Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Georgia Force wide receiver Larry Shipp (1) catches a touchdown pass over Chicago Rush defensive back Vic Hall (4) during arena football action at The Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth on Saturday.
DULUTH -- After suffering through its most embarrassing performance on the young Arena Football League season, the Georgia Force rebounded with by far their most satisfying against the Chicago Rush.
R.J. Archer threw for six touchdowns, three of which went to Brandon McRae, Mykell Benson ran for two more and the Georgia defense induced five turnovers as the Force handed Chicago its first loss of the season with a 70-49 rout before 3,442 fans Saturday night at The Arena at Gwinnett Center.
It was a welcome answer to last week's humiliating 92-42 defeat handed them by Philadelphia on the same field a week earlier.
"We went back to basics," Force coach Dean Cokinos said minutes after the Force (3-2) maintained its share of the AFL's South Division lead. "We challenged our guys to play fundamental football, stay together and play sixty minutes, and we got an effort from everybody (Saturday) night. We really just changed the environment of our team."
That environment changed with the first possession of the game by a Force defense that had given up the second most points in AFL history a week earlier.
Tracy Belton picked off his AFL-lead sharing fifth interception of the season on the game's second snap to set Georgia up on the Chicago 10.
Three plays later, Jeremy Grier took a handoff from R.J. Archer, found a seam on the left side of the line and dove into the end zone from 2 yards out to give the Force a 7-0 lead just 2:37 after the opening kickoff.
"That's what sparked us (Saturday)," McRae, who has seven receptions for 67 yards and the three scores on the evening, said of Belton's early interception. "We just fed off that."
The Force also fed off several acrobatic catches by McRae, including one that followed the game's second turnover -- an interception by Roland Cola -- which put the Force in prime scoring position again at the Chicago 20.
This time, it took four plays for the Force to cash in when McRae used all of his 6-foot-4 frame to leap high into the air after an Archer fade throw and holding on after falling over the boards for the 5-yard touchdown, extending the Georgia lead to 21-6 with 1:25 left in the first quarter.
"I'm just going out trying to make plays," McRae said. "Coach (Cokinos) just tells us to go out there and make your plays, and that's all I try to do."
The Force made plenty of plays late in the first half, with Archer hitting Larry Shipp with a 30-yard touchdown pass, Mario Norman adding his fifth interception of the season and Benson converting it for a 14-yard reception on a swing pass from archer all in the final 39 seconds of the half to send the Force into halftime with a 49-20 lead.
They seemed in total command when Benson capped the opening drive of the second half with a 9-yard touchdown run for a whopping 56-20 lead with 12:10 left in the third quarter.
However, a huge run of 22 straight Chicago (4-1) points over the final 3:36 of the third quarter got the Rush back into the game.
Russ Michna connected with Jarred Perry and Reggie Gray on scoring passes, a kickoff recovery off the netting by Chicago led to a Kelvin Morris touchdown run and a safety when Xavier Brown sacked Archer in the end zone pulled the Rush to within 56-43 by the end of the third quarter.
But the Force received a big break when another loose ball on a kickoff return hit the sideboards to give them possession deep in their own territory.
And they took advantage when Archer hit Shipp for a 29-yard completion to set up Benson's third scoring run of the game, this time from 5 yards out to push the Georgia lead back to three scores at 63-43 with 11:19 to play.
The Force then put the game away when Broderick Stewart rushed Michna and knocked the ball from his hands, which Caleb Bostic scooped up and returned 33 yards to the Chicago 5 yard-line.
Shipp then took an end around into the end zone on the next snap, and the Force lead was 70-43 with 3:25 remaining.