on the road, including all-important conference match-ups versus the Sioux Falls Storm (6/23), Tulsa Oilers (7/1), and Quad Cities Steamwheelers (7/8) before their season finale against the Tucson Sugar Skulls (7/15).
In order to secure a playoff bid, the Blizzard – who are currently in fifth place in the Eastern Conference – must move up at least one spot into the top four.
Roberson’s message to his team as they fight for the chance to compete for a United Bowl Championship in Las Vegas on August 5, is simple: keep getting a little better every day.
“We need to continue to focus on us. Control the controllable, and that’s making our team better each day. Focus on going 1-0 every day, at every practice, every week,” Roberson said. “If we take care of us, everything else will play itself out.”