RiverRats Prepare For First Round Playoff Matchup Against Reading
The Pittsburgh RiverRats of the AIFA will appear in their first playoff game in franchise history, when they visit the Reading Express at the Sovereign Center, on Saturday, June 9, with kickoff scheduled for 7:00 PM. Pittsburgh completed its first season as an expansion franchise with a 7-7 record, and has secured the 4th and final playoff spot out of the North Division. Reading enters the contest as the number 1 seed with a 14-2 record, after winning the North Division championship for the second straight year.
The teams met twice during the regular season, with the Express winning both games. In the first matchup in Pittsburgh, Reading needed a late 2-yard TD run by RB Isaiah Greer with 5:40 left in the fourth quarter to rally from behind and defeat the RiverRats 35-28. When the teams played in Reading last month, the Reading defense recorded 6 turnovers, including 3 in the decisive third quarter, when the Express broke open another close game and defeated Pittsburgh 57-40.
This matchup features the two quarterbacks selected for the North Squad of the AIFA All-Star game to be played in Florence, SC. RiverRats QB David Dinkins exhibited his versatility by recording 57 touchdowns in 14 games and a variety of ways, including 47 passing, 7 rushing, and 3 receiving. Reading's Tom Stetzer led the North Division QB's in passer efficiency rating, and threw for 70 touchdown passes in 16 games.
Like most teams at this time of the year, the RiverRats have been dealing with injuries to several key players. However, thanks to a quirk in the schedule, Pittsburgh had the benefit of having last week off to heal. The RiverRats defense will be bolstered with the anticipated return to action of several starters, including DT Phil Tillman, LB T.J. Carden, and CB Corey Oaks, all of whom missed their last game against Huntington. On offense, Pittsburgh will be without the services of WR Beau Gibbs, out indefinitely with a broken hand.
Pittsburgh RiverRats Head Coach Shawn Liotta is looking forward to his team's first playoff experience: "Making the playoffs in our first year is great, we're excited about coming back to Reading, but we're not going there to take in the sights. We know that to advance, there is no margin for error. Reading is the most efficient team we've seen. Their offense led by Tom Stetzer and their kicker, Eric Rockhold, will put points on the board on just about every possession, so we can't take possessions off. In both games, we had long scoring droughts in the second half which we couldn't overcome. They're 27-5 over the last 2 years and playoff tested. The one big positive for us, is that all the pressure is on them. We're the visitors, no one gives us a chance, they're the #1 seed and they're at home. We respect them tremendously, but we've given them two tough games. If we can stay loose, focus, protect our quarterback, and minimize the mental errors, then I think we've got a chance."
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