Nate Davis prepares to throw during the Strike Force
Steven Richardson/ESD
Strike Force nearing first playoff berth after 60-59 win over Knight Hawks
Jonny Richardson - July 06, 2024
Strike Force nearing first playoff berth after 60-59 win over Knight Hawks - Everything San Diego

The Strike Force’s magic number to clinch their first playoff berth in team history is down to one following a 60-59 home victory over the second-place Vegas Knight Hawks.

After winning just six games in their first three seasons, the Strike Force doubled their win total with a 6-10 season in 2023. Now with a 10-5 record and one game left in the season, the Strike Force are just one win or Arizona or Northern Arizona loss away from clinching their first playoff berth in team history.

“It’s a different culture here now,” quarterback Nate Davis said. “It’s not the old San Diego Strike Force. If you’re on our schedule, you have to battle against us.”

It’s a culture that includes major leaders, something the team didn’t have before.

Leaders like Davis. Leaders like offensive lineman Jalen Booth, who head coach Taylor Genuser “freestyled” into his postgame interview to talk about just how much the team’s biggest leaders mean to the team.

“We wouldn’t be here where we are without him and his work ethic and his effort and his love for the city,” Genuser said of Booth. “The reason we are where we are is San Diego-born players like this, and if they’re not San Diego-born players, players like him bring them into the city and do great things.”

Booth returned the favor right after, calling Genuser the best leader.

It’s a culture change that was brought on when Davis joined the Strike Force in the middle of the 2023 season and one that became ever more evident in San Diego’s most successful season yet.

Trailing by four at halftime, San Diego put together a 26-21 second half to beat out Vegas in a one-point game.

Davis tossed three touchdown passes in the second-half effort, defensive back Elijah Belle caught two interceptions and special teams recorded an onside kick recovery.

“We did a hell of a job on defense, stopping them so many times,” Davis said. “On offense, we got stopped a couple of times. We just have to keep on moving, trusting the process.”

Davis finished the night with six touchdown passes on 203 yards. His touchdowns found utility player Rudy Johnson twice and wide receivers Arthur Jackson III, Jordan Kress, Elijah Lilly and Isaih Crocker.

Former Strike Force running back Trevon Van opened the scoring with a rushing touchdown on the first possession of the game. Defensive back Jericho Flowers returned a kick for a touchdown in the first quarter.

Davis threw an interception on San Diego’s second possession of the game that Vegas’ Maurice Jackson returned for 11 yards to the one-yard line. Three plays later, Vegas wide receiver Quent Randolph caught a 12-yard reception for a touchdown that gave the Knight Hawks a two-possession lead in the opening quarter.

Belle’s first interception was caught in the endzone from Vegas quarterback Ja’Rone Johnson and returned for 39 yards. The turnover turned into three points that gave San Diego their first lead of the game.

Kicker Conor Mangan made two field goal attempts and the Strike Force held Vegas without a point in a third quarter where neither team scored a touchdown.

Mangan finished the night with four successful extra-point attempts out of six. Mangan also made 19- and 26-yard field goals.

In addition to their receiving touchdowns, both Lilly and Rudy Johnson also scored a rushing touchdown each.

Ja'Rone Johnson recorded three passing touchdowns and three rushing touchdowns, accounting for six of the Knight Hawks’ eight touchdowns.

Up next: The Strike Force have a bye during Week 18 and will finish the season with the first-place Bay Area Panthers (11-2) on Saturday, July 20, with potential home-field advantage on the line. Kickoff is slated for 6:05 p.m. at Pechanga Arena San Diego.

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