July 15, 2006

Manchester Wolves Update: They’re Better Than Bad, They’re Good!

TWO WEEKS AGO, your correspondent watched as the Manchester Wolves went down to an ignoble 59-49 defeat at the hands of the Louisville Fire. That put the Wolves, a minor-league arena football franchise here in New Hampshire, in a tough position. Basically, to have any chance at the playoffs, they would need to win their last four games of the season – not an easy task.

Well, they’re halfway towards pulling an improbable, Pittsburgh Steelers-esque comeback towards a playoff berth. Not only did the Wolves beat Green Bay last week in an amazing comeback, they pounded the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers into the astroturf on Friday night, 45-14. No, that’s not a typo: 45-14. Furthermore, the score doesn’t really do justice to how well Manchester played, and how inept Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (“WBS”) proved.

Consider: WBS didn’t manage to score until there were six minutes left on the game clock -- IN THE THIRD QUARTER. How exactly that happens in arena football is beyond me. The field’s only 50 yards long, there are only eight players on each side, and the game is passing-intensive. It’s difficult not to score. Yet WBS pointedly failed to advance the ball, even when Manchester’s endzone was just yards away. I mean, I haven’t seen a football blow-out like this since – well, actually, Cleveland’s 41-0 loss to Pittsburgh last year was worse. But not by much.

True, things started out slow – so slow, in fact, that I wondered if I’d have to award the Lady Wolf Pack Dance Team best performance honors again. You see, Manchester fumbled on the first play of the game, and WBS recovered deep in Manchester territory. Yet WBS failed to convert and turned the ball over on downs. On the next drive, Manchester’s new starting QB, Steve Bellisari, either got hit as he released a pass or the ball got tipped, resulting in an interception. But the interception was voided due to defensive holding!

Manchester was able to drive the ball down to WBS’s one-yard-line, only to screw up a running play which pushed the team back to the WBS 7. Then we missed a field goal try. Then WBS turned it over on downs again. Then, after all that, Manchester WR/DB/KR Steve “Speedy” Gonzalez finally scored a touchdown with roughly four minutes left in the first quarter.

Several WBS turnovers later, it was halftime and Manchester was leading 24-0. My sole thought at this point was: what would happen if Manchester shut out WBS? Would that be some kind of record? Would they drop confetti or launch pyrotechnics? Would WBS’s offensive coordinator get liquidated in some kind of Soviet-style purge? I didn’t know what would happen, but I was hopeful a shutout would take place.

Sadly, WBS scored in the third quarter to make the score 31-7. After some more special-teams and defensive fun, the game concluded at 45-14. A little while later, I was home and blogging; a little while after that, I discovered (via the af2 stats service) the Bossier Battle Wings actually held this year’s af2 season scoring low. The Battle Wings managed to score just three points (!) against the Tulsa Talons, who scored 72 points in their game on Apr. 22.

Anyway, here’s the recap:

MOST UHF-LIKE MOMENT: With only the indeterminate reward of “prizes” awaiting them, four otherwise-normal boys voluntarily moved piles of wood from one large cart to another large cart as part of a contest. It wasn’t clear exactly what the boys won, but it was proof that P.J. O’Rourke wasn’t kidding when he said age and guile beats youth and a bad haircut. This “contest” was so surreal I was expecting the “Log” theme to be played over the public-address system (and speaking of --)

MOST CRINGE-WORTHY PLAY: Late in the game, Manchester WR/LB Wendell Williams was hit with such force that it practically sent him airborne.

MOST INEPT PLAY DURING GAME: A defensive player for WBS decided he would publicly display his own pride and joy after making a crucial stop, yet ignored the fact his team was losing 38-7.

MOST INVENTIVE HECKLER’S REMARK: “If that was holding, he would’ve had to hold the player, not hit him.”

MOST IMPRESSIVE PERFORMANCE: QB Bellisari and WR Williams made for a great team during the game – particularly during one play, in which Bellisari threw a bullet of a pass to Williams, who caught it despite the two defenders in the area. It was a great play which broke any hope WBS had of recovering.

Next week, Manchester plays at Albany (5-8) – and if we win that, we’ll just have to take on the Quad City Steamwheelers (6-7). Although, as we learned this year in the NFL, that last “gimme game” can always turn out more of a challenge than one expects. We’ll see how things turn out!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at July 15, 2006 12:29 AM | TrackBack
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