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Xplorers Out to Snap Vipers Win Streak

May 10, 2002 - arenafootball2 (af2) News Release

DESOTO, Miss. - The Memphis Xplorers host the Tennessee Valley Vipers Saturday at 8:30 p.m. ET in a potential playoff preview featuring two of the National Conference's division leaders.

The 4-0 Vipers, one of just four undefeated teams left in arenafootball2, own a half-game lead on the 4-1 Birmingham Steeldogs in the National Conference Southern Division. Memphis, which currently is 4-1 after going just 3-13 last year, shares the Central Division lead with the Tulsa Talons. Tennessee Valley, 2-0 away from home and winner of 10 straight road games dating back to last year, will be trying to break the league record for consecutive road wins. The Vipers currently share the mark with Quad City (eight straight road wins in 2000 and two more to start 2001). The Xplorers are 1-1 at home this year, beating Bossier City, but losing their last home game to Florida, 30-25, on April 27.

The game pits the league's best pass offense (Memphis) against its best pass defense, according to passer rating. The Xplorers, led by QB TIM LESTER and OS RUSSELL COPELAND, have 1,436 yards through the air (283.2 ypg) and 27 passing TDs. Tennessee Valley, meanwhile, has allowed just 180 passing yards per game and 11 touchdowns, picking off 10 passes.

Both teams rank in the top 10 in scoring offense, with Memphis averaging 55.0 ppg (third in af2) and Tennessee Valley scoring at a 50.8 ppg clip (sixth). Lester and Copeland are the most high-powered pass-catch tandem in af2, with Lester's 1,444 passing yards and 27 TDs leading the league and Copeland's 680 receiving yards and 84 points also setting the pace for the rest of af2. But the 25-point outing in the Florida loss shows they can be limited, and Tennessee Valley DS KELLY SNELL has been up to every challenge so far this year. He has intercepted a pass in all four Viper games and leads the league with six pickoffs, including two in Tennessee Valley's 44-30 win over Arkansas last week. Snell and fellow DS KENNY BAILEY have combined for 35 tackles, eight interceptions and seven pass breakups this year.

Memphis tied a league record with six interceptions in its 80-18 win at Mobile last week. Two of the picks went for touchdowns, with JESSE ALLEN scoring on both an interception return and a fumble return to earn league-wide ADT Defensive Player of the Week honors. Memphis leads all of af2 with 13 interceptions this season. While Vipers QB WES COUNTS isn't afraid to put it in the air (828 yards, 11 TDs, two INTs), Tennessee Valley boasts the top rushing offense in the league, which could guard against the big defensive play. Led by Counts (six rushing TDs) and WR/LB REGGIE WORTHY (five TDs), the Vipers have scored 15 times on the ground this year. Worthy and OS KELLY FIELDS (411 receiving yards, six TDs), the league's all-time receptions and receiving yards leader, are Tennessee Valley's primary pass catchers.

The Vipers beat Memphis 55-14 in the Xplorers' inaugural game last April 7, but the expansion Xplorers showed glimpses of what was to come this season when they took Tennessee Valley to the wire before losing 49-48 in the rematch (6/30/01). The Vipers, who went 15-3 last year, escaped with the victory when Memphis was unable to convert a two-point conversion attempt with two seconds left in the game. The teams play again July 20 at Tennessee Valley in the next-to-last week of the regular season.

The Tallahassee Thunder and Columbus Wardogs clash in the first of two 2002 meetings Saturday at the Columbus Civic Center. Thunder OS JAMES DICKERSON may not be the team leader in receiving this season, but he has found success in this series, hauling in 14 passes for 293 yards and nine TDs lifetime against the Wardogs. Tallahassee averages 50.5 ppg while the Wardogs usually get 29.8 per contest. That may change for the 'Dogs, however, as QB VIC PENN has been added to the roster. Penn was brought over from Cape Fear to replace the injured JEROME WEAKS. As part of the deal to bring Penn to Columbus, the Wardogs had to let OS MATT BURNSTEIN go, which means TERRANCE SAMUELS will have to pick up the slack. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound WR/DB already has 13 receptions for 190 yards and three scores, plus he leads the team with three interceptions.

The sizzling Roanoke Steam looks to make it four in a row, as it hosts in-state rival Norfolk Saturday at the Roanoke County Civic Center. The Steam might have to do it without QB CHRIS SANDERS, who suffered a knee sprain last week against the Pioneers. If Sanders can't go, AL CLARK will take the snaps. After starting the season 0-3, the Norfolk Nighthawks finally found that winning feeling last week against Mohegan. OS GARY BRIGGS played a big role for the 'Hawks in the OT thriller, reeling off a 57-yard kickoff return and a 57-yard missed field goal return for TDs. The Nighthawks never have lost to the Steam, going 4-0 over the past two seasons. A win by Norfolk could help create a four-way tie for second place in the Atlantic Division. These two teams meet once more on July 13.

The Birmingham Steeldogs (4-1), who play 2-2 Pensacola Saturday, have won four games in a row since an opening 55-42 loss at Tulsa - including a 70-40 pasting of Pensacola in Week 3 that started the streak. QB MONTRESSA KIRBY keys an attack that ranks second in scoring offense (55.4 ppg). Kirby, who has thrown seven TD passes each of the last two weeks, joins Memphis' TIM LESTER with a league-high 27 TD tosses this year. He also ranks in the top 10 in pass rating, passing yards (1,128), rushing yards (78) and total offense. OS WAYNE THOMAS (458 receiving yards, 14 TDs) shares the af2 scoring lead (84 points) with RUSSELL COPELAND of the Xplorers. QB CHARLIE PETERSEN takes the reins for Pensacola after leading passer BOBBY CLAYTON left the team to pursue a coaching opportunity. The Barracudas' main playmaker has been WR/DB/KR JERRIAN JAMES, who led af2 with 271 all-purpose yards in Week 5, intercepted three passes in Week 6 to earn league ADT Defensive Player of the Week honors and caught the game-winning TD pass in the final minute last week against Bossier City.

Bossier (2-3) looks to bounce back Saturday against a Mobile team that's hoping to have some bounces finally go its way after an ugly 0-5 start. No team in af2 history has given up as many points through its first five games as the Wizards' 318 allowed, including back-to-back losses of 72-6 to Pensacola and 80-18 to Memphis. OS ANTOINE FLOWERS leads the Wizards with 259 receiving yards and five of Mobile's 11 offensive TDs on the season. The league's leading rusher, Battle Wings QB SHERARD POTEETE (128 yards, seven TDs) paces the Bossier City attack. He's passed for 960 yards and 13 touchdowns, seven of them to WR/DB KEVIN STEVENSON, who has 420 yards on 33 receptions this season.

Arkansas (3-2) travels to Tulsa (4-1) Saturday to play a crucial game in a Central Division that looks to have four solid contenders battling for two playoff spots. The Talons look to extend their 12-game regular-season home winning streak and hold serve against the Twisters with the rematch in North Little Rock scheduled for June 22. Tulsa OS/KR MITCH ALLNER won af2 Offensive Player of the Week honors this week after racking up 281 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns (three receiving, two on returns) in the Talons' 70-42 win at Hawaii. WR/DB SEAN LOVE has been a nice complement to Allner, catching six passes for 117 yards and four touchdowns over the past two weeks. He also has three interceptions this year. Arkansas QB RICKY HEBERT is sure to keep tabs on Love's defensive position. Hebert hopes to shake off his three-INT outing in last week's 44-30 loss at Tennessee Valley. Hebert (1,173 passing yards) has been spectacular at times this season, throwing 15 of his 22 TD passes in Week 4 and 5 victories. Both teams' QBs hope to stay upright . these teams rank 2-3 in sacks (Arkansas has 17 and Tulsa 14). Twister OL/DL GREG TAYLOR has had a sack in all but last week's game. His 6.0 sacks rank third in af2.

Wichita (1-4), with just 96 total points this season, is the second team in league history to fail to crack 100 points in its first five games (Memphis scored 93 through five games last year). On the other side of the coin, 0-5 Fresno, which hosts the Stealth Saturday, has allowed 60 points per game. That's one reason why the Frenzy is one of only two teams (Greensboro is the other) to lose twice this season when it's scored more than 50 points itself. We'll see what gives . Fresno General Manager BOB MARTIN guaranteed a victory, but Wichita's lone win came against a Hawaii squad that beat the Frenzy earlier this year. Fresno OS/KR LAMONT WEBB leads the league with 993 all-purpose yards (580 return yards, 408 receiving, five rushing). The Stealth had its first full week to pick up the offense of new director of football operations BOB CORTESE, a former head coach/offensive coordinator in the AFL. Wichita is strong defensively (seventh in af2 with 209.8 yards per game allowed), led by OL/DL BRYAN HENDERSON, who ranks sixth in the league with 4.5 sacks.

A week after seeing MITCH ALLNER run up and down the field, Hawaii (1-4) probably isn't too excited to have San Diego OS/KR MARTY GRAHAM come to town Saturday. Graham, who set an af2 record with 400 all-purpose yards in the season opener, leads the league with 246.2 total yards per game and scored rushing, receiving and return touchdowns last week against Louisville. San Diego (2-3) comes off a 68-27 win against the Fire, also thanks in part to af2's Built Ford Tough Man of the Week, WR/LB RICO CURTIS. He caught a 35-yard TD pass and returned a fumble 17 yards for a score in the game, also adding 10.5 tackles to his league-leading total of 40.5. The homestanding Islanders, losers of four straight games, have a new head coach in former AFL and CFL player CHAD CARLSON. WR/LB CHRIS PAOGOFIE is Hawaii's answer to Curtis, ranking among the team leaders in tackles, interceptions, returns, receiving and scoring. Meanwhile, OS/KR DARRELL JONES has been on Graham's heels all season in the all-purpose race, totaling 919 yards so far. Jones had personal season highs with 134 receiving yards and three TDs in last week's loss to Tulsa.

Carolina and Greensboro meet for the second time in as many weeks on Sunday at the Greensboro Coliseum. Last week, Carolina exploded for an all-time team-high 82 points en route to its first win of 2002. Greensboro lost more than just pride last week in Greenville as QB CHRIS WEIBEL broke his hand late in the game. TRAVIS PENDER will attempt to take the reigns on Sunday. One comforting thought for Pender is the man behind him in the backfield. RAFIK THOROSSIAN is among the league leaders in rushing this season, averaging 20.2 yards per game. Carolina did a good job of limiting his yards last week, holding him to nine, but he still scored his league-leading eighth rushing touchdown of the season. The Rhinos hope QB CALEB SLOVER can repeat his performance from a week ago, which saw half of his 12 completions go for touchdowns.

Week 7 Schedule (all times EST)
Friday, May 10
Charleston at Cape Fear, 7:30 p.m.
Macon at Augusta, 7:30 p.m.
Albany at Mohegan, 7:30 p.m.
Jacksonville at Florida, 7:30 p.m.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at Rochester, 7:30 p.m.
Quad City at Peoria, 8:00 p.m.

Saturday, May 11
Tallahassee at Columbus, 7:00 p.m.
Norfolk at Roanoke, 7:30 p.m.
Pensacola at Birmingham, 8:30 p.m.
Mobile at Bossier City, 8:30 p.m.
Tennessee Valley at Memphis, 8:30 p.m.
Arkansas at Tulsa, 8:30 p.m.
Wichita at Fresno, 10:30 p.m.
San Diego at Hawaii, 1:00 a.m. (7:00 p.m. local)

Sunday, May 12
Carolina at Greensboro, 4:00 p.m.

Bakersfield bye
Louisville bye
New Haven bye
Richmond bye

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