April 18, 2009

Wolves Slap Albany in 74-53 Home Opener Win

OH, YES. FOOTBALL IS BACK! Sure it's indoors; sure it's on a 50-yard field. But football is back -- and winning football, no less. I am pleased to report the Manchester Wolves (2-1) ran roughshod over the hapless Albany Firebirds (0-4) in Manchester tonight, beating Albany by an impressive 74-53 margin in af2 action. A strong second-half performance put the Wolves over the top. Considering how things went last year, when the Wolves started out the season 1-6, this game is a very good omen for the rest of the season.

What's that, you say? But Bennnnnnnnnn. It's Albany! Of course the Wolves beat Albany! Well, I agree there is something to that. Albany may have changed its name, and changed its colors, but they're still Albany. They're still sloppy. They're still prone to committing innumerable penalties, many of them stupid. And they're still not getting the job done.

And one very nice thing about watching Manchester play Albany is that the teams don't like each other very much. I mean, dig this: our kicker got an unnecessary roughness penalty. As a matter of course, I don't approve of those types of penalties, but that's kind of cool. The kicker, stepping up!

But I don't want to take away from the job the Wolves did tonight, for they came out in the second half and opened an industrial-sized can of whoopass on the New York squad. Despite the score, this was not an easy win for the home team; and although it is always fun to beat up on Albany, the upstate squad has gotten better since last year. Perhaps their best player, wide receiver Christian Wise, was a force to be reckoned with. More than once, he made an impressive catch. More than once, he bedeviled our special teams. And he and Albany came out of the gate and delivered a series of blows that had the Wolves rocking back on their feet.

For instance, on the first play of the game, Wise scored a touchdown on a long bomb in which he managed to outrun our defender, defensive back Al Phillips. That was somewhat disconcerting. Things got even more alarming when, after Manchester recovered an on-side kick attempt, Albany's defense managed to sack our quarterback, James Pinkney, on the ensuing drive. One of their players recovered the ball for a quick rush to the endzone. Suddenly, Manchester was down 14-0 and it looked like it would be a long night.

But Manchester didn't give up. Things got off to a good start with our kick returner, T.C. Myers. Myers put in a great performance during the game and I am glad to see him back from last year. Last year, he was a defensive back, but he is fabulous as a kick returner -- good decision, Coach Barto! -- and I think he has real potential to make it to the next level. Myers is quick and fast and small, and all those things make him a difficult target for opponents. On his first run back, Myers brought it out near midfield, and during the game he showed flashes of brilliance. On more than one occasion, he would have racked up six points had he escaped his last adversary, and with time he will improve. He is an asset to the Wolves' squad and the fans like him too.

Anyway, after a quick touchdown pass to wide receiver Emery Sammons, it was 14-6, with a missed extra point. On Albany's next sequence, they weren't able to move the ball -- on one instance, Albany quarterback Adam Bednarik threw the ball straight at the umpire, who was beaned accordingly. After Albany missed a field goal try deep in their own territory -- arenaball's substitute for a punt -- Manchester managed to rack up six points with a throw to wide receiver Steven Savoy. 14-13, Albany.

Albany came back with a quick touchdown on a kick return. One thing that Manchester must work on is its special teams defense, 'cause Albany bedeviled us pretty much the whole night on long kickoffs. On this particular play, Albany ran it out to about midfield, when it appeared Wise fumbled the ball -- only to have it recovered by Albany's Alvin Jackson. Jackson, on the ground, realized he hadn't been touched and the whistle hadn't blown -- so he got up and ran off before Manchester's players knew what happened. Albany 21, Manchester 13. Soon after, Savoy got another TD catch and it was 21-20 at the end of one.

Things settled down in a rather uneventful second quarter, and at half time the score was Albany 30, Manchester 26. Our kicker, Chris Koepplin, would redeem himself in the second half, but he was uneven in the first, going 2-4 on extra points.

For that matter, the whole team redeemed itself in the second half. At the start of the third quarter, Albany was up, 30-26. At the end of the third quarter, Albany was down 50-37. Not only did Manchester's offense run like clockwork, the special teams and defense came through too. At one point, defensive back Antwan Stewart managed to recover a wild kickoff in the endzone for a score, and on the next play, defensive back Brandon Isaac made an interception deep in Albany territory.

They kept it up into the fourth quarter, and eventually it was 60-37. But the fireworks didn't stop there. Stewart again came through with an impressive on-side kick recovery that he ran back into Albany's endzone, throwing six more points on the board. Albany tried to make a comeback, but it was too late, and the coup de grace was delivered at the game's end, when Albany kept calling time outs despite the outcome being all but certain. On the final play of the game, Pinkney delivered a rocket to Savoy in the endzone. The crowd cheered, the extra point was kicked, and the final was 74-53.

So all in all, this was a good game, and Manchester should be pleased with how it performed. But there were clearly things on which the squad must work. From my vantage point, Coach Barto often had a look on his face that indicated he was thinking something along the lines of, "Good grief." The special teams, again, need improving and our pass coverage wasn't as good as one could have hoped.

But I'll say this -- this team is a heck of a lot better than it was last year, and that's a good sign. Last year's squad nearly made it to the Arena Cup game and this year's squad clearly has the potential to do just as well. So the rest of the season will be great fun to watch!

Oh, I nearly forgot. The dance team is back this year. The dance team ... wow. They were almost -- but only almost -- enough to distract me from the game!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at April 18, 2009 11:00 PM | TrackBack
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