Xplorers' quest for second straight Arenacup begins Saturday
SOUTHAVEN --- The Memphis Xplorers begin their third straight af2 postseason this Saturday night when they host the Louisville Fire Saturday night at 7 pm at the DeSoto Civic Center. Most notably, this game is a rematch of last season's ArenaCup, but it is also a rematch of a Louisville 63-55 win at Louisville on July 8 and match up of head coaches that are former high school teammates and long-time friends.
The Xplorers enter the post-season after an 11-5 regular season and have won their last two games. The Fire went 9-7 in the regular season, but dropped their final two of the regular season. Last week's loss to the Green Bay Blizzard in the season finale cost the Fire the East Division title and a first round bye. As a result, the team slipped to the number six seed, setting up a first round game with the Xplorers.
In the Xplorers' loss at Louisville last month, the Xplorers were without starting quarterback Brian Jones who missed the game after injuring his foot on the team's final play at Macon the week before. Daniel Forrest played well in his first ever pro start, going 21 of 36 for 261 yards, six TD and 1 INT, only to have the team fall short. For this game, Jones will be back and has been getting healthy, thanks to last week's bye.
"Brian is probably more excited than anyone to be playing Louisville," Head Coach Danton Barto said. "We were very vanilla offensively in that game due to the fact that we didn't have Brian and it was Daniel's first start. We will be able to open the playbook and show a lot more this time."
Both Jones and Louisville QB Brett Dietz have had big seasons. The two tied for the top passer rating in the league, (126.7). That rating is the third highest single-season rating in af2 history. The two were first and second in completion percentage, respectively, with Dietz' 71.2% besting Jones' 68.2%. Jones broke five different Xplorers franchise career, single season and single game records in 2006. Dietz, a rookie, was top five in passing touchdowns, passing yards and completions.
In the July 8 game at Freedom Hall, the Xplorers' defense did a solid job on the Fire's OS Rob Mager, holding him to six catches for 82 yards and two touchdowns. Mager finished the season leading the league in receptions (143), receiving yards (1918), touchdown receptions (54) and overall scoring (328 points).
The fact that Barto will be coaching against his friend and former teammate Tommy Johnson for the second straight year in the playoffs has Barto excited.
"It makes it even more fun," Barto said of the coaching match-up. "We are both very competitive and don't like to lose. He's like my brother, but as coaches, we have a lot of respect for each other."
After last season's ArenaCup title run, the Xplorers have an all-time post season record of 3-1 and a 2-0 mark at the DCC. The Fire, like the Xplorers, are making their third consecutive playoff appearance and are 4-2 all-time in the af2's second season. Unlike the Xplorers, the Fire have never hosted a playoff game and are 4-1 in the opponent's building.
A win would send the Xplorers to Green Bay to face the East Division Champion Blizzard on Friday, August 11.
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