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SaberCats Bend But Don't Break, Keep Perfect Season Alive

Griffin Aseltine
Sunday May 24, 2015

For the first time throughout the entire 2015 Arena Football League season, the San Jose SaberCats actually appeared vulnerable against the defending American Conference Champion Cleveland Gladiators on Saturday night, trailing 49-35 in the second quarter and 52-42 at halftime. With a crucial turnover by returning quarterback Erik Meyer, and not a single stop by a heavily praised defense over the entire first half, it seemed as if an end to the winning streak was inevitable.

But they refused to give in. After coming out of the locker room for the second half, the defense came up with four crucial stops, including a fourth quarter interception by Ken Fontenette, and the offense managed to outscore Cleveland 28-6 to earn their ninth victory coming into the regular season's halfway point.
"Coach Walker did a great job making adjustments at halftime," head coach Darren Arbet said in reference to his defensive coordinator. "I'm proud of my guys. They stayed the course. They never got flustered, and they never got rattled. They just continued to play football."
The last time the SaberCats trailed by double digits in the second half and came back to win the game goes back a long time, to the final week of the 2012 regular season, to be exact. Future hall of famer Mark Grieb brought his team back from a 35-20 deficit against the Iowa Barnstormers to ultimately end the season with a 57-48 victory.
This time, it was another elite player under center. MVP quarterback Erik Meyer finally returned from a seemingly insurmountable injury that occurred three weeks ago in Arizona. At first he appeared rusty, with a sack and lost fumble on his first offensive play. But he ultimately came back and proved his ability, going 30-of-42 for a jaw-dropping 406 yards and nine touchdowns.
"I think I was rushing things a little bit in the first quarter," Meyer said when asked about his mentality towards the start of his performance. "Took me about a quarter and a half to settle things down."
Meyer's performance wasn't without the aid of the second star of the night: Reggie Gray. Despite coming off the field two weeks ago against the Las Vegas Outlaws, Gray showed no visible setbacks on Saturday, accumulating a total of 201 yards in 14 receptions, plus five touchdowns. It was the most yards by a single SaberCats receiver so far this season.
"We tell our defense that we're going to take it to their defense," receiver Gray said when discussing his coordination with the team's defensive players. "At halftime we said we would come out and score, and then the pressure would be on them."
If there was one discouragement from Saturday night's matchup with the Gladiators, it was the tough loss of receiver Darius Reynolds in the first quarter due to yet another injury. While this is certainly costly due to his effective production all season long, this squad has proven time and time again, including the second half of this matchup, that injuries simply don't set them back. Whether it be the absence of Virgil Gray, Erik Meyer, or Reggie Gray, another player steps up and makes their teammate's disappearance hardly noticeable.
This was, without a doubt, the SaberCats' toughest win so far this season. The potential for the first perfect season in AFL history is still alive, but it certainly looks more improbable despite a solid victory over a playoff contender. The first half struggles could be a significant lesson for this team: No matter how dominant you have been, even the greatest have a chance of falling.
But they haven't fallen, yet.

Griffin Aseltine is an 18-year-old high school student and freelance writer who resides in San Jose, California. He has been fond of watching sports ever since experiencing the culture in his area shift a strong focus towards the San Francisco Giants following their World Series victory in 2010. Griffin became a San Jose SaberCats fan on the opening week of the 2012 season and has been a season ticket holder since 2013. He has contributed to First Stop Fantasy as a San Francisco 49ers writer since the start of the 2013 NFL season and has written for ArenaFan since the start of the 2014 AFL season. You can follow Griffin on Twitter @superduperm1.
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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