Crunch 2006 Season in Review
As with any first year team, there were several bumps in the road during the inaugural season of the Battle Creek Crunch, but they did make the playoffs this year and the future is already looking even better for the team from the Cereal City.
Last September, Battle Creek was the third team introduced in the six-team league. Soon after the team was introduced, freelance writer Ted Kluck from Lansing, Michigan was granted a special roster spot on the team by the league. He wrote some articles that were posted on ESPN.com during the season and also plans to write a book about his experiences on the team.
In their opening game on April 7 at home against he Port Huron Pirates, things couldn't have started out better for the Crunch. WR/DB Eric Gardner returned the opening kickoff 48 yards for a touchdown. Unfortunately, the Crunch went on to lose the game 62-22.
A number of Pirates fans made the two and a half hour drive from Port Huron to Battle Creek just to see their team's first game. That was amazing to me since the team had never even set foot on the field before. Even their mascot, Brian the Pirate, came along for the game.
After that first loss, Battle Creek defensive coach Anthony Allsbury decided he could make more of an impact on the field than he could on the sidelines, so he suited up and played in the next game, recording 4 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Allsbury would go on to play in seven more games during the season.
Battle Creek lost their first three games and finally broke into the win column in game four on the road at Marion. They put together back-to-back wins in games six and seven, defeating Lehigh Valley on the road and New York/New Jersey at home. Those two wins elevated the Crunch to the number three seed in the playoff hunt, even though their record was only 3-4. A pair of subsequent losses left the Crunch fighting for its playoff life in the final weeks of the regular season.
In week nine, my oldest son and I traveled to Port Huron to see the Crunch play on the road for the first time. The Pirates were 8-0 at the time and manhandled the Crunch 69-7. Battle Creek was without four of their key position players in that game and had a defensive line that had never started for them before.
It all came down to the last game of the regular season. The Crunch needed to beat the winless New York/New Jersey Revolution, but they also needed the Marion Mayhem to lose their final game at Rochester. Battle Creek did their part by shutting out the Revolution 27-0 in the first half and going on to win the game 48-26. The Raiders-Mayhem game was still going on as the Crunch game ended so their playoff status remained up in the air. About 30 minutes later, while Crunch players and fans were gathered on the field at the Kellogg Arena for a post game autograph session, the public address announcer made an announcement. The Mayhem had lost the game 47-38, Battle Creek was in the playoffs with a record of 4-6!
That was the good news. The bad news was that Battle Creek would have to return to Port Huron to face the 10-0 Pirates, a team that had outscored the Crunch 131-29 in their two previous regular season games.
I returned to Port Huron with my two oldest sons for the Crunch-Pirates playoff game on July 8. It was a rough night for Battle Creek as they lost 74-3. In three games this season, Port Huron outscored the Crunch 205-32.
One of the few players on the Crunch team that had prior indoor football experience was Wide Receiver Brian Dolph. Dolph had limited success this season after he injured his foot in the first game and did not play again until game six at Lehigh Valley on May 27. He finally caught his first touchdown pass in game seven at home against the New York/New Jersey Revolution on June 3. Dolph recorded a second touchdown catch later in the game. In the June 10 rematch with Lehigh Valley at the Kellogg Arena, Dolph re-injured himself while going up for a pass in the back of the end zone. He came down hard over the boards and onto the cement floor of the arena along with a defender. He missed the remainder of the season but recently told me he plans to be back with the Crunch next season. Dolph played in the Arena Football League in 2002 for the Indiana Firebirds.
Obviously, Battle Creek went through many growing pains this year. There were financial problems, issues with the field, low attendance figures and (in my opinion) an inadequate amount of marketing of the team.
The playing field that Battle Creek used this season at the Kellogg Arena was not the one they had hoped to acquire before the season began. Consequently, the end zone sections had to be patched together because the arena where it came from had rounded corners and Kellogg Arena did not. Towards the end of the season, the patches had to be held in place with duct tape on the surface, making for an unsightly appearance on the field.
Crunch players had not been paid since the second game of the season. Crunch owner Mike Powell suffered a heart attack in May and the league took over the team soon after. New ownership has already been secured for the team for next season and a new field and practice facility have also been secured. Fans should see a much better product from the Crunch in 2007.
2006 CRUNCH STATS
The Battle Creek Crunch finished the regular season with a 4-6 record. They were 2-4 at home and 2-2 on the road. The team's emphasis on offense this season was evident in where they ranked in several key offensive stats. The Crunch finished third in the league in Pass Attempts (245), Passing Yards (1,270) and Passing Touchdowns (28).
Quarterback Tim Kubiak was third in the league this season in passing yardage (1,117), passing touchdowns (25) and pass completions (101). Unfortunately, he also led the league in interceptions (16).
On defense, the team was second in the league in Sacks (20).
WR/DB Eric Gardner was second in the league in scoring with 23 touchdowns and 144 points scored. He was also second in the league in All-Purpose yardage with 1,139 yards. Gardner was named Defensive Player of the Week by the league twice during the season while teammate Herb Haygood won the award once.
WR/DB Chesaurae Rhodes had 15 kickoff returns for 389 yards this season and led the league with 25.9 average yards per kickoff return. Defensive end Anthony Allsbury finished the season with 5.5 sacks and 16 tackles in seven games played.
Kicker Brad Selent converted just three field goals on 11 attempts but that was good enough for second place in the league. He also converted 30 PATs on 35 attempts and led the league in PAT percentage with an 85.7 PAT percentage. Selent was brought in after the second game of the season, replacing Chuck Selinger.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
Battle Creek had the lowest attendance of the five teams with home arenas in the GLIFL this year. According to the league, fan attendance was 6,680 at the six Crunch home games. They averaged just 1,117 fans per game at the Kellogg Arena, which seats about 3,200.
Lehigh Valley led the league in attendance with 18,810 followed by Marion-17,733, Rochester-14,689 and Port Huron-12,302. All together, the league drew 70,214 fans to its 30 regular season games in its first year.
The league has already awarded four new expansion teams for next year, the Muskegon Thunder and the Motor City Reapers in Michigan, the Chesapeake Tide in Maryland and the Wayne County Rumble in Ohio. There could be a couple more teams announced in the near future, so stay tuned.
The New York/New Jersey Revolution, a traveling team this year that finished the season with a 0-10 record, have come to an agreement with the Mennen Arena in Morristown, New Jersey to play their home games in next year. Hopefully, the team will fare better next season now that they will have a home crowd to cheer them on.
The league is going from a 10-game schedule to a 12-game schedule next year as well.
There was one overtime game this season (between Port Huron and Rochester) and many games went down to the wire before a winner was determined.
The league All-Star game will be played on August 5 at the Stabler Arena in Bethlehem, PA, home of the Lehigh Valley Outlawz. Each team will send six players to the game. Battle Creek will be represented by quarterback Tim Kubiak, defensive end Anthony Allsbury, WR/DB Eric Gardner, WR/DB Herb Haygood, linebacker LJ Parker and Center/Nose Guard Kyle Lackscheide.
Players from Battle Creek, Marion and Port Huron will make up the West squad while the players from Lehigh Valley, New York/New Jersey and Rochester will make up the team from the East.
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Randy Snow is a freelance football writer from Kalamazoo, Michigan. Since 2003, he has covered games in the Arena Football League, arenafootball2, United Indoor Football and the Great Lakes Indoor Football League. He has been a member of the Arena Football League Writer's Association since 2005.
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