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Dragons' opener thrills record crowd

by David Holusha
February 8, 2005 - Arena Football League (1987-2008) (AFL I) - New York Dragons

The New York Dragons season opening game did not disappoint a record home crowd as they scorched the Dallas Desperados by a 10 point bulge, 55-45. With a balanced mixture of seasoned veterans, new faces (and some returning), the much promised high-powered offense was on full display.

Superstar QB Aaron Garcia put on his now-to-be-expected aerial passing display, as he connected for 5 touchdowns. His favorite receiver of the day was returning veteran Mike Horacek, who pulled in five total receptions (three for scores), the longest being a 37 yarder that turned Dallas DS Jermaine Jones inside out, causing him to fall down and leaving Horacek an unimpeded path to the endzone. Is there any surprise then that Horacek also turned out to be the Offensive and Ironman player of the game? Mike has set high standards for himself. “Its great to be back with the Dragons and great to be back with Aaron Garcia. He’s the best quarterback in the league. Also, Coach Harding and I were college roommates and its also a great situation to be back with him,” said the deservedly self-confident receiver.

“As far as the overall success today, we had a great game. We just have to cut down on our mistakes,” the receiver continued.

Mike scored three touchdowns on the day. “We should have had five,” he continued. “We miscued on a couple. Its just timing. Just getting back into the flow of things. We need to improve on that, and we’ll put up big numbers all year long.”

The WR/LB readily admits he has come into this season with an attitude and something to prove. “If you look in all the papers, they haven’t said anything about me at all,” he continued. “If I’m not mistaken, I hold the touchdown record since the year 2000. Also, the most receiving yards in the game. Nobody’s touched that. So, I did come into this game with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder. Actually, for the whole season. Because the league, and the whole game of football in general – its kind of ‘what have you done for me lately’. And that’s understandable, but I’ve made a name for myself and I’ve been successful in this league for quite some time.”

The game opened with Dragons new addition Markeith Cooper returning the kickoff back 27 yards to the NY 24 yard line. Cooper is a quick an energetic player who at 5’6”, just happens to have the distinction of being the shortest athlete in professional football. He doesn’t play “short”, however, and provided solid contributions on offense with 5 receptions as well as key blocks. Two plays later, Garcia connected for the first time with Horacek on a 17 yarder and the Dragons never looked back.

“It was very encouraging, especially because we played as a team on all sides of the football,” said Garcia. “Special teams made plays. Defensively we had a number of tremendous stops. Most impressive was the goal line stands we had, and how hard they had to work. On the offense, we were only stopped one time.”

“Coach Harding has brought to this team a family type mindset,” the effusive QB continued. “Were not going out there alone. Everybody’s taking care of each other.”

With four minutes gone in the second quarter, WR/DB and frequent kick return specialist Will Holder flashed his dazzling skills as he slashed and burned 54 yards across the field, culminating in an endzone leap, with the last defender left delivering a bone-rattling hit. It was an impressive runback and put the Dragons up by 11 points.

Not to be outdone, the following series had the defensive line at center stage, holding the Desperadoes on a goal line stand. Two penalties moved Dallas back beyond midfield, which directly led to Kicker Carlos Martinez missing wide left on a fourth down field goal attempt. . In the arena game, sometimes one defensive stop like this is all you need to stay on top. DS Chris Angel, OL/DL John Thomas and DB Corey Johnson all had solid games.

However, the Dragons handed the ball right back, when rookie center Joe Laudano and Garcia were involved in one of the few Dragons miscues of the afternoon. “I was getting ready to say the snap count, while watching the motion guy,” said Garcia. “Somebody said something, and he thought I said go and snapped the ball.” It was a rare turnover for the usually sure-handed Garcia. “Those are things that can sometimes happen with a rookie, but we were able to overcome it and we’ll make sure those things don’t happen again.”

Dallas cut the differential to 4 at that point, but Garcia and the “air corps” were quickly back to work as he connected with Horacek for a 19 yard completion, leading to 7 more points on the board. But it wasn’t all the “air Garcia” show, as both rock solid veteran FB/LB’s Josh White and Chin Achebe had rushing touchdowns as well.

Rookie DS Billy Parker was not having a particularly noteworthy game for most of the first three quarters. Dallas QB Clint Stoerner was having most of his passing success throwing to Parkers side of the field. However, the kid came up big when it counted the most, as he picked off Stoerner in the fourth quarter, with Dallas was driving to pull closer. That one play appeared to kill whatever momentum the Desperados were attempting to build. The magnitude of that single effort alone earned Parker Defensive Player of the game honors.

“With Billy, he’s a rookie and he’s got a lot to learn,” said headman Weylan Harding. “He was getting a severe education out there and it was good to see him [ultimately] be successful. I enjoyed that. No matter what you do in practice, you can’t really duplicate game speed.”

When asked about the big fan turnout for this game - a record crowd of nearly 15,000, coach Harding spoke about the positive effect it can have on the hometeam.. “The guys feed off the emotion. We can take advantage when its loud and the opposing team can’t hear to make their plays” he said.. “Having played at times in front of smaller crowds, I know what a difference one this size can be. The turnout was certainly appreciated.”

The whole days experience had a festive atmosphere to it. First when the Dragons raised their second Eastern Division champions banner. Then when Zooperstars made their appearance. As a somewhat frequent attendee of summer baseball leagues at all levels, I am not unfamiliar with the likes of “Derek Cheetah” and “Peyton Manatee”. Certainly a big hit with the kids.

Many of the “older kids” enjoyed the flashy and energetic dance routines displayed by New York’s own Firedancers. It was great to see Dina and many of the other returning dancers joined by some rookies of their own. With a remodeled costume (each new season seems to bring an even more dynamic look) the dance routines, t-shirt shooting into the crowd and sideline shimmying add to an already charged environment.

Next up for the Dragons is a road contest this Friday night at Las Vegas.

Any comments or questions regarding this or any of my other articles can be addressed to and I will be more than happy to get back to you.

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Arena Football League (1987-2008) Stories from February 8, 2005

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