July 14, 2007

Bobblehead Doll, Good. Hard-Fought Victory, Better!

AFTER A QUARTER OR SO OF PLAY during tonight's minor-league arena football game between the Manchester Wolves and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers, I thought for sure writing tonight's synopsis was going to be simple. In fact, the way things were going, I didn't think I was going to have to write anything. I could simply allow Jim Mora to do the talking for me:

But when the game was over, I realized that using Mr Mora's famed analysis wasn't going to be a proper fit. Much to my surprise and joy, the Wolves managed to fight back from a 21-0 deficit AND BEAT THE UNDEFEATED PIONEERS by a score of 49-46. God knows it was close, and the Pioneers nearly managed to snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat, but Manchester held on and WE WON.

I still can't believe we managed to pull it off. The first half of the game showed just how scarily good the Pioneers -- who came into the game 13-0 -- can be when they're firing on all cylinders. Their offense was tight and efficient; their defense was spot on as well. After a ruthless opening drive to make the score 7-0, the Pioneers managed to intercept tipped balls on the Wolves' next two possessions. Suddenly, it's 21-0 and I'm wondering if we'll manage to score before halftime.

But something happened along the way -- Manchester started regaining its confidence and its defense began to click. By halftime it was 31-21, and Manchester's defense kept fighting. Suddenly, our boys are up 35-31 in the third quarter and soon after made it 42-31. But the Pioneers weren't done yet, and they managed to claw back within three points in the waning moments of the fourth quarter. This was an even more impressive accomplishment when you consider some of the great plays our defense made. DB Travis Pugh, for instance, somehow managed to strip the ball from a Pioneer receiver as he was heading for the endzone, and Manchester recovered the ball in the endzone. For Mr Pugh, it was a punishing play and he was down on the turf for several minutes, but he was able to recover. That was just one of two fumbles he forced this evening.

Up 49-46 with about a minute to play in the fourth quarter, it looked as if Manchester was about to put the game away -- but then, the Pioneers again intercepted the ball on a short pass bound for the endzone. Oh, woe. Oh, calamity. It's Jerome Bettis' fumble on a smaller stage. One minute to go and the Pioneers have the ball and it looked as if they would both score and run out the clock, leaving Manchester no time to get the go-ahead touchdown.

But the Pioneers came up eight yards short. On their first two downs in our red zone, the Pioneers' passes were broken up, and on the third down -- with 9.1 seconds to go -- our defensive line overpowered the Pioneers and quickly took down quarterback Ryan Vena for a sack. With no time outs left, that was that -- and the fans in the stand went wild.

Although, they had been pretty wild all night. I don't think I've ever been to a Wolves game where the crowd was so loud and so boisterous and so into the game. Hell, we even got an honest-to-God wave going, amidst the shouting and cheering for our defense. It was just fun. Plus, I even got this sweet bobblehead doll of the Wolves' mascot, Blitz, which is now perched on the top shelf of my computer desk. That's like some kind of bonus.

I must admit that part of me feels as if I should claim at least some of the credit for the Wolves' win tonight, through my very presence in the stands. You see, this now makes the tenth arena-football game in a row I've attended in which the home team has won -- a streak which has lasted for more than a year. That not only includes one af2 playoff game, it includes a big-league AFL game I saw on my May vacation, in which the lowly Grand Rapids Rampage shocked the much better Colorado Crush.

I think all can agree, though, that that would be a bit silly. Manchester earned this win and earned it playing hard and smart. Both sides played their guts out -- the match was so intense that one Pioneer player even started throwing up on the field. (This, I did not need to see). Both sides also proved something important tonight.

The Pioneers proved that if one had to pick a single team to win this year's ArenaCup, they would be an awfully good choice. The Wolves proved that they can play with the league's best teams and beat them -- something that will come important come playoff time. Hopefully, we'll play at least one of those playoff games at home.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at July 14, 2007 12:07 AM | TrackBack
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