Wolves Upset at Home 41-39
MANCHESTER, NH-The Manchester Wolves hopes of clinching an arenafootball2 league playoff spot were put on ice by the Mahoning Valley Thunder, who rolled into town o n Friday night and pulled off the improbable 41-39 upset in fron t of 4,815 stunned fans at the Verizon Wireless Arena.
The win ended a 13 game losing skid for the Thunder, who had the worst record in the af2 this season before improving to 2-13, and it was Mahoning Valley's first road victory in 20 games. Manchester slid to 7-8, and with one game remaining in the regular season, compromised its chances to secure an American Conference wild card berth in the playoffs. Now Manchester is backed up against the wall with the East Division champion Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers, who own the best record in the conference, invading the Wolves den next Friday night in the regular season finale.
Thunder quarterback Tom Zetts, a raw rookie making his first start in the af2, played like an old pro as he completed 12 of 24 passes for 236 yards with five touchdowns and only one interception. Zetts, voted the Russell Athletic offensive Player of the Game, outshone Wolves quarterback Mike Potts, who looked like the rookie he is despite having started five games and rallying his team to a three-game winning streak before the loss to the Thunder. Potts connected on 31 of 48 th rows for 337 yards and four touchdowns against one interception. While Potts had a better completion percentage, it was Zetts who repeatedly made the big plays and committed fewer costly turnovers.
Just like the last time these two teams tangled on June 19th, the Thunder jumped out to an early advantage and got the Wolves into a deep hole at 19-0 in the first half. It must have been a déjà vu for the Wolves, who were shut out in the first quarter for the first time since July 13, 2007, as Mahoning Valley had them in a 20-0 rout last time out. But this time, there would be no come-from-behind heroics for Manchester, although the Wolves would tease their fans that they would pull it out of the fire again when they got first lead of the game at 39-35 with 53 seconds left on the clock.
Not to be outdone or intimidated, the Thunder dug down deep and put together a four-play drive that culminated in a 34-yd. scoring strike to Pat Clark. Although the 2-pt. conversion attempt failed, the Th under was back on top 41-39 with 10 seconds remaining.
The Wolves tried to claw their way back with successive completions to Emery Sammons that brought them to their own 23-yard line, but by then time was not on their side. With only two seconds on the game clock, Chris Koepplin, who had already missed a 52-yd. desperation field goal in the second quarter and saw a 27-yd. attempt returned in the second quarter as well, lined up for what could have been the game-winning 42-yd. kick.
But Mike Alston, who had already contributed four tackles, one sack, a pass break up and a tackle for loss, secured the win for Mahoning Valley when he broke through the line and blocked the kick.
Manchester's defense, which had a rocky first half, played better in the second half but still let the Thunder keep them from clinching a playoff spot even though Mahoning Valley played the entire game without its top two offensive weapons. Quorey Payne, the Thunder's outstanding wide receiver and kick returner was placed on injured reserve earlier in the week and CJ Brewer dislocated his finger on the opening kickoff and never returned to the action.
Wolves receivers Steven Savoy and Emery Sammons combined for 24 catches, 289 yards and three touchdowns, and defensive back Carlton Brown, playing in his first game all season, returned a kickoff 56 yds. for a fourth quarter touchdown, but their efforts would fall short.
Now the Wolves have to regroup and face a very tough and talented Pioneers team that has already beaten them in three previous meetings this season. With three other teams vying for only three remaining wild card spots, contingent upon the outcome of games yet to be played this weekend, the Wolves know that there is no margin for error in the regular season finale.
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