Magical Night For Garcia as Predators Shock Spokane
Welcome to the Orlando Predators, Aaron Garcia! On a night where many prognosticators (including myself) suggested that the Preds were going to get run out of town against the Spokane Shock, they pulled off the biggest win that the franchise has had in the last two seasons. The Predators were down three touchdowns on three different occasions in the game, but they rallied for an 83-82 victory.
The outset of this game looked like it was going to be a typical 2012-2013 Predators night. They fell behind 20-7 out of the blocks, and after a fumble return for a touchdown by Terrance Taylor, Spokane took a 48-27 lead.
If all we had to talk about was the first half of this game, it would have been plenty. The Shock scored touchdowns on each of their nine – that's right – NINE possessions to take a 62-41 lead at the intermission. The 62 points scored is one shy of the all-time record for the most points scored by a team in a half of football, while the 103 combined points was the most ever scored in a half. This was also the only time in Preds history that they allowed more than 60 points in a half of football.
Unfortunately for the Shock, that wasn't even nearly half the story of this one.
The 2012 Orlando Predators would have thrown in the towel of this game well before halftime even took place. The 2013 Orlando Predators in the pre-Garcia days would have benched their quarterback, brought in a backup, and hoped for the best. The new-look Preds, though? They showed the hearts of champions eyes of warriors for the first time arguably since the league launched again in 2010.
The comeback began with a 28-yard TD pass from Garcia to TT Toliver to cut the Spokane lead to 14. The Shock ran seven plays on their next drive before conceding for a field goal attempt that was missed for the first Orlando stop of the game. Nine plays later, Orlando had a touchdown and had the lead shopped to eight.
Spokane finished the third quarter without a single point after scoring 62 in the first half of play, a happening that we have never seen before in the Arena Football League and one that we will probably never see again.
The scoring wasn't nearly done, though. Over the course of the first 11 plays of the fourth quarter, both teams ended up scoring two touchdowns. With 6:35 to go, the Shock were up 82-69. That's probably how the game should have ended, and had that been the end of the story, we would have looked back at this one as just another disappointment in what would have been a 1-6 start to the campaign.
Garcia and the Predators ran eight plays on what should have been their final drive of the game. When the last of those plays fell to the ground as an incomplete pass, the drama should have been finished with. Little did we know that it was only getting started.
With less than a minute to play and the Predators only carrying two timeouts in their pocket, the Shock did the unthinkable. All that was needed to finish this game off was three pushes forward. That's it. Instead, in a move that could only be described as boneheaded, Head Coach Andy Olson called a pass play to the sidelines on first down. Now, it's true that had the pass been caught and run inbounds as it was supposed to be, it would have essentially done the same thing as a run. However, the receiver bobbled the ball in the air, only to see it picked up by Travis Coleman. (Note: The postgame box score shows the play as a sack and a fumble rather than an interception, though that will clearly be changed to a catch by Jeffrey Solomon and a fumble or an interception credited to Erik Meyer.)
As a result, #8 got the ball back in his hands one more time, and he made no mistakes. Twenty seconds later, the Preds were celebrating a touchdown that cut the lead down to just six points with 28 seconds left on the clock. Even still, Orlando needed to recover an onside kick and score another touchdown to take the lead in the game.
The Predators had already attempted a gazillion onside kicks this season without recovering a single one. (Okay, that's a slight exaggeration. They were only 0-of-14 at the time.) However, on a night like this, when magic appeared to be in the air, a fortuitous bounce and a scrum later, and Orlando had its first successful onside kick of the season at the best time possible for it.
First it was Garcia to Toliver for 15 yards. Then it was Garcia to Toliver for another 17. Two plays after that, Garcia and Toliver hooked up for a third time on the drive, this time in the end zone for a five-yard touchdown. Mark Lewis' PAT put Orlando up by three, and a missed field goal at the gun by Kenny Spencer was the final dagger. The Predators won their highest scoring game in team history 83-82 in what amounted to be the third highest scoring game in league history.
The final statistics from this game for the men dressed in white and black were out of this world. Garcia, playing in just his second game with the Preds, threw for 442 yards and 11 touchdowns, both of which obliterated franchise records. His 11 scores fell just one short of the all-time record. Garcia became the first quarterback this season to throw for at least 400 yards in a game, and he logged what unofficially is the fifth most passing yards in a game in league history.
Toliver had a day for the record books as well. He finished with 18 catches, 251 yards, and six receiving touchdowns. All of those stats are now in the Orlando record books as all-time franchise single-game highs. Toliver finished just two receptions short of the all-time single-game record.
The 83 points scored was the second highest for the Predators in team history according to the team's media guide, while the 448 total yards of offensive obliterated the old team record.
All sorts of special teams records were nearly set as well. There were a total of three kick returns for touchdowns in the game, one shy of the all-time record, and the combination of Jeffrey Solomon, Terrance Sanders, and Maurice Williams accounted for 464 kick return yards, the third highest total in league history.
The Shock are now just 5-3 after starting off the season at 5-0. They are now two games back of the Arizona Rattlers for the top spot in the Western Division, and they are only a game clear of the Chicago Rush, who would be the first team in the National Conference left out of the playoffs if they started today.
The Predators have now won two games in a row with Garcia at the helm, and they have to be feeling good about themselves even though they are just 2-5. They are three 3 ½-games behind the Jacksonville Sharks for the Southern Division lead still, but most importantly, they kept pace with the Pittsburgh Power and the Cleveland Gladiators in the race for the last playoff spot in the American Conference. All three teams were victorious on Saturday night.