By Matthew Slinn and Hunter Jones
Weekly Recap articles are going to be different this season. Each article will include one ‘feature game’ with the rest of the fixtures covered in less detail, whilst still conveying the story of the game. This allows our Beat Writers more time to diversify the types of articles that are published week to week. With that said, here is our first ‘feature’ game of the season.
SFL Indianapolis @ Houston Hyenas
The SFL’s Indianapolis team have yet to reveal their new brand, however it’s known that they will be moving on from the Red Devils moniker. In their last game as the Red Devils, Indianapolis defeated the Houston Hyenas 17-3 in their preseason game on Sunday.
Before the game, people were looking to see how Indianapolis quarterback T.D. Drew, the seventh selection in the season 12 rookie draft, would perform in his first SFL game. However, the story of the day on offense was second season running back Keith Swearingen. Swearingen finished the game with 30 carries for 130 yards and the only two touchdowns of the game. The first points of the game wouldn’t be scored until the second quarter, when Indianapolis kicker Adam Vinchek knocked through a 33-yard field goal to give Indianapolis a 3-0 lead.
Later in the quarter, Houston was driving down the field, reaching the Indianapolis 7 before Indianapolis linebacker Ryan Wall got an interception off a deflection from cornerback Von Seniuk, forcing the Houston offense off the field with zero points. Swearingen would score on a 61-yard touchdown run on the ensuing Indianapolis drive to push them ahead 10-0. Houston would then drive down the field and kick a 19-yard field goal to close the gap 10-3 before the half ended.
Midway through the third quarter, Swearingen would score the last points of the game with a two-yard touchdown to put Indianapolis ahead 17-3. The ensuing Houston drive would again see Houston drive down the field but unable to come away with any points, when a nine-yard sack on third and long by Indianapolis linebacker James Dunn knocked Houston out of field goal range. Early into the fourth quarter, Houston quarterback Kentez Johnson threw a deep shot to wide receiver Josh Fedd, which was intercepted by Indianapolis strong safety Paul Connoly, Johnson’s third interception of the day.
With Indianapolis scheduled to announce their new brand Tuesday, the Red Devil era will come to an end with a win on the road.
The Best of the Rest
The Season 12 Pre-season week got off to a defensive start, as the Denver Nightwings travelled north to visit the 2-time champion Alaska Storm, actually pulling off a 13-12 victory in a tense nailbiter of a game. Alaska looked to be heading for a familiar victory deep into the 4th quarter, when Josh Miller led his Nightwings on a clutch drive, culminating in a touchdown pass to #1 receiver Jockamo Jones with less that 30 seconds left on the clock. It was the perfect play to cap off a player of the game performance from Jones, who ended with 7 catches for 124 yards and 1 TD. The big concern for the Storm was the lack of production from their new rushing attack, only gaining 16 yards total on the day.
Running the ball proved no issue in the game between the Chicago Wildcats and the Las Vegas Fury, the two teams rushing for 164 and 275 yards respectively. Vegas’ running back Robert Redford gained 8.4 yards per carry and finished the game with 3 touchdowns, showing his desire to move up to that ‘elite’ class of rusher in the SFL. Max Jackson and Anthony Wyo led the way on defense, and JC Torres had a nice game at recevier, proving his worth as Chicago’s #1 guy with a touchdown grab. In the end, this exciting game was decided by a field goal by star kicker, Matt Rage, giving the Fury a 27-24 victory, in overtime.
In another game that was decided by an overtime field goal, the Tallahasee Pride took to the trip west to face the San Francisco Sharks. Dylan Aciel led a nice 4th quarter comeback in his first game for the Sharks, and Matt Burnham made the transistion from tight end to wide receiver look seamless, but the big story of the day was the effectiveness of AJ Francis. The former Carolina star hasn’t missed a step since joining Tallahassee, scoring 3 touchdowns on the day – one receiving – and rushing for over 150 yards. Franco Sonatti and rookie defensive end DD Sachs just couldn’t stop Francis from piercing the line of scrimmage, and it’s no surprise to see Chad Guy at the top of the tackle statistics. The heart shown by the team should encourage San Francisco’s management however, as they look to achieve their first winning season since their inception in Season 10.
We move on to a somewhat surprising result as the Oklahoma City Renegades comprehensively defeated the Vancouver Legion 24-7, a 17-point 2nd quarter the main difference maker for the home team. Oklahoma City’s defence really showed up, holding Tom Pepper to under 150 passing yards and forcing 3 turnovers in the process (1 INT, 2 FF). The pass rush was effective and Brady Clarke snagged the pick, but Day Drewery was the player who really shone. Drewery tormented the Legion’s offence, forcing both fumbles and also chipping in with a sack. Vancouver had a 100 yard game from bell cow Ivan Sanchez, and Mickey Martino impressed in his first game for the franchise, but the visiting squad never really got going. Improvement will be needed before Week 1 hits. Special mention must also go to 3rd year quarterback Deacon Nickens, who threw 3 touchdowns, one to promising rookie, Rich Pratchard.
An absolute shootout took place between the Baltimore Vultures and New Orleans Pharaohs, with both squads scoring more than 30 points, 31-42 being the final. Offense showed up in a big way and over 900 yards was gained during the clash. The contest was tooth and nail for the first half, with Baltimore managing to pull away during the 3rd on the back of 176 yards and 2 TD’s courtesy of T-Roy Gaines, one of the most dangerous backs in the league when he’s in a productive mood. Mike Dazzo also had a great day, throwing 3 scoring passes to three different receivers. As good as their performances were, Deezer Powell had possibly the performance of the week, gaining over 200 yards in receiving aswell as 2 TD’s, one of them on a 70+ yard bomb from Xander Gold. With offences proving to be so dominant, it’s hard to find a defensive standout, although Kaz McFly, Giovanni Bolt and Tank Bennett did what they do best – pick off passes.
There was also a couple of interceptions in the match between the Carolina Skyhawks and the London Knights, Blake Chance and Nathan Blake making big plays for their respective teams. Defenses were completely on top in this one, Carolina adding to their win streak over the Knights with a narrow 13-10 victory. The win can be largely attributed to the efforts of rookie running back, Randy Mercury, as he gained over 100 yards in his first SFL action and scored the Skyhawks’ only touchdown. The other rookie rusher in the game, Reggie Streeter, also has a decent game, hitting the 100 yard mark with some fine carries. William Davidson blitzed the Carolina offensive line and ended up with 2 sacks, pressure which seemed to get to veteren quarterback Mark Biddix who had a fairly poor game. Rob Roby faired slightly better in this dour affair, tossing a late TD to Donnie Hands. Essentially, if you love strong defence, this was the game for you.
Rookie quarterback Ashley Jackson couldn’t have started her career against a tougher secondary, and it showed against the Mexico City Aztecs. Jackson threw a trio of interceptions during the game, 2 to Nick Daggs and a pick 6 to the experienced Fran Ogawa. On the bright side, the young Tulsa Desperados player showed a good rapport with fellow rookie, Garren Malone III, hitting the tight end on a number of passes and even managing to find him in the endzone. Matt Willson had a typically efficient performance and Richard Montague remains ever young, although 2nd year defensive tackle Rhett Sawyer put on a real show of strength, making 2 sacks and 6 tackles for a loss. Its no wonder Ray Bentley had a hard time gaining any traction in this one. Sawyer was a great find for Tulsa last season, and it looks as though he won’t be slowing down anytime soon.
Dallas Lobos brand new star Jacques Luyindula outperformed his opposite number, but his team were unable to claim victory, falling 27-10 to a well-drilled Sioux Falls Sparrows side. The Lobos were simply unable to stop running back Colin Hart from doing what he wanted, as he gashed them for 198 yards and 2 TD’s. The aforementioned Luyindula attempted a response with over 240 passing yards of his own, but 1 scoring play wasn’t enough. Highly touted rookie Zach Sandlin fought through a tough day’s work, although less well known rookie corner John Barnhart fared better. Barnhart was the only new player to join the Sparrows this off-season, and he has big shoes to fill after Chris Dodd’s move to London. The Sparrows will be pleased with their overall play, although Dallas will perform much better offensively than that come Week 1, you can gurantee that.
The Tallahassee Pride took part in their second pre-season match up in quick succession, facing off against the Atlanta Swarm, once again emerging victorious, 28-20. Where AJ Francis was the story of the first game, Christian Christiansen took the headlines of the second. Put this into perspective. ‘Dub-C’ completed 17 passes to Marcus Dunhill’s 31, yet finished the game with only 5 less yards and 4 times as many touchdowns. Old heads Ken Gossett and Boo Chisholm both crossed into the endzone, with Greyson Willis and newcomer Ty Norris also scpring 6-pointers. Defensively, Sir Chappell was everywhere at free safety for Tallahassee whilst Alex Bond pitched in with an interception. That safety combination is going to be lethal for the Pride this season.
The last game on the pre-season schedule was a defensive contest between the Queen City Corsairs and the St. Louis Gladiators. Last year’s whipping boys St. Louis always seem to start the season off hot, so it was no surprise to see them pull put a sneaky 14-10 victory at home. Moody Mitchell (the #1 pick) only completed 10 passes throughout the entire game, although one of them was a scoring toss to pro bowl tight end, Cody Scott. The biggest surprise of the evening was Ash Odom being held to under 4 yards per carry. That simply doesn’t happen to Ash Odom. Despite getting over 100 yards, Odom was never allowed to get going and Ajamu Afolabi and Marquis Reid deserve alot of credit for containing him. Afolabi also showed his improved coverage skills as he intercepted AJ Caswell to help secure St. Louis the victory. Both teams will know improvement is needed before Week 1 kicks off.