Manchester Wolves Win 59-45 to stay alive in af2 Playoff Hunt
ALBANY, NY-The Manchester Wolves kept themselves in playoff contention by dispensing with the Albany Firebirds 59-45 on Friday night at the Times Union Center in an arenafootball2 league game that was critical to the post season chances for both American Conference East Division rivals.
With only two more regular season games remaining, The Wolves improved to 7-7 and thus remain alive for a wild card berth while the Firebirds dropped to 6-8 and compromised their chances to play in the post season. While Manchester and Albany have now split their four-game, home-and-away series in 2009, the Wolves hold the advantage on the basis of total points scored=2 0should the two franchises end the regular season with identical records.
Since the Florida Firecats, another team in contention for one of the five American Conference wild card spots, lost to the South Georgia Wildcats on Friday night, the Wolves win took on added significance and they now control their own destiny from here on out.
Against Albany, the play of Manchester's defense was a key to the win as the unit played spectacularly throughout and defensive back Erick Harris had a big night with a recovered fumble, nine total tackles, and a 26-yd. interception return for a touchdown that stopped the Firebirds cold on their first drive of the second half.
Although the Firebirds then chipped away at the Wolves 17-pt. half time lead in the third quarter and only trailed 38-29 to begin the fourth stanza, Manchester's offense came up with a huge play on its first drive of the quarter. After committing three penalties and surrendering a sack on four straight plays, the Wolves had been backed up to a third-and-30 from their own 8-yd. line. Rookie quarterback Mike Potts, voted the Russell Offensive Player of the Game, dropped back and found E mery Sammons at midfield and then the Wolves leading receiver (7 for 27 and 2 TDs) ran through Albany's defenders right into the end zone to extend the lead to 45-29 after Chris Koepplin's PAT.
Koepplin then contributed a big play when he recovered an Anthony Rodriguez fumble on the kickoff return and the Wolves offense scored four plays later to go up 52-29 with just over six minutes left to play and they effectively put the game away. While the two teams would trade scores on the next three series and the Firebirds would successfully execute the two-point convesrion after each of their touchdowns, Albany could never get closer than the final 14-point margin.
Potts finished the night with 17 completions of 24 throws for 246 yards with four passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns and he only served up one interception. Albany quarterback Steven Wasil, who has been a big reason the Firebirds recovered from an 0-5 start to the season, completed 24 of 45 passes for 292 and five touchdowns through the air and one score on the ground but his interception was more costly.
The first half belonged to the Wolves, and the opening play of the game gave a good indi cation that it would go their way. Manchester kicked off to the Firebirds but the ball bounced off the net support and they couldn't get their hands on it before Harris recovered it for the Wolves and gave Manchester a first down at the Albany 9-yd. line. Two plays later, Potts scrambled across the goal line for a five-yd. touchdown and Koepplin converted the PAT as Manchester scored first.
While Wasil would get his team even at 7-7 on a five-play drive capped by a 5-yd. strike to Rodriguez on Albany's first series and then the Firebirds would take a 14-10 lead near the end of the first quarter, Manchester's defense made sure there would be no more Albany points scored for the rest of the half.
With the defense, especially the secondary, playing brilliantly and getting the ball back on downs on every Albany series, the Wolves were able to tack on 21 unanswered points to take a 31-14 advantage into the locker room at the break and they also had the opportunity to get the ball back to start the second half.
As this was the final road g ame of the regular season, the Wolves return home next week for the first time since June 11th and will take on the Mahoning Valley Thunder on Friday July 17th at the Verizon Wireless Arena in another must win game.
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