Super Soul Prove Doubters Wrong, Win ArenaBowl XXIX
GLENDALE, AZ - I was wrong. I was absolutely dead wrong.
I didn't think the Philadelphia Soul had the horses to run with the Arizona Rattlers in ArenaBowl XXIX, and I didn't think they had the mental toughness to overcome when things went wrong in the raucous Snake Pit.
And I was wrong.
Though most weren't as adamant that the Soul were going to get beaten down as badly as me, most would have been hard-pressed three hours ago to find a reason to think that Philadelphia was going to force five turnovers and hold a team which averaged nearly 42 points per HALF here in the playoffs to 42 points for the game.
But all the credit in the world goes out to Clint Dolezel and this franchise for pulling off one of the great upsets in the history of the ArenaBowl.
Things didn't necessarily look good for the Soul early on, as their first two plays resulted in a rush for nothing and an incomplete pass that Dan Raudabaugh threw nowhere near his intended receiver. Raudabaugh threw a strike to Shaun Kaleinamoku on 3rd down to keep that drive going, and on the next play, Darius Reynolds came up a circus catch in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown.
Three plays later, Beau Bell forced a fumble on a Mykel Benson run near the goal-line on what looked like was sure to be a touchdown. Dwayne Hollis picked it up and ran it 49 yards the other way for a TD in what was only the 2nd 49-yard touchdown on a play from scrimmage in ArenaBowl history.
The very next kickoff resulted in a net recovery for a touchdown, and just like that, the Soul, 12.5-point underdogs, were up 21-0.
Philadelphia raced out to a total of 28 points in the first quarter, an ArenaBowl record in the first quarter of a game.
The Soul though, knew that they were going to be in for the fight of their lives just to hold onto that lead even though no team had ever won an ArenaBowl from more than eight points behind in League history.
The next stop though, belonged to Philadelphia. Nick Davila was picked off on 4th down late in the 2nd quarter by James Romain. The Soul had a chance to go up 28 on Arizona, only to ultimately turn the ball over on downs when Reynolds couldn't hang onto a ball in the corner of the end zone on 4th down just inside the 1-minute warning.
From there, the next hour of real life time had to be agonizing for the Soul. They watched Arizona score to cut the lead to 35-21 at halftime, and they had no answers for Davila and company when they sliced that deficit to 35-28 right after the break.
The Soul had to convert two 4th downs on the ensuing drive with the entire 13,309 in attendance screaming their lungs out in hopes for a stop. The second of those conversions came on a blown coverage which left Kauleinamoku open in the corner of the end zone to reinstate the two-score lead.
After a quick Rattlers TD, the Soul were once again forced to answer. This time though, they didn't have the response in them. Ryan McDaniel caught a pass all by himself near midfield and raced towards the end zone, but he was stripped by K.J. Morton. The Rattlers recovered and almost immediately tied the game.
A lead which was once a split second from being 42-14 was completely gone in a 42-42 game.
Even when Kauleinamoku hauled in his second touchdown of the game to make it 48-42, a missed extra point seemingly kept the momentum with Arizona in spite of the fact that the hosts were behind.
Davila, who struggled so much in a first half in which he went 12-of-25, started the second half completing 8-of-9 passes, and surely, the Soul wouldn't be able to come up with a stop at that point.
Except someone forgot to tell that to Jake Metz. Metz, who is heading to Philadelphia Eagles camp next week, made the biggest play of his career in a play which exemplified the effort which the Soul put into this game. He bulled through the offensive guard and stripped Davila from his blind side then fell on the football.
Three plays later, Kauleinamoku made a heck of a catch on a 30-yard touchdown, and the ArenaBowl title was officially within grasp.
When Romain logged his second pick of the game, becoming the 10th man in ArenaBowl history to pick off two passes in a game, the celebration was officially on.
The Soul were champions for the first time since 2008.
The statistics weren't overwhelming in the ArenaBowl for sure. Raudabaugh went 20-of-36 for 278 yards with six TDs, but most importantly, he didn't throw an interception. He earned this win for sure.
Instead, it was the stardom of Kauleinamoku – an unheralded guy for sure on a Philly team full of superstars, who ruled the day with eight catches for 110 yards and three picks. SK won both J. Lewis Small Playmaker of the Game award and Cutters Catch of the Game honors, and after the game, he was named the MVP of ArenaBowl XXIX as well.
For the AFL, this was about as good as it could have gotten. With all due respect to the Rattlers and their dynasty which, for my money still lives on, having Ron Jaworski hoist the Foster Trophy is as good as it gets. He's the biggest trumpeter of the AFL, and again, with all due respect to Ron Shurts, the league is going to get more publicity with Jaworski gathering another ring than Arizona claiming its fourth title in five years.
They said – I said – that it couldn't be done. I said that it was going to be a blowout. And it was. Except it was Philadelphia which definitively was the better team in ArenaBowl XXIX. The Soul are certainly deserving champions.