Another season in the af2, but the same goal in mind
Gino Guidugli thought he was going to be throwing touchdown passes for the Cleveland Gladiators this season.
Bradley Chavez expected to catch his first TD of 2009 in a New York Dragons’ uniform.
Instead, both were on opposite sides of the field Saturday night in front of 5,596 fans at the Resch Center in the Green Bay Blizzard’s season-opening 53-40 win over the Tennessee Valley Vipers, the defending ArenaCup champions.
Guidugli, Chavez and many others playing in arenafootball2 this season had plans of making the jump to the Arena Football League before the cancellation of the 2009 season. But that’s in the past, along with the honeymoon period for the 2008 champs, whose title defense got off to a rough start from the get go.
After Green Bay scored a TD on its first drive, quarterback Kevin Eakin fumbled the first snap for the Vipers, which the Blizzard recovered, and four plays later, a one-yard TD run by Rod Olds gave Green Bay the early 14-0 lead.
Chavez, who was the af2’s Ironman of the Year last year and helped knock the Blizzard out of the playoffs as a member of the Manchester Wolves, got Tennessee Valley on the scoreboard with a three-yard TD catch from Eakin to pull the Vipers to within a TD, but that’s as close as they would get the rest of the night.
The Vipers had a chance to go into halftime down only eight points after Guidugli threw an interception to Travis Blanchard, however, Chavez couldn’t get a handle on a hold for a field-goal attempt and the Vipers went into the half down 24-13.
The errant pass was Guidugli’s only mistake of the night. The Blizzard QB was calm in the pocket, throwing away passes if receivers were covered, and finished with 223 yards and four TDs.
He didn’t see a lot of pressure from Eric Scott either. Scott, who was second in the af2 last season with 17.5 sacks, was held in check for the most part by two impressive rookies, Bill Bourdlais and Brandon Barnes.
“They did a great job,” Guidugli said. “I think I only got hit three or four times, and hopefully that continues throughout the season.”
The defensive end from Southern Mississippi did get his first sack of the young season, however, when a breakdown in protection left Scott one-on-one with fullback Orlando Medlock, who was no match for the 6-foot-2, 285-pounder.
Medlock fared better with the ball in his hands though, carrying the rock 15 times for 55 yards and found the end zone once.
The first play of the second half resulted in another turnover by Eakin. The Viper QB didn’t see Green Bay’s Robert Garth and threw it directly to the Jack linebacker waiting in the flats.
"In Arena Football, you can't turn the ball over and expect to win," Tennessee Valley head coach Dean Cokinos said. "We just turned the ball over too many times. We let the game slip away."
After a 36-yard field goal by Blizzard kicker Bob Forstrom, Vipers’ backup QB Tony Colston, last year’s ArenaCup hero, got a chance to rekindle the magic that helped the Vipers stun the Spokane Shock 56-55 in overtime to win the title.
Colston’s entrance into the game only seemed to spark the Blizzard’s pass rush, which was nonexistent in the first half. Colston nearly got sacked by Mac linebacker Craig Wilson on his first snap under center, and then threw away a pass before DE Byron Tinker came free on his blind side.
The lefty was called for intentional grounding and Tinker was awarded a safety on the play, which gave the Blizzard a 29-13 lead with 10 minutes, 33 seconds left in the third quarter.
Green Bay put the game away on the following possession when Guidugli hooked up with Nate Forse for an 11-yard score. Forse, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound WR, finished with nine catches for 109 yards and three TDs.
Eakin returned to the game after Colston’s safety and finished with 166 yards and two TDs, hitting 17-of-23 passes, but had two interceptions.
“It’s a new year,” Blizzard head coach Bob Landsee said.
“We beat them the second game last year. (Then) they went out and won the championship. We need to continue to get better every game. We can’t live on a big win early.”
The Vipers started last season 0-3, which included a 37-35 loss at home to Green Bay in Week 2, before winning 14 of their next 17 games to win ArenaCup9.
It was Green Bay’s first season-opening win since 2005, Landsee’s first year as head coach, when it beat the Albany Conquest 49-41. The fast start for this year’s Blizzard team can be credited largely to Guidugli’s return.
“It was nice not having to teach a quarterback how to play the Arena game,” Landsee said.
In each of the Blizzards’ previous six seasons, the team started with a new QB, and after starting six different QBs last season (Guidugli started the last three), it was a defiant boost to have a veteran under center.
For as good as Guidugli’s night went, it didn’t go as well for his fellow AFL-hopeful on the opposite side of the field, who watched the end of the game from the bench with his shoulder pads off after being injured. Chavez finished with five catches for 44 yards and the touchdown from the first quarter.
Still, Guidugli and Chavez both have the same destinations in mind, winning ArenaCup10 this season and then proceeding with their original plans of joining the AFL when it opens up again in 2010.
“We don’t have to be stars,” said Landsee about his players. “We all have to just get better and we will win, and when we win, everyone will get the accolades at the end of the year.”