VooDoo Look For First Playoff Win Against Heavily Favored Soul
ArenaBowl XXV will be held at New Orleans Arena, home for the New Orleans VooDoo. As the No. 4 seed in the American Conference playoffs, the VooDoo know that they have no chance of hosting either of their first two playoff games. That being said, home field will be theirs for the ArenaBowl if they can get that far, and that first step comes on Saturday night in the City of Brotherly Love against the top seeded Philadelphia Soul.
ArenaFan.com's Andy Lopusnak pointed out to me earlier in the day that this is the first time in five years of neutral site ArenaBowls that the "host team" is even in the playoffs. The Soul will hope to make the VooDoo disappear early on and without a fight, though.
For New Orleans, it hasn't been a good run to get into the playoffs. The team had three different chances to clinch up a playoff spot at the end of the season and failed in all three, including blowing a 13-point lead with the ball against the Georgia Force in Week 20 and a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter against the Tampa Bay Storm in Week 19. Still, thanks to a Tampa Bay loss on the final weekend of the season against the Spokane Shock, the VooDoo are a part of the party, playing in the postseason for just the second time in franchise history.
New Orleans' only other playoff game was played in "The Graveyard," but the result was a poor 47-44 loss to the Colorado Crush in 2004.
An 8-10 season wasn't the best for first-year Head Coach Pat O'Hara, but he'll take the playoff spot for sure, especially knowing that his troops were coming off of a brutal 3-15 season in 2011. QB Kurt Rocco had a heck of a season, throwing for 5,317 yards, good for fourth in the league. He also had a franchise-best 107 TDs against 17 INTs.
The VooDoo had three 1,000+ yard receivers this year in Josh Bush, L.J. Castile, and Quorey Payne. Bush finished the year ranked eighth in the league in all-purpose yards with 2,877, and he found the end zone a total of 41 times. Payne hasn't played since Week 18 though, and the third receiver duties have gone to WR Chris Duvalt in the interim.
If you want to talk about some impressive offensive stats though, you have to take a look at the Soul. Offensive Coordinator Clint Dolezel is likely to win Assistant of the Year honors thanks to the fact that his Soul shattered virtually every offensive record in the book. The team broke the record for most points in a season (1,228), most points per game (68.2), most touchdowns scored (177), and several others. Click Here to see Andy's list of all of the single-season records that Philadelphia set in 2012.
This could be a bit of a challenge for the Soul, though. They aren't going to have WR Tiger Jones, who is in training camp with the Philadelphia Eagles. That leaves Donovan Morgan, Larry Brackins, and Jeff Hughley to lead the offensive effort.
If QB Dan Raudabaugh isn't on his game, the VooDoo could force some turnovers and become a real pain for the Soul. Philadelphia led the league in total turnovers forced with 64 and in turnover margin at +23, but New Orleans wasn't far behind in either category. The VooDoo finished with 51 forced turnovers, including a league-best 36 INTs, and they had a +14 turnover margin.
Raudabaugh was intercepted four times this year by jack linebackers, and that could have LB Alvin Ray Jackson licking his chops. Jackson finished the year tied for the league lead in interceptions with 14, and that was good enough to break the record for the most picks by a jack linebacker in league history.
The VooDoo and the Soul met back in Week 2, and the 63-62 victory for the visiting Soul could have easily gone the other way. Philadelphia picked up the 'W' when Raudabaugh found Morgan on a 2-yard touchdown strike with 0:17 to play. Do watch for Hughley in this one though, as he had one of the best games of his career against New Orleans, accounting for a total of 360 all-purpose yards and three total scores.
Head Coach Doug Plank has never lost to the VooDoo in his career, going a perfect 7-0 in his time with the Georgia Force. The Soul have won three in a row in this series, including beating New Orleans in its last two trips to the Wells Fargo Center by a combined score of 148-83.
There is a little bit of history on the side of the VooDoo though, knowing that Coach O'Hara was able to pull off the upset as the No. 4 seed two years ago in the first round of the playoffs when he was with the Orlando Predators against the Jacksonville Sharks.
According to BetOnline Sportsbook, New Orleans is the biggest underdog on the board this week at +12. The 'total' is set at 117 in spite of the fact that these two teams combined to average 122.6 PPG this year.
Saturday night's kickoff starts at 7:05 p.m. (ET). The winner will battle either the Jacksonville Sharks or the Georgia Force next week for the right to go to ArenaBowl XXV.