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2004 ArenaCup game preview

August 26, 2004 - arenafootball2 (af2)

Friday's ArenaCup 2004 Championship game will feature a rematch of the 2002 postseason classic, but this time the National Conference Champion Peoria Pirates (12-7) will be on the road traveling down to the American Conference Champion Florida Firecats (13-6).

The game's main focus will be on the defensive play of each team, both finished the regular season ranked number one and two respectively and both have held their opponents to low scores in the playoffs.

The American Conference, who is still in search of their first ArenaCup victory in five years, will rest their hands in the league's top defense in terms of yards allowed. The Firecats allowed their opponents only 207.9 yards per game during the regular season and have held their opponents to 40.7 points this postseason. They Pirates also bring in a tough defense of their own ranking second in the league during the regular season allowing their opponents only 225.5 yards per game and they are first in points allowed, sparing a measly 37.5 points per game during the regular season.

The key to the championship game could be the ability to find the end zone early for both teams. With stellar defensive units on each side of the ball a quick scoring first half for either team could prove to be vital in the end.

The Florida Firecats are led by 2nd year veteran quarterback KEN MASTROLE (6-3, 245 Rhode Island). In three playoff appearances this year Mastrole has completed 59-of-94 passes for 733 yards, four interceptions and 15 TDs. He enters this weekends contest with a 108.03 passer rating and has completed 62.1 percent of his passes. Mastrole likes to distribute the ball pretty evenly to his receiving corps, but his main target this postseason has been offensive specialist MAGIC BENTON (6-0, 197, Miami). Benton who has participated in all of the Firecats playoff games has grabbed 23 receptions for 308 yards and six touchdowns.

Defensively the Firecats are led by af2 American Conference First Team defensive specialist QUINCY SORRELL (5-11, 198, Nicholls State) who has tallied 14 tackles (11-solo), one interception, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Their front three has posted three sacks for a loss of 14 yards, while the remainder of the secondary has recorded 13 pass deflections and one interception.

Rookie ANDREW WEBB (6-2, 192, Fort Lewis) will be under center for the Peoria Pirates this weekend. Webb has tallied 549 yards on 41-of-72 passing with eight TDs and two interceptions. Webb enjoys having the luxury of a well-rounded receiving corps; his go-to receiver this weekend will be BRANDON CAMPBELL (5-10, 180, Eastern Michigan). Campbell has hauled in 14 receptions for 211 yards and two touchdowns through three games this postseason.

The ground attack will be speared by rookie fullback CASEY URLACHER (6-0, 240, Lake Forest). In three playoff games this season Urlacher has gained 81 yards on 18 carries. During the regular season he racked up 253 yards and 15 TDs on 84 carries. The Pirates rely heavily on Urlacher to get things going.

The Pirates secondary is led by veteran defensive specialist FRANK WEST (5-11, 185, Illinois State) who has recorded 20 tackles (19-solo), interception and two pass deflections this postseason.

---Below is a position-by-position breakdown---

HEAD COACH vs. HEAD COACH

Firecats head coach Ben Bennett vs. Pirates head coach Bruce Cowdrey

Each teams backbone is definitely their head coaches. Bruce Cowdrey for the Peoria Pirates already has a ring on his finger from the 2002 season, while Ben Bennett will try to win his first championship. Cowdrey enters Friday nights contest with a perfect 7-0 post-season record and is regarded by most as one of the premier head coaches in the league. Bennett also brings a winning record to the table in postseason play; he is currently 3-1 and is riding an emotional win last weekend against the top seeded Wilkes/Barre Scranton Pioneers. The climax of the game could very well be who holds the ball on the final drive, which will emphasize the importance of ball control.

Peoria

Bruce Cowdrey - (29-23) regular season, (7-0) post-season

Florida

Ben Bennett - (30-18) regular season, (3-1) post-season

QUARTERBACKS vs. QUARTERBACKS

Peoria quarterbacks Andrew Webb, Talmadge Hall and Bill Whittemore vs. Florida quarterback Ken Mastrole and Chris Wallace

Key Match-up: Peoria QB Andrew Webb vs. Florida QB Ken Mastrole

Peoria quarterback Andrew Webb and Florida quarterback Ken Mastrole each has two similar characteristics in their game. They both have a lot of heart and they each have the ability to lead their respective team to victory. While Mastrole has two years of experience under his belt, Webb is finishing out his rookie season in a stylish fashion. Neither quarterback has seemed to be rattled by pressure and each quarterback appears to feed off of the adrenaline.

With each team possessing a stellar defense the outcome of the game could come down to the ability of each quarterback being able to put their team in a scoring position. The Pirates finished the regular season ranked 20th in the league in red-zone offense with a 67.8 scoring percentage while, the Firecats finished 2nd best in the league with an 80.5 scoring percentage. If either team is to be successful on Friday night red-zone offense will be key.

Pocket protection will also factor into each quarterbacks ability to throw the deep ball, though each quarterback possess a strong arm, pressure from the front three of each team can force bad throws which can lead to turnovers. Florida's Mastrole has been picked off four times on 59-of-95 passing this post-season, while Peoria's Webb has thrown two interceptions on 41-of-72 passing.

Peoria

#11 Andrew Webb 6-2, 192 (Fort Lewis) - Playing in his first af2 season, Webb was given the starting job on 7/24/04. In his first career start against the Birmingham Steeldogs, he completed 24-of-29 passes for 198 yards four TDs and one interception. Webb never looked back and has held onto the starting position throughout the postseason. In three games during the playoffs Webb has amassed 549 yards, eight TDs and two interceptions on 41-of-72 passing.

#8 Talmadge Hill 6-0, 195 (Ball State) - Playing in his first af2 season, Hill appeared in nine games during the regular season for the Pirates completing 85-of-163 passes for 1,096 yards, 18 TDs and eight interceptions. Hill was selected as Baby Ruth Real Deal Offensive Player of the Game for his performances in the 6/12/04 and the 6/19/04 game against Louisville. He has appeared in all three playoff games this year for the Pirates and has completed 6-of-13 passes for 108 yards and one touchdown.

#4 Bill Whittemore 6-0, 200 (Kansas) - Playing in his first af2 season, Whittemore has yet to see the field yet serving as the teams emergency third quarterback.

Florida

#12 Ken Mastrole 6-3, 245 (Rhode Island) - Playing in his third af2 season, Mastrole has seen the quarterback position from every level of the game. In 2001 Mastrole began his professional career with the Firecats throwing for 2,425 yards, 48 TDs and 12 interceptions on 206-of-385 passing. Following the 2001 season Mastrole signed with the Chicago Bears of the NFL on Jan. 9 and was allocated to the Amsterdam Admirals of NFL Europe where he completed 12-of-28 passes for 147 yards and one touchdown. He returned to the Bears and completed 9-of-19 passes for 127 yards and a TD pass in three preseason games before being released. He would then return back to the Firecats in '03 where he amassed 2,284 yards and 55 touchdowns on 198-of-326 passing. Prior to the start of the '04 af2 season Mastrole spent time on the Detroit Fury and the Dallas Desperados roster. Through three playoff games this season Mastrole has tossed 15 TDs and four interceptions on 59-of-95 passing for 733 yards.

#2 Chris Wallace 6-0, 215 (Toledo) - Playing in his fourth season in the af2 and first with the Florida Firecas, Wallace has proved to be an excellent back-up to Mastrole appearing in 13 games during the regular season completing 92-of-149 passes for 29 touchdowns and five interceptions. Wallace spent the past two seasons with the Norfolk Nighthawks and the Carolina Rhinos in 2000. He has yet to record and statistics this post-seaosn.

FULLBACKS vs. LINEBACKERS

Firecats fullbacks Steve Gorrie and Chris Morant vs. Pirates linebackers Larry Henderson, Tony Pryor, Chris Robinson, Enoch Smith and Casey Urlacher

At the fullback/linebacker position each teams seems pretty evenly matched. Both teams rely heavily on the running game as the combination of Steve Gorrie and Chris Morant have combined for 684 yards and 26 touchdowns on 165 carries for the Florida, while Casey Urlacher for Peoria has carried the rushing attack for the Pirates all season long racking up 15 TDs and 253 yards on 84 carries during the regular season. In order for each team to be successful Friday night the run game must slow the tempo down of the game.

Defensively each team linebackers bring a different style of play to the table. All of the "jack" linebackers have done an excellent job of covering the box as well as reading the run. At the "mac" linebacker each team equally matches up leading to the number one and number two defense in the league.

Key Match-up: Florida FB Steve Gorrie vs. Peoria LB Casey Urlacher

Peoria

#30 Tony Pryor 6-1, 240 (Indiana State) - Playing in his second af2 season and second season with head coach Bruce Cowdrey, Pryor is the only FB/LB with experience. His experience and knowledge of the game has helped progress rookies like Casey Urlacher, Chris Robinson and Enoch Smith. Pryor has amassed 40 yards and one touchdown on 14 carries this season, while on defense he tallied 37.5 tackles (27-solo), one assisted sack, four pass deflections and one fumble recovery.

#35 Enoch Smith 6-1, 240 (South West Missouri State) - Playing in his first af2 season, Smith appeared in all but two games this year for the Pirates. He carried the ball once for ten yards offensively, and tallied 16.5 tackles, 5.5 sacks and one pass deflection defensively.

#40 Chris Robinson 6-3, 260 (New Hampshire) - Playing in his first af2 season, Robinson helped out offensive with the ground game rushing for 29 yards and 2 TDs on 10 carries in nine games this season. On the defensive side of the ball, Robinson recorded 14 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 interceptions and two pass deflections.

#45 Casey Urlacher 6-0, 240 (Lake Forest) - Playing in his first af2 season, Urlacher has been a leader for the Pirates on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. During the regular season Urlacher recorded 253 yards and 15 TDs on 84 carries. He set two single season rushing records for the Pirates with most rushing TDs and most yards and set a franchise career record for most rushing yards. Defensively Urlacher tallied 37 tackles (28-solo), 3.5 sacks, one pass deflection and two forced fumbles.

Florida

#34 Steve Gorrie 6-0, 240 (Presbyterian) - Playing in his first af2 season, Gorrie is no rookie to the arena game. Gorrie spent two seasons (2000-01) with the Florida Bobcats of the Arena Football League. In two seasons with the Bobcats he gained 94 yards and 5 TDs on 26 carries and grabbed nine receptions for 89 yards and one touchdown. Defensively Gorrie tallied 21.5 tackles, 2 pass deflections and one forced fumble. This season for the Firecats, Gorrie set a franchise record for most rushing yards in a season with 500 on 110 carries to go along with his 17 TDs. Defensively he recorded 22.5 tackles, five pass deflections, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

#8 Chris Morant 6-0, 248 (James Madison) - Playing in his second af2 season, Morant has split the rushing duties with Steve Gorrie. During the regular season Morant tallied 184 yards and nine TDs on 55 carries to go along with his 39 tackles and four sacks on defense. Prior to joining the Firecats this season, Morant spent the 2003 season with the Norfolk Nighthawks where he tallied 42 yards and four TDs on 15 carries offensively and 52 tackles and four sacks defensively. WIDE RECEIVERS vs. DEFENSIVE BACKS

Peoria's wide receivers Lawrence Matthews, Brandon Campbell, and Milton Bowen vs. Brent Burnside, Ethenic Sands

This group helps take the pressure off of the running game for both teams and helps to open up the defense throughout the course of the game. For Peoria, this is a group that has led them to the end zone time and time again all season long.

Key Match-up: Peoria WR Lawrence Matthews vs. Florida DS Desmond Washington

Peoria

#19 Lawrence Matthews 6-3, 181 (Western Illinois) - Playing in his first af2 season, Matthews led the Pirates in receiving with 64 catches for 789 yards and ten touchdowns. Defensively, he added 19.5 tackles, three interceptions, and three pass defenses on the year. Four times this season, Matthews was named the Baby Ruth Real Deal Offensive Player of the Game and was named the U.S. Army Ironman of the Game three times.

#1 Brandon Campbell 5-10, 180 (Eastern Michigan) - Playing in his second af2 season with the Pirates, Campbell finished the 2004 season third on the team in receiving with 36 catches for 458 yards and eight touchdowns. Two weeks ago versus Bakersfield Campbell was named the Baby Ruth Real Deal Offensive Player of the Game for his performance. In that game, Campbell had seven catches for 105 yards and one touchdown. During the 2004 season, Campbell added 53.5 tackles; three interceptions and eleven pass defenses on the defensive side of the ball.

#18 Milton Bowen 6-2, 205 (Miami-OH) - Playing in his first af2 season this year. Bowen caught 15 passes for 152 yards and one touchdown while adding 50.5 tackles, two interceptions, and 17 pass defenses for the defense.

FLORIDA

#11 Brent Burnside 6-1, 180 (Missouri Western) - Burnside is playing in his fourth af2 season with his third different team. He caught 37 passes for 338 yards and four touchdowns, while adding 21.5 tackles, two interceptions and five pass defenses. Brent's twin brother Brandon is on the roster of the Peoria Pirates.

#22 Ethenic Sands 6-1, 185 (Miami-FL) - Playing in his first af2 season. Sands has seen limited action this season with the Firecats. He played in only three regular season games and has caught three passes for 20 yards with one touchdown. Defensively, he has added two tackles on the season. During the playoffs, he has caught two passes for eight yards and added one and a half tackles.

OFFENSIVE SPECIALISTS vs. DEFENSIVE SPECIALISTS

Firecats offensive specialists Magic Benton, Cainon Lamb and Anthony Snead vs. Pirates defensive specialist Frank West.

The Firecats have one of the best 1-2 combos at offensive specialist in the af2. Magic Benton and Cainon Lamb each posted 1,000-yard seasons and both hauled in over 25 TDs. Their ability to spread the field and catch the ball in traffic has made life on quarterback Ken Mastrole easier this year. With at least two years of af2 experience the specialists have grown accustomed to working as a tandem. The Pirates secondary finished the regular season ranked 2nd in pass defense only to the Firecats secondary. They allowed their opponents only 210.1 yards through the air per game. Peoria defensive specialist Frank West will pose a challenge for each specialist during Friday nights contest. He was apart of the apart of the Pirates 2002 Championship team and recorded 4.5 tackles in the contest. West's experience should prove vital for the Peoria secondary.

Key Match-up: Florida OS Magic Benton vs. Peoria DS Frank West

Peoria

#25 Frank West 5-11, 185 (Illinois State) - Playing in his second af2 season and second with the Pirates, West is the defensive leader on the team. He has tallied 59.5 tackles (48-solo), 8 interceptions for 42 yards and 13 pass deflections.

Florida

#1 Magic Benton 6-0, 197 (Miami-FL) - Playing in his fourth af2 season, Benton put up career numbers during the 2004 regular season. Benton caught 87 passes for 1,215 yards and 26 touchdowns, all career highs for former Miami Hurricane.

#4 Cainon Lamb 6-0, 210 (Florida A&M) - Playing in his third af2 season af2 season, Lamb also spent the 2003 season with the Firecats. Lamb led the team in receiving during the 2004 regular season catching 98 passes for 1,054 yards and 28 touchdowns on the year.

#3 Anthony Snead 5-11, 180 (Fort Valley State) - Snead spent the 2003 season with the ArenaCup runners-up the Macon Knights. This season he has joined the Florida Firecats and finds himself once again in the hunt for the championship. Snead finished the 2004 season with 43 catches for 655 yards and 17 touchdowns.

OFFENSIVE LINE vs. DEFENSIVE LINE

Florida's offensive line Comone Fisher, Anthony McKenzie and Joe Fantigrassi vs. Peoria's defensive line Ken Bouie, Colin Johnson and Joe Peters

The Firecats offensive line enters this weekend's championship contest as one of the best in the league. During the regular season the Firecats only allowed 5 sacks in sixteen games for a league low and have only given up 3 sacks in the post-season. In order to be successful Friday night, Florida must protect quarterback Ken Mastrole from Peoria defensive ends Ken Bouie and Joe Peters and noseguard Colin Johnson. In three playoffs games the Pirates have posted 7 sacks for a loss of 44 yards and 4 quarterback hurries. During the regular season Peoria amassed 25 sacks for a loss of 106 yards.

Key Match-up: Florida OL Comone Fisher vs. Peoria DE Ken Bouie

Peoria

#60 Joe Laudano 6-2, 285 (Temple) - Playing in his first af2 season, joined the Pirates late in the season tallying 3 tackles and 1 sack for a loss of five yards in four games during the regular season. In two games of post-season Laudano has recorded 3.5 tackles, forced a fumble and deflected a pass.

#88 Joe Peters 6-4, 275 (Concordia) - Playing in his first af2 season Peters joined the team in Week 9 of the regular season. Peters posted 9 tackles (6-solo), 3 sacks for a loss of 14 yards and 2 pass deflections in nine games. During the post-season has recorded 6.5 tackles and one quarterback hurry.

#90 Sameer Hamood 6-3, 275 (Toledo) - Playing in his first af2 season Hamood appeared in 13 games this season tallying 12.5 tackles, 2 sacks for a loss of 8 yards and one pass deflection. Hamood has recorded 3 solo tackles during the playoffs.

#94 Ken Bouie 6-2, 270 (Central Missouri State) - Playing in his second af2 season, Bouie is the dominate veteran on the Pirates defensive line. He Brings AFL experience having spent the 2001 season with the Tampa Bay Storm and the 2003 season with the Buffalo Destroyers. During the 2002 season Bouie was apart of the Pirates Championship season and is currently Peoria's all-time sack leader.

Peoria's offensive line Ken Bouie, Joe Laudano and Sameer Hamood vs. Florida's defensive line Comone Fisher, Anthony McKenzie and Joe Fantigrassi

The Pirates offensive line has had a rollercoaster ride of a season this year. During the first half of the regular season Peoria gave up 18 sacks for a loss of 106, but turned things around 180 degrees in the second half giving up only 9 sacks for a loss of 47 yards. The Florida defensive line brings a lot of veteran experience to the game Friday night. Two of the Firecats three starters (McKenzie and Fisher) have three years experience and each appeared in the 2002 championship game. The experience of McKenzie and Fisher and the depth in the Florida line could be a giant factor in the trenches versus the inexperience across the ball.

Florida

#44 Rashieem Reed 6-4, 260 (West Chester) - Entering his first af2 season Reed has recorded 9 tackles (6-solo), 3.5 sacks for a loss of 26 yards, one pass deflection and one fumble recovery. During post-season play, Reed has tallied 3 solo tackles, 1 sack for a loss of 5 yards, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

#63 Joe Fantigrassi 6-4, 295 (Miami) - Playing in his first af2 season, Fantigrassi appeared in ten games during the regular season recording one assisted tackle. He has yet to record and statistics in post-season play.

#67 Anthony McKenzie 6-2, 303 (South Florida) - Playing in his third season with the Firecats, McKenzie will be appearing in his second ArenaCup game as he tallied 1.5 tackles during the 2002 contest...McKenzie has recorded one assisted tackle in the 2004 playoffs thus far.

#73 T.J. Gholston 6-4, 285 (Penn State) - Playing in his second af2 season and first with the Firecats, Gholston has added depth to a talented front three. In 2003 Gholston appeared in nine games for the Cincinnati Swarm tallying 8 tackles and recovering two fumbles. This season Gholston had a breakout year recording 17.5 tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss, 2 sacks and two forced fumbles

#96 Comone Fisher 6-2, 290 (Mississippi) - Playing in his third af2 season and third Firecats season, Fisher also appeared in the 2002 ArenaCup in a reserve role. This season Fisher recorded 12.5 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss of 14 yards and 7 pass deflections. This post-season Fisher has tallied 3.5 tackles, one sack and one blocked kick.

KICKERS vs. KICKERS

Peoria's Henrik Juul-Nielsen vs. Florida's Brandon Kornblue

PEORIA

#6 Henrik Juul-Nielsen 6-3, 225 (Nebraska-Kearney) - Playing in his first af2 season, Juul-Nielsen has shown that he can come through in the clutch when the Pirates need him. Two weeks ago in a playoff game at Bakersfield he hit the game winning field goal to give the Pirates the 38-36 victory. Last weekend in Tulsa, he hit a 20-yard field goal with 1:16 left to secure the National Conference championship for Peoria. During the regular season, he scored 42 points on 7-of-19 field goals and 19-22 point after attempts.

FLORIDA

#24 Brandon Kornblue 5-10, 180 (Michigan) - Playing in his third af2 season, Kornblue has scored 289 points for the Firecats during his career. In 2004, Kornblue was 51-of-69 on extra point attempts and was 2-of-7 on field goals.

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