GOOOOOOAL! We did it! The Manchester Wolves, the minor-league arena football team which I have been following closely for the past several weeks, won its first playoff game. Now, the team will head on the road to play the No. 1 Florida Firecats or the No. 2 Green Bay Blizzard, depending on how the playoff game between No. 3 Memphis and No. 6 Louisville turns out.
It took the Wolves a while to get things started, but we ended up with a 55-47 win over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers, who managed to blow a two-possession lead in the first half and later had a few “problems with protection,” as Peyton Manning might say. But as it happened, my fourth arena-football game turned out to be the best yet.
Simply put, the game – the actual football being played on the field – was downright thrilling. On WBS’ first drive, their quarterback, Mike Granieri, threw a long bomb to WR William Ferguson in Manchester’s endzone. Ferguson tried to catch it, but unfortunately for him, ran into the back wall of the endzone. The ball came out, bounced off the wall, and went straight into the arms of Manchester DS William Haith, who then ran it back to midfield.
Things like this happened the entire night. But, as I said, it took the Wolves a while to get things started. After Haith’s interception, Manchester turned it over on downs in WBS’ territory, and the Pioneers marched back to score a touchdown. Halfway through the first quarter, it was WBS 7, Manchester nil. A field goal late in the quarter made the score 10 to nothing.
I mean, Manchester started so slow that even the guys with the T-shirt slingshots were having trouble launching the things into the stands. WBS got another field goal early in the second-quarter, and it was now 13-0. This did not bode well.
Manchester got on the board with an impressive Ari Confesor reception, in which the wide receiver broke a tackle and ran into the endzone. But WBS came right back to make it 20-7, after Haith missed a tackle.
But wait! Who’s there to catch the long bomb in tight coverage? That would be WR Wendell Williams, who made a huge catch which then set up a Marc Bacote touchdown reception. A few minutes later, Haith came up big again with a huge interception in the endzone, which set up another long-bomb TD to Williams. Suddenly, there’s two minutes left in the half, and it’s Manchester 21, WBS 20.
Now it really got interesting. On the next drive, WBS found themselves on fourth down near midfield. They tried for a field goal, which their kicker missed. Manchester got the ball back with just 15.9 seconds to go. Manchester drove down the field and tried a field goal, and they missed too! But a holding call on the Wolves gives the ball back to WBS – which then tried to kick another field goal! And that got blocked!
So much for the first half. The tempo kept up in the second half. Deep in their own territory, WBS had no choice but to try a field goal, which was wide. Haith caught the ball off the net and then proceeded to run all the way back down the field for a touchdown. This was just electric. I mean, my God -- it was truly the momentum shifter. Manchester was up 28-20, and wouldn’t give up the lead for the rest of the game.
That said, WBS stayed in it until the very end, something it did not do the last time around. After the Haith runback, the two teams largely played an offensive shootout, in which each drive consisted of a few plays, followed with a passing touchdown. There were some great plays and some great stops, and as the game started to wind down, Manchester had a 55-47 lead over WBS.
WBS had just scored a pretty slick touchdown – a result of a throw off the rebound net – and their kicker, former USC K David Davis, stepped up to kick the PAT. Making the point after touchdown would cut Manchester’s lead to seven, and make it much easier for WBS to tie the game should it again score. HE MISSED IT. It was probably the most important PAT all season, and HE MISSED IT. Unbelievable!
Still, even then, it wasn’t over. Manchester didn’t succeed in scoring or running out the clock, giving WBS the ball back with 15 seconds to spare. The first play was a gadget play which was easily broken up, and the second play – well, it ended with a sack. Manchester won, 55-47, and must now face one of two very good teams.
OK, here’s the recap:
MOST UHF-LIKE MOMENT: I realize that some readers may not have experienced the comedic joy that is “UHF,” the cult-classic movie from “Weird Al” Yankovic. So, thanks to the magic of YouTube, here’s a short scene from the movie – one of the shows aired on the UHF station Weird Al’s character manages.
Heh heh heh. I love that scene. Anyway, this week’s most UHF-like moment was experienced when a little boy in my section triumphantly secured a prize-filled envelope, dropped from the heavens by one of those motorized blimps one often finds at minor-league sporting events.
I have to say the blimp is really clever. People REALLY love the prize blimp; in fact, they love it about as much as they do a home-team touchdown. With good reason, too: it drops prizes like gift certificates to steakhouses and what not. This little boy, meanwhile, was so excited at getting the envelope he didn’t even open it until someone asked what he had won. When he opened it, he discovered it was a buy-one get-one-free pizza coupon. He was thrilled. I was stunned. With all that build up, I was half-expecting a diamond ring inside!
MOST INVENTIVE HECKLER’S REMARK: “Use your hands! Use your hands!” This was directed not at an opposing player, but rather the two families engaged in the giant ice-cream sundae-eating contest on the other side of the arena. The winning family, as it happened, won $40 in gift certificates to a local ice-cream shop.
MOST INEPT PLAY DURING GAME: WBS kicker David Davis shanks a gimme point-after-touchdown at a crucial point in the fourth quarter.
MOST IMPRESSIVE PERFORMANCE: Manchester defensive specialist William Haith hauls in two interceptions and runs a field-goal try back for a touchdown, among other accomplishments. Simply put, he was en fuego. As are the Wolves, at this point. We’ll see how they do next week on the road!