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Strickland, Talons Win ArenaCup, 58-40

August 23, 2003 - arenafootball2 (af2) News Release

TULSA, OK - The Tulsa Talons outscored Macon 21-0 in the second quarter on their way to a 58-40 victory in the 2003 ArenaCup League Championship Game Saturday at the Tulsa Convention Center.

The convincing win in front of a deafening sellout crowd of 7,184 fans gave the Talons their first arenafootball2 championship and made the home team 4-0 all-time in ArenaCup championship games.

"Tonight is a tribute to our defense. They played really well," Tulsa head coach Skip Foster said. "Offensively, we executed really well and the guys did a great job."

Quarterback Craig Strickland, the game MVP, and wide receiver/defensive back Aleric Clark provided the points in the second-quarter outburst. Strickland bulled into the end zone from six yards out to give the Talons a 21-7 lead with 13:18 remaining in the first half.

After Macon's Wesley Wilson missed a 35-yard field goal attempt, the Talons marched 40 yards in eight plays, going up 28-7 on Clark's one-yard run around right end with 56 seconds left in the half.

The Knights tried to mount a scoring drive to cut into the deficit before halftime, but Johnny Balous recovered a fumbled snap by Knights' quarterback Jermaine Alfred at the Tulsa 22-yard line with 15 seconds left in the period.

A 27-yard pass from Strickland to Tacoma Fontaine put the Talons on the doorstep again, then Clark hauled in a two-yard touchdown pass with one second left to give Tulsa a 35-7 halftime lead.

The 28-point bulge was the largest lead in ArenaCup history. Peoria led Florida by 27 points (52-25) on its way to a 65-47 triumph in the 2002 ArenaCup. The previous low for points scored in a half also came last year when Florida posted 13 points in the first half of play.

Macon recovered in the second half to climb back into contention, a comeback that began with Anthony Snead's 39-yard catch-and-run for touchdown on the Knights' second play from scrimmage in the second half.

The Knights' defense carried that momentum deep into the final stanza, limiting Tulsa to a 26-yard Tony Dodson field goal in the third period. Alfred led Macon's attempted climb back into contention, scoring on runs of four and two yards to trim the Talons' lead to 38-26 with 9:29 remaining in the game.

But the Talons finally responded, overcoming a sack by Macon's Sean Powell with a 17-yard reception by Mitch Allner and a 20-yard touchdown catch by Fontaine that gave Tulsa a 44-26 edge with 6:46 left.

Macon struck back, with Denario Small's 41-yard kickoff return leading to a 15-yard touchdown pass from Alfred to Randyn Akiona to make it 44-32 at the 3:57 mark. After Allner's leaping 14-yard touchdown grab with 1:17 remaining, Alfred and Akiona hooked up again for an eight-yard TD pass. Mario Evans' two-point conversion brought the Knights within just 11 points, 51-40, with 39 seconds left.

But Larry Hollinquest, who earned ADT Defensive-Player-of-the-Game honors with eight tackles, recovered the ensuing onside kick. Strickland capped the victorious night with a three-yard scamper in the closing seconds.

The Talons outscored Macon 14-7 in the first quarter thanks to touchdown catches of 29 yards by Fontaine and 13 yards by Mitch Allner. The Tulsa TDs sandwiched a 14-yard scoring strike from Alfred to Tremaine Neal. But leading 14-7, the Tulsa defense forced the Knights to turn over the ball on downs on the first play of the second quarter ... and the Talons took control for good.

"Macon has a great team. They played hard tonight, but we just had a great gameplan coming into the game," said Allner, who earned Ironman of the Game honors.

Overall, Strickland completed 19-of-28 passes for 254 yards and five touchdowns and ran for two more scores. Fontaine caught six passes for 110 yards and two TDs. Allner also grabbed two touchdown passes, totaling 94 yards on seven receptions. Clark caught four passes for 41 yards and a score, also adding his rushing TD.

Alfred totaled 259 yards on 23-of-39 passing for Macon. He passed for four touchdowns and rushed for two TDs. Snead led all receivers with eight catches for 112 yards.

Tulsa, which hasn't lost a regular-season home game since June 3, 2000, went undefeated at home in the postseason for the first time ever. In 2001, the Talons lost to Carolina in the first round of the playoffs. Birmingham won at Tulsa in the National Conference semifinals last year.

The game was the first ArenaCup League Championship Game played outside the state of Illinois. Peoria hosted and won ArenaCup last year. Quad City (Moline, Ill.) won as the home team in both 2000 and 2001.

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