Wolves defeated by Vipers 45-35 in af2 American Conference Title Game
Huntsville, AL- The Wolves dreams of an arenafootball2 league championship went down to defeat in the Tennessee Valley on Saturday night as the Vipers prevailed 45-35 in the American Conference title tilt and sent them home to Manchester instead of on to the ArenaCup next Monday night against the National Conference champion Spokane Shock.
In the most critical round of the playoffs to date, there would be no late fourth quarter comeback in dramatic fashion to pull out the victory as Manchester had accomplished in the first two rounds. The Vipers never trailed in the game, but the Wolves were accomplices in their demise by turning the ball over seven times on four fumbles and three interceptions while being flagged 15 times for a loss of 116 yards.
Moreover, Manchester's five touchdowns would be their lowest offensive output since they were pummeled by Green Bay in the second w eek of the regular season. The Wolves, playing in their first conference title game in franchise history, finished the season 11-8.
Tennessee Valley (13-6) jumped out to a 21-0 first quarter advantage by scoring on the Vipers opening possession with a Kevin Eakin (18-27-250-2 INT-3 TDs) 26-yard post pattern strike to Alonzo Nix, and then called upon their defense to shut out the Wolves on Manchester's only two drives of the period.
The Vipers defenders set the tone for the night by intercepting quarterback Brian Jones (26-40-3 INT-306- 4 TDs) when the Wolves had a second-and-two from the Tennessee Valley 9-yd. line on the Wolves first possession. When Eakin got the ball back, he executed a one-play, 23-yd. scoring drive by connecting with Nix, the Schutt Offensive Player of the game and the winner of the Cutters Catch of the Game, again on a corner route to put his team up 14-0 following the Nick Hayes PAT. Jones marched the Wolves right back into deep Vipers territory on the next drive, but Lamar "Turtle" Bryant fumbled the ball fighting for the end zone on the 1-yd. line and the Vipers recovered and scored again when they got the ball back to take a three-touchdown advantage.
Trailing 28-14 to start the second half, Manchester drove the length of the field deep into Vipers territory but once again coughed up the turnover when Jones was intercepted by Desmond Foster at the 2-yd.line. Five plays later, the Vipers went ahead 35-14 when Travis Blanchard, the JLS Ironman of the game, bulled into the end zone on a 5-yd. run and Hayes tacked on another PAT.
The Wolves still had the chance to win the game in the fourth quarter, where they outscored the Vipers 14-10, after offensive lineman Daniel Oliphant found the end zome from 18 yds. out on a tight end screen pitch from Jones and Connor McCormick was perfect on the PAT to close the gap to 35-28. Next, they held the Vipers out of the end zone on an AJ Philip pick and run back to the Tennessee Valley 15-yd. line, but then Jones succumbed to the intense Vipers pass rush he'd faced all night and fumbled the ball after being sacked and Blanchard recovered for Tennessee Valley.
From there Tennessee would tack more points on the scoreboard with a Hayes 24-yd. field goal and another TD on a Tyrell Elston 11-yd. rush after Hayes kickoff hit the goalpost and the Vipers pounced on the live ball. Jones found Bradly Chavez in the end zone on an 8-yd. scoring play and McCormick converted to bring the Wolves within 10 at 45-35 with :42.4 on the clock and then the Wolves looked like they were still alive when they recovered the onside kick.
Jones brought his team to the Tennessee Valley 15 yd. line, and then an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on some unruly Vipers fans in the stands who kept throwing things onto the field advanced Manchester even closer to the goal line. But Jones fumbled the snap with only :07.4 on the clock and the Vipers recovered to ice the win and end the Wolves season short of their ultimate goal.
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