Xplorers out to secure home playoff game
SOUTHAVEN --- Last week, the Memphis Xplorers (10-5) qualified for the af2 postseason for the third straight season with a 75-15 win over the Amarillo Dusters. This week, the squad can make sure that its first playoff game will be contested on home turf with a victory over the Birmingham Steeldogs (7-7) this Saturday at 7 p.m. in Birmingham, AL.
The Xplorers can still catch the Florida Firecats (11-3) for the division title, but would need to win their game and have the Firecats lose both of their remaining games (vs Louisville, at South Georgia). Regardless of what happens this week, the Xplorers know that they are in the ArenaCup tournament and, with a bye next week, will be idle as the American Conference playoff landscape is set in stone.
That is why this weekend is so important. Win and the team is guaranteed a home playoff game at the DeSoto Civic Center. A win would also build momentum into the playoffs after having a stretch of three losses in four games a couple of weeks ago.
While Memphis is in, the Steeldogs basically need to win to stay alive. They need wins in the last two weeks and some help from the East Division to return to the playoffs after missing out last season.
"They (Birmingham) are going to play us hard regardless," Xplorers Head Coach Danton Barto said. "They'll be confident after the win they pulled off here."
Birmingham's Alex Walls booted a 25 yard field goal on the game's final play back on June 17 to give the 'Dogs a 43-42 win. Birmingham leads the all-time series 4-2 and is 2-1 versus the Xplorers at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Complex.
"I expect us to play playoff caliber football this weekend," Barto said. "That will be the determining factor to see if this team has turned the corner or not."
Memphis Offensive Specialist Kevin Prentiss will take the field this Saturday night as the most prolific kick return man in af2 history. Last week, he added the league's number one position on the all-time kickoff return yards list to his spot on top of the kickoff return touchdowns list. Entering this week, Prentiss has 3594 yards and 14 touchdowns on kickoff returns in his four year Xplorers career. During that time, he has averaged an amazing 25.7 yards per return.
"He has been unbelievable," Barto said. "I think he is the best guy off the net that has played in af2."
While Prentiss took over an individual league record last week, the Xplorers tied a team record. Nate Grace's blocked field goal in the first quarter of the win over Amarillo was the team's 12th of season, tying the record held by the 2002 Richmond Speed.
After Saturday's game, the Xplorers will have next week off with the af2 playoffs beginning on August 5.
The Memphis Xplorers...2005 ArenaCup Champions
Listen to all the action on the radio home of the Xplorers, 730 ESPN.
Be sure to head to O'Charley's on Goodman Road in Southaven after every Xplorers home game for the official post game party.
Listen to the Danton Barto Show every Monday at 6pm on 730 ESPN live from The Fox and Hound in Southaven.
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