Vipers take charge in second half
HUNTSVILLE - The Tennessee Valley Vipers blew open a tight game with 18 unanswered points in the third quarter and cruised to a 61-48 victory over the Fort Wayne Freedom before 5,771 fans Saturday at the Von Braun Center on Military Appreciation Night.
The Vipers improved to 6-8 on the season and took over the No. 8 playoff seed in the National Conference after Lubbock was beaten 55-37 at home by Central Valley. Fort Wayne - which had beaten Tennessee Valley 56-33 earlier this season - fell to 5-10.
Former UNA quarterback Chris Gunn threw for 108 yards and three touchdowns for the Vipers, who'll host Mahoning Valley next Saturday night at the VBC. Travis Blanchard and Joel Babb each had a pair of touchdown catches for Tennessee Valley.
Fort Wayne quarterback Blayne Baggett completed 18 of 34 with one interception for 206 yards and three touchdowns. Jermaine Jackson had nine catches for 101 yards and a touchdown, while Ceasre Manning had six catches for 65 yards and three touchdowns.
"It was a tough game and we battled through some issues, but this was a huge win. We are still alive in our quest for the Arena Cup,'' Vipers coach Milt Theodosatos said.
The Vipers led 22-20 at the half in a penalty-filled game and extended the advantage by six points on Gunn's 1-yard pass to Blanchard to open the second half. The two-point conversion failed, but former USC linebacker John Cousins corralled Steven Lee's ensuing kickoff for a touchdown after it banged off the crossbar.
Gunn then hit Babb for a 34-yard touchdown and a 34-20 lead with 3:50 left in the third before the Vipers pulled away in the fourth on a 27-yard pass from Gunn to Babb and Brandon Isaiah's 5-yard run.
It was a strenuous first half for both teams.
The Vipers took advantage of an early interception by former Notre Dame defensive back Carlos Campbell and capped a 12-yard scoring drive on Gunn's 7-yard pass to Blanchard. Cousins' 2-point run made it an 8-0 game with 10:47 left in the first.
Fort Wayne answered on Baggett's 5-yard pass to Manning late in the first, but the Vipers recovered an ensuing onside kick attempt. Isaiah then scored on a 1-yard run and led 15-7 after Lee's extra point with 46 seconds left in the first quarter.
A 45-yard touchdown run by Baggett was answered by Gunn's 15-yard pass and Lee's kick for a 22-14 Vipers' advantage with 7:50 to before intermission. Fort Wayne would answer on a fumble recovery in the end zone, fail to convert a two-point conversion and then be denied on a fourth-down play as the half ended when Baggett was sacked by Farouk Adelekan.
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