Manchester Wolves Burned by Albany Firebirds 48-46
MANCHESTER, NH- The Manchester Wolves were burned by the visiting Albany Firebirds 48-46 in a critical American Conference East division arenafootball2 league contest in front of 4,492 disappointed fans at the Verizon Wireless Arena.
The Wolves, who lost their second straight game and the fifth of their last six, fell to 4-6 on the season while the Firebirds, who began the season 0-5, climbed to an equal 4-6 record. The defeat was also the Wolves second straight to the Firebirds after they beat Albany here in the home opener back in mid Apr il.
Hoping to spark his troops this week, Head Coach Danton Barto traded James Pinkney, who had started every game this season at quarterback, and put his faith and the ball in the hands of rookie Mike Potts. Playing in his first af2 game and tentative in the early going, Potts turned in a solid if unspectacular effort with 24 of 34 completions for 303 yards and four touchdowns without serving up any interceptions. But veteran Albany quarterback Steven Wasil had a better night, throwing for 300 yards and six score while completing 22 of 44 passes even though Wolves defensive back Brandon Isaac picked him clean twice. Wasil's performance was the fourth consecutive in which the Firebirds quarterback threw for 300 or more yards with six touchdowns.
After a see-saw battle that had Albany clinging to a 34-33 lead to start the fourth quarter, the Firebirds drove to the Manchester 16-yd. line but Isaac, who earned both Aaron's Defensive Player of the Game and NiftyTv Hit of the Game honors with 9.5 tackles, grabbed his second interception in the end zone to clip the Firebirds wings. Nonetheless, Manchester couldn't capitalize on its next possession when wide receiver Jason Messing fumbled for the second time in the game in the end zone while a ttempting to score and the Firebirds defense came up with a key turnover. The Firebirds stretched their lead to 41-33 on their next possession working against a revamped Wolves defense that included two new starting linebackers in Dwan Wilson and Deshon Stoval and rookie defensive lineman Tyler King, who was also playing in his first af2 game.
The Wolves then made the contest very interesting when Potts tucked the ball under his arm and scored on a 1-yd. play and Barto called for the 2-pt. conversion to even the score. But Emery Sammons, who had a monster night returning kickoffs and hauling in nine catches for 166 yards and three touchdowns, couldn't make the catch on the potentially game-tying play and dropped the ball with 3:43 on the clock.
The Firebirds thought they had put the game away when they tacked on another seven points and extended their lead to 48-39 with 34.8 left to go, but then Sammons, voted the Russell Offensive Player of the Game and the JLS Ironman of the Game, took the kickoff all the way to the end zone on a 55-yard return and the PAT had the Wolves within two points at 48-46. While they tried to get the ball back into the hands of Potts with an on-side kick attempt, the Firebirds recovered and then all Wasil had to do was run out the clock and preserve the 48-46 win to frustrate the Wolves.
The first half was played evenly with six lead changes as the teams traded scores before going into the locker room with Albany holding a slim two-point lead 21-19. Although Potts hadn't been in the Wolves camp since these two teams tangled for the first time this season back on April 18th, he settled in nicely and marched the Wolves down the field to the Albany four-yd. line on the opening drive before Chris Koepplin tacked on the first points of the game with a 19-yard field goal.
The Firebirds stormed back in seven plays and Wasil connected with Anthony Rodriguez on a six-yard strike to go ahead 7-3, but the Wolves closed the gap to 6-7 on another Koepplin 19-yd. field goal. On Albany's next series, Brandon Isaac was a force in the secondary, breaking up a pair of touchdown saving passes before picking off an interception in the end zone.
It only took a single play for the Wolves to take the lead back at 12-7 with a Potts to Sammons 37-yd scoring=2 0strike followed by a missed PAT, but the Firebirds flew right back on top, 14-12, with a six-play drive capped by a Wasil to Christian Wise 20-yd. touchdown pass. The scoreboard lit up again when Potts and Sammons connected again on a 34-yd. strike and the Wolves went ahead 19-14, but then the Firebirds needed only three plays to drive the length of the field and tight end Jon Lieble rumbled 16-yards into the end zone as Albany went up 21-19 and the chance to get the ball to start the second half.
The Wolves now have their backs against the wall, as they next host the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers (8-1) who are undefeated in the division. To compound matters the Wolves have a short week to prepare to turn around their season as the game will be played on Thursday night, June 11th.
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