Thunder Rolling As Portland Defense Rocks the KISS
Speaking post game to defensive lineman Antron Dillon, the long-time AFL vet could only be referencing the fact that he, Jake McDonough, KC Obi, and Donte Paige-Moss had set up camp in the KISS back field in the early goings. This quartet, members of what now must be considered the most dangerous defense in the AFL, invited friends Marqui Jackson and Varmah Sonie to the shindig and by mid-fourth quarter the little party had become a roaring bonfire.
Then someone let Bryce Peila in... Poof!!! Gasoline.
Seriously though, Garcia wasn't far from the truth. The young and hungry Portland squad hung an almost unbelievable first quarter stat line of 1-for-6 passing for five yards with two interceptions on one of the all-time great AFL quarterbacks and gave up a meager 14-for-34 for 186 yards passing on the night. Worst of all for the visitors, the Thunder chose this crucial game to badger bash, bully, and generally abuse the KISS offense into six batted balls which resulted in four interceptions and two fumbles setting up a Thunder TD and a field goal.
Coach Matt Sauk said, “In pre-game, I said that I wanted us to be more physical than them, I asked them who wanted it more. We laid some serious wood out there... I think if you watch that film you will see who wanted it more.”
Sauk undersold this point a bit. Tonight, more than any other, the Thunder defense looked ferocious and sure of themselves -- perhaps cocky is even fair -- and the infectious nature of this confidence is a meal his team fed off of all night long.
Asked if he felt his animated, furious and at times pugnacious bearing on the field was the fuel that lit the fire for this defense at times, Rookie of the Year contender Paige-Moss only disagreed with the “at times” part of the question. “In me, it's always lit. Always,” said the wildly talented and at times embattled defensive end, “It's how I play and how I have always played.”
Paige-Moss' contained rage seems to push him to succeed no matter where he plays, and his on-field blend of speed, strength, and plain old “want to” are fascinating to watch at work.
This night, as in Cleveland, Paige-Moss filed in at the mack LB spot for an injured Brandon Tett and was everywhere. While it may not be he best thing for his video package for NFL scouts, Paige-Moss' utility is a boon to the Thunder. Defensive Coordinator William Mulder exploits his athleticism using Paige-Moss to confuse, interfere, and redirect as much as possible to make statistically recordable plays. He is, at times, Deion Sanders if Sanders was just aching to hit someone, causing teams to scheme and/or adjust away from him and thus run into the arms of Dillon and the others. Paige-Moss could have the least notable stats on the Thunder D-line and perhaps still be its MVP.
Moss' influence is perfectly depicted in the Sons of Thunder poster passed out at the red carpet event recently held to promote the Heart and Hustle produced reality program. This documentary reality show will detail the building of this team and airs on Comcast in a bit less than two weeks.
In the handbill, a flying Paige-Moss is seen battle-ready, pouncing between lines of teammates, coaches, and ownership. His intense, charismatic face and sense of pent up athletic energy is almost stands in direct contrast to the articulate and passionate fashion in which he speaks both from the TV screen and press conference podium. This passion reaches the coaching staff as well as players, infusing, it seems, even Coach Sauk with a "screw 'em if they don't like it" attitude.
Asked if beating LA for the first time (and putting the Thunder in the catbird seat for the playoffs) felt good, Sauk replied unabashedly, “It feels good obviously because we all hate LA... We absolutely hate them. We should have beat them the two other times we played them but we just didn't get it done."
Sauk is his own man and doesn't seem overly influenced by anyone, but whether this team's new attitude comes from the defense, from Moss, or from a combination of all these elements is unclear. What is clear is that the Thunder are gathering momentum and have been for weeks. The Portland Thunder are inching towards a playoff run here in their inaugural season, and from here... we shall see.