June 06, 2008

The Game I Wish My Folks Had Seen in Cleveland

FOUR-and-SIX! FOUR-and-SIX!

Admittedly, the Manchester Wolves' four-and-six record may not seem a lot to cheer about. It is, however, something to cheer about when you consider the following:

* The Wolves have won three games in a row.
* Two of these victories have come against some of the af2's best teams: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (which was 7-1 when we played them) and Florida (which was 8-1 prior to tonight's game).
* The Wolves' defensive play has contributed mightily to these victories.

The progress the Wolves, my city's minor-league arena football team, have made in the last few weeks is nothing short of stunning. I don't know what they did to bring it about, but they finally got things moving all ahead full. Tonight's game against the Florida Firecats was proof positive of how well the team is playing.

We beat Florida by the resounding score of 47-35 this evening. As Loyal Rant Readers know, when your arenaball team holds an opponent to under 40 points, your defense is playing awfully well, and when they hold them to under 30, it's usually a rout. Although tonight's game didn't turn into a rout, it certainly had the potential to have gone that way, given the play of our defense.

To be sure, things weren't perfect: two of Florida's touchdowns resulted from what can charitably be called "blown" pass coverage. I expect our coach will put the players through hell this week as a result, as it is difficult to defend pass plays when your nearest player is several yards from the opposing team's open receiver. But aside from that, the defensive play was brilliant, particularly that of our defensive line, which punished Florida's quarterback severely. The man had to throw the ball away several times under pressure, was sacked at crucial moments, and near the end, as Florida was trying to gain a score that would have put them back in the game, defensive lineman Joe Crear forced a fumble -- which we promptly scooped up. Beautiful. Also beautiful: two goal-line stands that kept Florida out of the endzone and resulted in turnovers on downs.

Then there's the offense, which performed amazingly well. Aside from one unfortunate turnover -- a fumble after a reception -- the offense was unstoppable. Although our 47 points may seem a bit low for an unstoppable performance, don't let it fool you -- that was simply a function of Florida's drives taking long, not Manchester failing to score. We scored right out of the gate and didn't look back, and some of the scoring plays were downright brilliant. My favorite play? Well, our quarterback, James Pinkney, threw a bullet at our star ironman* wide receiver/ linebacker, Bradly Chavez, and as Chavez went for the ball it touched off its fingertips. It flew into the endzone, where one of our other ironmen, wide receiver/defensive back Steven Savoy, caught it. The crowd went wild. Chavez was on the ground, lying on his back, bemoaning the lost catch -- and then he realized it was a touchdown. He too started clapping.

Chavez, who has fast become a fan favorite, made some impressive plays himself. The most impressive was a long touchdown pass which he caught in the endzone and managed to hang onto, despite ramming into the dasher boards and flying out of the endzone -- along with the defender. But he had possession in the field of play, and the touchdown stood.

Simply put, this is the type of game I wished my folks had seen in Cleveland last week, when the Cleveland Gladiators of the Arena Football League -- the big league -- played the Dallas Desperadoes. Tonight, the officiating was nearly impeccable (perhaps entirely so), there was plenty of defense, and the crowd was very much into it. Very very much into it. I also thought the announcers, as I've noted before, again handled the crowd brilliantly. It's amazing how the sight of the "Noisemeter" on the jumbotron can whip people into a frenzy.

In summary, although the Wolves are now 4-6 and are presently ranked ninth in the conference -- meaning they're one spot out of playoff contention -- this is a team I really feel good about. The best part is that the hard part of the schedule is now pretty much over.

We have six games left in the season. Two of these are against the pathetic Mahoning Valley Thunder, which at 2-8 are yet again proof that Youngstown, Ohio, can't get a break to save its life. Two of these games are against the Albany Conquest, which is not a bad squad, but one that has hit a rough patch and can be beaten. We have one game to play against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton -- which we know we can beat, although it won't be easy -- and our final game is against the Corpus Christi Sharks, which is an average squad.

It is likely we will win four of these games. It is certainly possible we could win all six. If we go 8-8 we have a good shot at the playoffs and at 10-6 we would almost certainly make it into the post-season. That would rule. It would especially rule because I'm feeling good things about this team. This is a team that is rising at the right time, and a team that seems to have that special spark about it. Whether they'll be like the glorious Pittsburgh Steelers of 2005 remains to be seen, but they certainly seem to have that potential.

There's even more reason for arenaball fans to be excited about next year. One does not want to get ahead of oneself, but it would appear we're due to get some new teams into the league in 2009. This would rule. If one looks at the Wikipedia page for the league -- gotta love the wiki -- and delves into the source material, it seems very likely we'll have teams in Buffalo and Milwaukee; quite likely we'll have a team in Alberquerque; somewhat likely we'll have a team playing in Mississippi (we'll see if they can find a venue for 2009) and potentially -- as in, there's an outside chance -- teams in Yakima, Wash., and Saskatoon, Sask.

Dude. Yakima? Saskatoon? I am so there -- so frickin' there. God, please let this happen.

In the meantime, though, hats off to the Wolves for another excellent performance.

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* In arena football, an "ironman" plays both offense and defense.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at June 6, 2008 11:45 PM | TrackBack
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