The Arena Audit: Week 1
Weekly recap of the last seven days in the AFL
The 28th season of the Arena Football League kicked off this weekend with a handful of old faces in new places, new faces in old places, and more of the same old same old.
Six games spanning from Friday to Monday nights saw blowouts, nail biters, and a couple standout performances.
We started the 2015 season in Tampa as the Storm played hosts to the defending American Conference champion Cleveland Gladiators. Tampa Bay turned the ball over four times and were unable to dig their way out of an early 25-7 hole when Joe Phinisee recovered a fumble in the endzone just 85 seconds into the second quarter. Storm quarterback Jason Boltus threw for 383 yards and six touchdowns in his first start in Tampa Bay, and at one point had pulled the Cleveland lead back to within four points at 25-21 in the final minute of the first half, but the Gladiators scored on three consecutive possessions to open the game back up and never look back en route to a 60-44 road victory.
The late game Friday night saw 2nd year franchises face off at the Moda Center in Portland as the Los Angeles KISS squared off against the Thunder. Last year in their first season in existence, these two teams went a combine 8-28, with the KISS taking two of three head to head. New KISS quarterback Adrian McPherson showed flashes that we’ve seen for each of his six AFL seasons, throwing for four touchdowns and rushing for another, but it was another veteran Kyle Rowley who led his team to victory. Rowley tossed three touchdowns to Jamar Howard, including a 23 yard strike that pushed the Portland lead to double digits with 6:18 left in the contest. The Thunder held on to win 42-37 to earn their first win of the 2015 campaign.
Saturday threw the league for a bit of loop as the New Orleans VooDoo jumped out to a 20-0 first quarter lead over Jacksonville and former league MVP Tommy Grady. The Sharks were a trendy pick to win the American Conference with all of their acquired talent, but they did not manage to fire out of the gates. Grady threw five touchdowns, all to Joe Hills, including one from six yards out to tie the contest at 44-44 less than a minute into the fourth quarter. Derrick Ross scored a go ahead score on a six yard run to give the Sharks a six point lead, but Jacksonville kicker Fabrizio Scaccia missed the extra point, and that kick would loom huge in the end. New Orleans regained the lead when Carlise Franklin scored on an end around on fourth and goal from the one yard line, Garrett Lindholm punched thru the extra point to take a 51-50 lead with just over two minutes remaining. The VooDoo held on stopping Jacksonville on downs in the games final seconds to hold on to the upset win.
The three time defending Arena Bowl champion Arizona Rattlers began their quest for an unprecedented fourth consecutive title at home against Spokane. The Rattlers hadn’t lost a home games since July of 2013, and weren’t about to ruin that streak Saturday. Spokane actually held a pair of first quarter leads, but after Shock quarterback Carson Coffman exited the game with a knee injury on the final play of the first half, Arizona clamped down and cruised to a solid victory to start the season by beating Spokane 60-43. Shock wide receiver Mike Washington posted 10 catches for 152 yards and 3 touchdowns in the loss.
Onto Sunday where perennial championship contenders Philadelphia Soul traveled to Orlando riding a seven game winning streak against the Predators. Soul quarterback Dan Raudabaugh tossed eight touchdowns while posting 422 yards thru the air, three each going to the newly acquired Marko Thomas and Ryan McDaniel, who hauled in the game winning touchdown while laying on his back in the endzone with twelve seconds remaining in the game. Predators quarterback Randy Hippeard completed 20 of 25 passes and threw eight touchdowns in the loss, three of those to AFL veteran Larry Brackins. Brackins only caught three passes on the day for 41 yards, and all of them ended in points.
Monday night brought the debut of the AFL’s newest team, the Las Vegas Outlaws. Like most expansion teams the Outlaws were baptized by fire in a crushing blowout loss to San Jose, as the Sabercats jumped out to a 21-0 first quarter lead en route to a monster 59-41 win. Despite the very slow start, the Outlaws clawed back into the ballgame thanks in large part to the play of WR Tyson Poots, who led all receivers with seven catches for 123 yards and 3 touchdowns.