Wolves Fall to Pioneers 63-38 in ArenaFootball2 League Regular Season Finale
MANCHESTER, NH-The Manchester Wolves, forced to play most of the second half without the services of the only two quarterbacks on the roster, fell to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers 63-38 at the Verizon Wireless Arena on Friday night in the arenafootball2 league regular season finale but they are still headed to the post season. The Wolves slid to 7-9 on the season and will be either the seventh of eighth seed in the American Conference playoffs while the East Division Champion Pioneers wrapped up their season with a 13-3 record and secured the top seed in the conference plus home field advantage all the way through.
The Wolves, who were cheered to the end by 5,406 hearty fans, have now fallen to the Pioneers in all four games of their home-and-away series and were outscored 238-150 in the series. Moreover, they lost their second straight home game and last two in a row as they back into the post season. At the conclusion of this weekend's league slate of games, they will find out where they will be seeded and then will have to play either the Pioneers again next week in Wilkes-Barre or the secon d seeded team also out on the road.
Manchester got some bad breaks in the game, but none was more painful nor more damaging than the loss of the only two quarterbacks on the roster. Back-up signal caller Willie Copeland, who had yet to throw a single pass this season, broke his foot early in the first quarter on a special teams play, but what contributed to the loss was the loss of starter Mike Potts early in the third quarter. Potts, who finished his night and possibly his season with 13 of 23 throws for 132 yards with one touchdown and one interception, suffered a broken pinky on his throwing hand. The injury occurred in the first half, although Potts valiantly tried to play at the start of the second half with his fingers taped and while wearing a glove.
But starting wide receiver Steve Savoy was pressed into service with 8:02 remaining in the third quarter and the Wolves trailing 42-26 and he came through with a truly gutsy performance despite never playing quarterback in an af2 game before. Savoy, very deserving of the JLS Ironman of the Game honors awarded to him, was a triple threat for the Wolves in dire circumstances. He completed two out of three=2 0passes for 14 yards and one touchdown. He also rushed 12 times for 97 yards and one touchdown, and also caught two passes for 21 yards before being pressed into service calling signals.
Despite Savoy's all-purpose and inspiring play, he failed to rally the Wolves from the big deficit. Nonetheless, the loss can't be tagged on Savoy because the game was for all intents and purposes out of reach against the Pioneers , who characteristically blow opponents off the field in the second half.
Pioneers quarterback Ryan Vena, a former af2 Offensive Player of the Year, had a record-setting night along with directing his team to the top seed in the conference. Vena came into the night tied for most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in af2 history and the record belonged to him alone when he tucked the ball under his arm and bulled over the goal line late in the first quarter for his 88th career rushing score.
Vena, voted the Russell Athletic Offensive Player of the Game, completed 19 of 27 thr ows for 260 yards and eight touchdowns with no interceptions. Vena's eight touchdowns leave him only two shy of tying the record for second all-time in the category of passing touchdowns in the af2.
On defense, Pioneers All-af2 defensive back Micheaux Robinson had a huge night with 5.5 tackles and four pass break-ups on his way to the Aaron's Defensive Player of the Game award. Wolves rookie defensive back Brandon Isaac, who is having a sensational year himself, was again Manchester's best player on defense with 5.5 tackles also and he contributed three pass break-ups.
In the first half the Wolves dug themselves into an early hole once again as has been their pattern of late. Trailing only 14-7, they had a first down from the Pioneers 19 yd. line but blew the chance to tie the score when Potts was intercepted by Larry Kendrick. With a first down from the Manchester 2 yd. line, Vena got his af2 record for most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback and the Pioneers had a 21-7 first quarter lead. While the Wolves answered with a seven-play drive at the top of the second stanza that was capped by Paul Jefferson's first rushing touchdown of three on the night to get to 21-14, the Pioneers came right back with a seven-play drive in kind that culminated with a Vena to Rich Musinski 10-yd. strike to stretch the Wilkes-Barre lead to 28-14. That would be the first of five touchdowns caught by Musinski, who was the game's leading receiver with nine catches for 143 yards.
The Wolves cut the lead on their next possession with the second Jefferson rushing touchdown, but Chris Koepplin clanged the PAT off the upright so they were behind by eight points when the Pioneers received the kickoff. This time it only took the Pioneers three plays to find the end zone when Vena and Musinski hooked up for their third score of the half and the Wolves were behind by 35-20 as their next drive stalled before time expired in the half.
The Wolves, with Potts still calling the signals, got the ball to start the se cond half but squandered the opportunity when forced to give the ball back on downs on their first drive. Five plays later Vena eluded what looked like a sure sack by Bryan Robinson on third-and-11 and found Antwun Williams as he was flying over the wall and the play was ruled a touchdown even though his feet never made contact with the ground and the Pioneers were up 42-20.
The Wolves, who most likely will be without the services of both of the true quarterbacks on the roster, now enter the playoffs as one of the two bottom seeds in the conference and will have to begin the post season on the road next weekend against one of the top two seeds.
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