Fusion Scrimmages Thunder in Fort Wayne
The Fort Wayne Fusion held a scrimmage with the Mahoning Valley Thunder Friday night in Fort Wayne. Both teams are expansion teams in arenafootball2 this year. The evening served as a dress rehearsal for the home opener on Saturday, March 31 when the Green Bay Blizzard come to town.
I have been to the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum a couple of times before to see the Fort Wayne Freedom play, once when they were members of the National Indoor Football League and twice when they were members of United Indoor Football. I had always thought that the cavernous venue would be ideal for an Arena Football team due to the extremely high ceiling.
It was comforting to walk in and see the familiar Arena Football rebound nets suspended from the rafters. The end zones were painted purple with the name ‘FUSION” printed in white lettering. The Fusion players wore white uniforms and white helmets while the Thunder was just the opposite, black uniforms and black helmets.
Things kicked of at 7 PM, but the first hour consisted mainly of one-on-one drills between the two teams. The drills between the receivers and defensive backs went pretty much as expected. There were some great catches mixed in with some great defensive pass breakups and an occasional interception.
The linemen drills, however, were sometimes quite heated. There were several times when players had to be separated from each other after a play by team mates and coaches.
At 8 o’clock the teams began a full contact scrimmage, consisting of two quarters of timed football. Both teams started out with turnovers on their first possessions. After Fort Wayne received the opening kickoff, their first pass was intercepted by Mahoning Valley. On the Thunder’s first play from scrimmage, they fumbled the ball on a running play and Fort Wayne recovered.
After that the two teams settled down and began getting into a rhythm. In the end, Mahoning Valley came out on top 14-13 thanks to a missed extra point by the Fusion.
There were promotional giveaways on the field also during the evening and the Fusion’s Energy Dance Team performed several routines.
After the scrimmage was over, fans were invited down on the field to get autographs from players and coaches.
Fusion General Manager Mike McCaffrey, who estimated that about 2,000 fans showed up to watch the scrimmage, was pleased with the way the evening went. “We accomplished what we wanted to accomplish,” McCaffrey said. “The fans came out and saw what we’re all about and the coach called a great game.”
Fusion head coach Eddie Brown liked what he saw from the team as well. “We were disciplined, we were flying around, were executing our assignments and we were physical,” Brown said. “Those are the things that I really put an emphasis on. When I saw that, it just showed that my coaches are doing a great job of coaching. We need to fine tune some things and we’ll be ready for the 31st.”
Mahoning Valley head coach Mike Hold also was also pleased with the scrimmage. “Defensively, I think both teams showed some good things,” Hold said. “We evaluated some talent and we found some weaknesses that we need to work on, but overall it was a good experience.” The Thunder had to endure a four and a half hour bus ride to get to Fort Wayne. They now return home to prepare for their home opener against the Tri-Cities Fever on Saturday, March 31.
Admission to the scrimmage was free to all Fusion season ticket holders. All others paid just $5.00 to attend.
The night of the scrimmage was the first time that the field and rebound nets had been set up at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum. The two teams were supposed to practice together at the Coliseum the day before the scrimmage, but the field did not actually arrive in Fort Wayne unto 3 AM the day of the scrimmage. The set up crew had to really hustle to get everything ready in time for the scrimmage. “I’ll tell you what, this arena operations crew is one of the best I’ve ever had the privilege to work with,” said Fusion GM McCaffrey. “The important thing is, at 6:15 when we opened the doors, it looked like it was supposed to. Everybody hustled to make it work.”