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The af2 from top to bottom

Andrew Pekarek
Thursday July 17, 2008

I know what you’re thinking Arena Football League fans, there is only one game left in the AFL season and you still want to watch more arena football.

Luckily for you there is arenafootball2, and if you haven’t been paying attention to the af2, here’s the storylines, trends and players that you should know about with two weeks left before the playoffs began.

American Conference

1. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers (12-2)

Lost to the Quad City Steamwheelers in the opening game of the season. Then they got quarterback Ryan Vena back, and have been tough to beat ever since. The Pioneers have AFL-type talent at every position, and have won 19-straight home games (including playoffs). The last time they lost at home was on July 8th of the 2006 season against the Florida Firecats. The Pioneers can win on the road too. They beat the Firecats in Florida a few weeks ago to claim the top spot in the American Conference.

2. South Georgia Wildcats (10-4)

The only thing you need to know about the Wildcats is they traveled across the country and handed the Spokane Shock its only loss of the season. South Georgia is in position to claim the South Division, but have to travel in the last two weeks of the regular season with games at Peoria and a crucial match up, which could be for the division title, at Tennessee Valley. The Wildcats feature one of the best trios of receivers in the af2 in Antwone Savage, Buchie Ibeh and P.J. Perry.

3. Lexington Horsemen (9-5)

Lexington has dominated other indoor leagues the past few years, and has enjoyed success in its first af2 season. It’s easy to say that any arena football team is only as successful as its quarterback, but it is especially significant for Lexington and Eddie Eviston. When Eviston is firing on all cylinders this team is capable of beating the best the af2 has to offer, but he’s struggled holding onto the football at times, and fumbled away a game against in-state rival Louisville earlier this year. In fact, the only things that may stop Lexington from making it to the ArenaCup may be a mistake by Eviston or seeing the Fire in the playoffs, the Horsemen are 0-3 against its in-state rival.

4. Florida Firecats (9-5)

The Firecats have one of the most experienced teams in the af2. The team has won four straight South Division titles with the help of veteran quarterback Chris Wallace and wide receiver Magic Benton, who recently returned to the team, but South Georgia and Tennessee Valley are hungry and may have passed them up in talent too.

5. Green Bay Blizzard (9-5)

One statistic tells the story of the Blizzard this season. The team is 9-0 when it allows 40 points or less, but it is 0-5 when it allows 41 points or more. However, if you are looking to watch defense in the arena game this is the team to watch, and keep an eye on defensive end Joe Sykes. He’s second in the af2 in sacks with 16.5.

6. Tennessee Valley Vipers (9-5)

The Vipers started the season 0-3, and it seemed they were headed toward the worst season in franchise history. Then head coach Dean Cokinos parted ways with ineffective quarterback Andy Hall and picked up Kevin Eakin, and the Vipers have been one of the hottest teams ever since. The Vipers also have a dominant pass rusher in defensive end Eric Scott, who leads the league in sacks with 17.5.

7. Manchester Wolves (7-7)

Many people felt the Wolves were going to compete for the East Division title when it hired Danton Barto as head coach. Barto was the head coach that led the Memphis Xplorers to the ArenaCup championship in 2005, but it remains to be seen whether he can have similar success in Manchester. The Wolves could be a dangerous team in the playoffs because they are healthy heading down the stretch and have a veteran leader in defensive back Dahn Singfield, who was with Memphis in 2005, and rookie quarterback James Pinkney is playing well.

8. Quad City Steamwheelers (7-7)

This is easily the most inconsistent team in the af2. When quarterback J.J. Raterink doesn’t make mistakes the Steamwheelers are probably one of the best teams in the league, but too often his erratic throws and decisions have cost Quad City games. Also, head coach Troy Biladeau was expecting big things from defensive ends Adam Vogel and Roy Ravenell, but so far this season they have combined for only 10.5 sacks. The pieces are in place for the Steamwheelers to make a run though, and like Manchester has a victory over the Pioneers this season.

9. Louisville Fire (7-7)

The Fire is a big, physical team. Demetrius Forney is a force at fullback and defensive tackle, and wide receiver Lonnell Dewalt, 6’6, is tough to defend in the red zone. The Fire is second in the af2 in rushing yards with 661 and have scored the most touchdowns on the ground, 37, which is eight more than the next closest team. Defensive back Matt Forbes is also second in the af2 with 14 interceptions. The problem for the Fire is finding a quarterback.

10. Albany Conquest (5-9)

Albany’s record isn’t a reflection of its talent. The Conquest had gotten off to a 3-1 start, and then two of its players were invited to rookie camps with NFL squads. Wide receiver Anwun Williams got a tryout with the New York Jets and offensive lineman Jacob Hobbs was signed by the New York Giants, but decided to come back to the Conquest and pursue a career in the AFL. Turnovers on the field are probably the reason for the Conquest’s record, but losing two of its most talented players during the middle of the season had to affect the team.

11. Iowa Barnstormers (5-9)

The Barnstormers’ return hasn’t been successful on the field, but the thing that speaks volumes about this franchise is the fan support it continues to get even though the team has a losing record as the team is among the league leaders in attendance, averaging 9,174. Iowa has been on the wrong side of a number of close games this year, and head coach John Gregory won’t let that happen again next year. It’s great to have the Barnstormers and the cowbells back.

12. Peoria Pirates (4-10)

The Pirates’ return to the af2 has been less than stellar. Coach Bruce Cowdrey, who won an ArenaCup with Peoria in 2002, came back to head Peoria, but he has failed to find the types of players that fit his system, especially on the offensive and defensive lines, but the one constant has been Phil Brock Jr., one of the most electric players in the af2. 

13. Mahoning Valley Thunder (3-11)

The Thunder’s second season isn’t what the team had in mind. Quarterback Josh Swogger, who is a local product, was supposed to lead the team to the playoffs, but he got injured early and the team couldn’t recover. The Thunder is, however, one of the best running teams in the af2 and feature fullback Tim Murphy who rushed for 95 yards against the Pioneers.

14. Daytona Beach Thunderbirds (2-13)

The Thunderbirds probably exceeded most people’s expectations for this club because many expected the team to go 0-16, as the opening day roster featured virtually no players with af2 experience. Herkie Walls was the head coach at the start of the season, but he stepped down and Gary Compton took over and managed to acquire some talent to get a couple of wins and make the best of a bad situation.

National Conference

1. Spokane Shock (13-1)

The Spokane Shock’s greatest advantage heading into the playoffs is its location in the great northwest, far away from some of the other top teams in the af2. The team has home field advantage throughout the playoffs pretty much wrapped up, which would include the ArenaCup this year, as there is no neutral site for the game. On the field, the Shock has gotten stronger with the addition of AFL veteran Etu Molden. It’s also baffling that teams continue to throw at defensive back Sergio Gilliam, who has set the af2 single-season interception record with 16.

2. Tulsa Talons (11-3)

The defending ArenaCup champions looked like, well, the defending ArenaCup champions for most of the season, until a few weeks ago when quarterback Justin Allgood suffered an injury. Allgood may return for the playoffs, but the team has struggled without him, losing its last two games. The good news for Tulsa is AFL veteran quarterback John Fitzgerald was brought in to replace Allgood and he looked good in his first game for the Talons even though the team didn’t win.

3. Austin Wranglers (8-6)

The Wranglers are enjoying success in their first af2 season, and much of it can be credited to quarterback Andy Hall. Hall started the season with Tennessee Valley, but things didn’t work out and Austin was happy to give him the reigns of the Wrangler offense. It’s also helped the team is in the division that doesn’t have Spokane or Tulsa.

4. Arkansas Twisters (10-4)

If you are looking for a team that could spoil the ArenaCup hopes of Tulsa and Spokane, then this is probably your best bet. Head coach Chris Siegfried and quarterback Kyle Rowley know Spokane pretty well because the two won the ArenaCup in 2006 with the Shock. The Twisters also have the Talons’ number too. Arkansas has beaten Tulsa six of the last seven times (including playoffs). Wide receivers Chris Denney and Jamaal Perry are among the league leaders in most receiving statistics and are first and second respectively in receptions per game, as both average over nine catches a game.

5. Lubbock Renegades (8-6)

Lubbock started the season 7-2, but has fallen fast. The team should be able to make the playoffs, but its last two regular season games are on the road. Then in the playoffs the Renegades will be on the road too, and three straight road games will likely catch up with them. Quarterback Robert Kent will have to play his best in order for the Renegades to advance.

6. Central Valley Coyotes (8-6)

The Coyotes are 5-2 in their last seven games, and have been right on the heels of beating Spokane, losing to the Shock 42-40 and 56-54. The Coyotes are also at home in their last two regular season games against Boise and Tri-Cities, which will allow them to sleep in their own beds before they began life on the road in the playoffs. Wide receiver Tonae Martin is the team’s biggest weapon; he’s among the af2 leaders in touchdowns.

7. Boise Burn (8-6)

The Burn has been a hot and cold team. The team has had a 4-game winning streak, a 4-game losing streak and is currently on a 3-game winning streak. The trend shows the team is probably do to start a losing streak, which will get the Burn knocked out of the playoffs, but after beating Florida this past weekend maybe not. 

8. Amarillo Dusters (7-7)

The team went into the bye a few weeks ago feeling good about its chances at making the playoffs after upsetting the Tulsa Talons, but during the bye the playoffs became an afterthought.

During the bye fullback/linebacker Donte Newsome went to Huntington, West Virginia, the town where he played his collegiate career in as a member of the Marshall Thundering Herd. Tragedy struck, however, on the morning of July 5th when Newsome was shot and killed.

The team is retiring Newsome’s jersey next Monday before its game against Lubbock, and will be dedicating the rest of the season to Newsome. It’s safe to say emotions will be running high for the Dusters as they try to secure a playoff spot to honor the late-Newsome.

9. Bossier-Shreveport Battle Wings (7-7)

The Battle Wings knocked the Talons off their perch before the injury to Tulsa’s quarterback Justin Allgood, but for most of the season Bossier-Shreveport has failed to live up to high expectations for this season. The Battle Wings are led by two of the league’s best, fullback Jason Schule and wide receiver Chavis McCollister, but still find themselves fighting to sneak in the playoffs at the end of the season. The Battle Wings are on the road against Arkansas and Austin, making a return to the postseason tough.

10. Rio Grande Valley Dorados (6-8)

It seems the Dorados never recovered from last year when the team was 15-1, and was upset by Bossier-Shreveport in the second round of the playoffs. Quarterback Travis Cole wasn’t with the team last year, but he came to Rio Grande this season with AFL experience, however, his veteran leadership hasn’t led to much success on the field. The team has recently gotten back another AFL veteran, wide receiver Coco Blalock, who spent last season with the Dorados to try to spark the Dorados to make a run should they get in the playoffs.

11. Corpus Christi Sharks (6-8)

Head coach Michael Trigg won an ArenaBowl title both as a player and a head coach in the AFL, but has had little success in the af2 as the head coach of the Sharks. Ironman Ivory McCann is one of the more exciting players to watch in the af2. He’s electric with the ball in his hands and is a threat as a returner, defender and coming off of high-motion on offense.

12. Oklahoma City Yard Dawgz (4-10)

Gary Reasons stepped down as the head coach in May, and Sparky McEwen took over, but the Yard Dawgz remained in the doghouse of the Central Division. One positive for the Yard Dawgz this season has been af2 veteran wide receiver Al Hunt, who became the third af2 player to have scored 1,000 points in his career.

13. Tri-Cities Fever (4-10)

It’s a shame the Fever haven’t found a quarterback who is talented and can stay healthy because it has a trio of veteran receivers in J.R. Thomas, LaMonte’ Jones and Phil Goodman. Jones already has a 1,000 yards receiving, and Thomas and Goodman are close to that mark as well, and the three have combined to miss only one game this season.

14. Stockton Lightning (4-11)

The Lightning has won only one home game, and at one point in the season had lost 10 of 11 games. A big reason why Stockton has struggled is the 48 sacks the offensive line has allowed, which is the most in the af2. It’s hard to win games in arena football when your quarterback, wait, quarterbacks in Stockton’s case, spend more time on their back than on their feet.

15. Texas Copperheads (2-12)

You can tell what type of season it has been when your most decorated and probably best player is your kicker. That’s the case for Texas and kicker Nick Gatto, who is among the af2 leaders in most kicking statistics. The offense, however, is the af2’s worst, scoring only 426 points.

You can catch all the af2 action for free by downloading the NiFTy af2 streaming video player on the af2 website.

Andrew is a senior at UW-Green Bay and has written for the student newspaper. He began following arena football in 1998 as a fan of the Green Bay Bombers (IFL). Was a programming intern for Sports Radio 107.5 & 1400 The Fan and is currently pursuing a career in radio broadcasting.
The opinions expressed in the article above are only those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts, opinions, or official stance of ArenaFan Online or its staff, or the Arena Football League, or any AFL or af2 teams.
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