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Dragons roar into playoffs

by David Holusha
May 24, 2005 - Arena Football League (1987-2008) (AFL I) - New York Dragons

On the 16th game of the season, the New York Dragons showed once and for all why they are serious Arena Bowl contenders. Turning in a completely dominating second half performance where they outscored the opposing Colorado Crush 34-7, the Dragons finished the season on a high and a 62-28 victory.

All Arena QB Aaron Garcia fired 23 completions out of 27 attempts for a total of 246 yards and 7 touchdowns. New York was nearly unbeatable at home all season as they finished with 7 victories, the only blemish being last-second 44-43 loss to Chicago on April 2.

The Dragons will now host Jay Gruden’s Orlando Predators next Sunday at the Nassau Coliseum. New York lost a tough 70-62 affair to them back on April 15, during a three-week period where the team had been struggling. However, in recent weeks, the Dragons have rediscovered their dominating early season form.

“You want to go in with some momentum,” said head coach Weylan Harding. “In week 16 we finally put one all together. That makes me feel good. Its not exactly a dog team we just played.”

No “dog” indeed. Colorado is the top-seeded team in the Arena Football League's American Conference playoffs.

As impressive as the Dragons offense was, it was the defense that really came through during the most crucial moments. On three critical fourth-down plays - one a missed field goal by Crush kicker Clay Rush just before halftime; then a pick in the end zone by exciting rookie DS Billy Parker; followed by an incomplete pass in the third quarter, all stood out as plays that stalled Colorado’s key drives.

“We were coming at that point,” said Harding. “Earlier on we were just feeling each other out. Honestly, Billy Parker played lights out. Damian Harrell is probably the best OS in this league and he shut him down. If this kid doesn’t get All Arena - if he’s not ADT Defensive Rookie of the Year, then something’s wrong.”

On New York’s opening drive, however, it initially appeared they may be in for a long day. Garcia fumbled on the first play from scrimmage when he was hit from the blindside. Colorado recovered and three plays later, QB John Dutton completed a touchdown pass to OS Damian Harrell.

“It was a called play where Mike Horacek had the option to go post corner,” said Garcia, in explaining the one flawed offensive play of the game. “He went corner and was wide open. All the other long touchdowns we had were the same play. We know offensively that’s what we do, and we’ve got to be able to protect, but the defensive lineman made a good play and got to me.”

However, on their very next possession, Garcia methodically worked his offence downfield that eventually led to his first touchdown completion of the day. Executing a beautiful rollout to the right, with OL Marcus “snowball” Owen running in tandem out front of the QB - making absolutely sure there would be no more “blindsiding”. Garcia zipped a pass to WR DaShane Dennis, and the Dragons never faltered after that.

“The offensive coordinator switched it up,” said Garcia. “We ran some three step stuff - that play is our sprint package, where I sprint out and Marcus comes with me. It just moves the pocket a little bit, just to keep the defense off balance.”

Mission accomplished.

“A lot of teams know we go deep so they’ve been playing real deep on us,” continued Garcia.. “A lot of times we’ve been trying to force the issue, so we decided to flatten some of them off, and throw it a bit underneath. By them making their decision earlier, I can then make my throw more authoritatively.”

With time running down in the fourth quarter and the Dragons maintaining a comfortable lead, backup QB Chris Boden entered the game replacing Garcia. The always-prepared backup didn’t miss a beat, as he passed for the first two touchdowns of his Arena Football career.

“Its exciting,” said a jubilant Bowden, after the game. “It was a lot of fun to finally get in there. It feels great that we won the division and we’re going to the playoffs”

“I’ve been telling him all year that I’m going to try and get him in there,” added Garcia. “I thought there were a couple of games where we should have had an opportunity to get a lead and it was nice to be finally able to do that.”

“Its tough backing up such a great quarterback like Aaron,” continued Bowden. “He’s superman. It was great that we got enough of a lead that I got in there and threw a couple of touchdowns. It was a blast.”

“Every time before a game Aaron would always say to me ‘were going to get you into this one’ but we never could. I told him before this one ‘don’t say anything’.”

So now it's playoff time. Always a contender, the Dragons now feel that they are better prepared than ever to go all the way.

“You always feel like that, and yes I do feel this is a great chance,” said Garcia. “But we’ve gotta execute. We’ve played well and shown we can play with anybody this year. Especially here at home, that’s a big advantage for us.

“Lets go win this thing,” said Boden.

Arena angles: New York Jets head coach Herman Edwards was spotted at the game. He not only participated on field in the opening coin toss, but was also an on air guest of the television crew, as well as radio play-by-play man Peter Schwartz. Peter’s radio partner Wayne Morris conducted an interview with NY Mets pitcher Heath Bell as well.

It was my continued good fortune to be able to speak with and photograph the lovely Dragons Firedancers before and after the game. Along with the always fan-friendly Dina, I was pleased to make acquaintances with Anjuli, Jennifer, Ashley, Meredith and Gina G. Special thanks to Choreographer and Coach Phyllis, for helping in arranging all this. These photos can be viewed right here on this site’s Photo Album page, or by clicking on this link.

As always, any commments questions or appeals for donations can be addressed to [email protected]

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The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer(s), and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts or opinions of OurSports Central or its staff.

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