April 05, 2008

That Was an Ugly, Ugly, Ugly Win

OK, SOMEHOW THE Manchester Wolves, my city's minor-league arena football league team, managed to pull out a win against the Mahoning Valley Thunder, on the road, in their first game of the season. The final score was 45-39. The way the game ended, though, I just hope they managed to make it out of Youngstown.

Manchester won on the last play of the game -- or perhaps one ought say Youngstown lost. With 2.7 seconds left and the ball on Manchester's 20 yard line, Mahoning Valley quarterback Josh Swogger threw a pass into the endzone and into the arms of wide receiver DeMarcus Mathes. But Mathes, who was apparently forced to go up for the ball, was juggling it as he went over the endzone wall and did not have control over it as he went out of bounds. That negated the touchdown call that would have tied the game, 45-45. Had the touchdown held up, Mahoning Valley would have then been able to go for the extra point to win -- and although that's not a gimme in arenaball, it was certainly not a position Manchester would liked to have found itself.

But instead of a touchdown call, I heard instead those sweet words from WFEA-AM's announcer: "They’re taking the touchdown away from the Thunder! ... No touchdown! The Wolves win the game!” I shouted for joy at this glorious news. At the same time, Youngstown's coach had what the announcer was calling a conniption fit. The crowd was furious and on the audio feed one could hear their obscene chanting. My video feed wasn't keeping up with the action on the field, but the audio said it all. Manchester wins, Mahoning Valley loses, and the referees gave the Thunder a Youngstown tuneup. Of course, the call was clearly correct and just, but it's pretty tough when you think you're about to win and then discover you lose.

The very good news about this win is that Manchester finds itself on top the af2's American Conference's Eastern Division, above the 1-1 Thunder, the ever-hapless 0-1 Albany Conquest, and the surprisingly 0-1 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers. With WBS in the mix, we need every win we can get.

Still, it was an ugly, ugly, ugly win and I can imagine Wolves coach Danton Barto will run the men ragged in practice this week. Consider: at halftime, Manchester was leading the Thunder 30-22. Yet it took roughly a quarter-and-a-half for the Wolves to get on the board again! The next thing we knew, the Thunder were leading, 36-30, and the game looked very much in jeopardy. We got another touchdown halfway through the fourth, but the Thunder managed to get a field goal with 43 seconds left to regain the lead, 39-37. So then we had to come back and get a touchdown AND a two-point conversion in the final minute of play, and then defend against Mahoning Valley. We escaped by the skin of our teeth.

There were bright spots, of course. The defense played well -- and anytime you can hold an opponent to under 40 points in an arenaball game, you're in pretty good shape. But our offensive line was severely tested, as the Thunder sacked our quarterback FIVE times. Also, the game was sloppy -- I don't know how many penalties the Wolves got called on, but it was a lot, and just like in traditional football, penalties are killer in this game. Most annoying were some personal foul and defensive pass-interference calls -- I mean, come on. You've got to do better than that.

On the flip side, though, it was the first game of the season, and when you have a new group of players working together for the first time, things aren't going to go clockwork every play. That's only to be expected. I am also sure the players realize just how close they came to losing the game, and will thus work even harder when we play our second road game of the season, against the Green Bay Blizzard. In the meantime, a win is a win. I'm going to enjoy it.

IN OTHER AF2 NEWS -- I am really enjoying being able to get the audio feeds from other games, even if my computer is not cooperating with the video. I got to catch the end of the Green Bay-Tennessee Valley game and it was exciting -- Tennessee, down 37-35, recovered an onside kick and then went for a long field goal. It was short, and they lost; but still, not a bad ending.

The top two teams in the league so far this year are clearly the Tulsa Talons and the Spokane Shock, which are crushing their opponents like nobody's business. Spokane beat Stockton 70-12 tonight. 70-12. That's opening up an industrial-sized can of whoopass. As for Tulsa, they easily knocked off Boise, 65-28; again, delivering a beatdown of epic proportions. Generally speaking, if you can beat an opponent by at least three touchdowns, you've handily won the game -- but these differentials, of 58 and 37 points, respectively, far exceed that threshold.

Unfortunately, Manchester must play Tulsa this year at home. We've got plenty of time to prepare for them, but we'll need to be ready when they arrive. As for the Wolves' next game, against Green Bay, that's on Friday at 8:30 p.m. Eastern time.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at April 5, 2008 11:26 PM | TrackBack
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