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First time jitters unscathed in KISS win over Portland

Manny Nunez
Sunday May 29, 2016

First it was Rayshaun Kizer. Then it was Nathan Stanley. In back to back weeks these two prime position players were off the roster on bad injuries. The KISS have though looked more than just pedestrian with trying to put together the pieces with a tough battle against Arizona last week. Mentally it gave them a good opportunity to carry a lot of that momentum against the lowly Portland Steele who have been blown to bits in four of their last five losses that included a forced road game against the KISS two weeks ago.
The worst of last night for LA is letting the Steele hang as long as they could. But then the AFL Gods reminded everyone that Portland has just not been all that good, letting consecutive kickoffs after a tie game fall into the KISS hands, one in for a touchdown off the back wall. LA caught some much needed breaks, and a 54-42 win only means that they can let a sigh of relief clawing their way back at .500.

“It definitely wasn’t our best game, but a win is a win,” KISS head coach Omarr Smith said. “I’m glad we won the game, and in this league it’s tough to win games like these. Portland played very well, but we left this game pretty banged up. We did play well enough to win the game and that’s all that matters.”

After Stanley went down late in the first half last week against the Rattlers, Thomas had no choice but to answer the call. Throwing for over 100 yards and two touchdowns to close out the game, it overlooked his two “rookie” interceptions that couldn’t give the KISS a chance to hang around. This week it was near mistake-free football. Sure there were a few misreads from his receivers, but all that is expected when someone is making his first start at arguably the most important position in the AFL. Going 16-for-26 for 223 yards and six touchdowns without an interception is more than what Smith could ever ask for. a

“I thought Pete did a heck of a job to be a rookie and come out with a game like he had today,” Smith said. “To come in to a game like tonight, and then last week when he didn’t take a lot of reps during practice, a lot of rookies or veterans will collapse when they have to deal with a pass rush like Thomas had. He didn’t collapse, and I am real proud by the way he collected himself.”

“A hundred percent last week helped me get ready for tonight,” Thomas said. “Arena ball is such a different game, and the more experience you get the better. Even though we didn’t win last week, it helped to play with an offense that grew comfortable around each other. It’s great to get that quality experience and play like Arizona.”

Of course, two weeks ago it was Stanley who propelled the entire offense and obliterated the Steele defense. It was a much different outcome this time, and arguably you can make a case that no matter who was starting, the Steele came ready to play. They did not look like the 0-7 team that has averaged their margin of defeats by more than 30 points. Nearly every possession both teams traded blows, and on both sides of the ball nobody wanted to let the game go. That’s why the KISS special teams had to make a say when a kickoff hits off the crossbar, giving Jamil Merrill a clear recovery in the back of the endzone. It gave the KISS the go-ahead lead and all the momentum they needed.

“Our special teams came through,” Smith said. “When we were trying to fight, our special teams gave us that momentum to make sure we would win the game. Obviously getting that touchdown was huge, but that’s how the game works here, and things can go your way and change the outcome.”

Los Angeles’s ensuing kickoff proved that the Steele’s luck had run out where another bar ball ended up in the hands of the KISS at Portland’s 20 yard line. Fullback Rory Nixon then put the game away with his 14 yard bulldozer touchdown, one of two that he had that night.

One of the more impressive numbers came in the stands, where just about everyone in attendance loved every minute of all the heart stopping action. Two weeks ago when the Steele had to send their game to Los Angeles, the KISS decided to give the public access to free tickets. It proved to benefit, where a respectable 7100 came and saw a very competitive affair. Nearly the entire lower bowl was full, and many of the KISS players and staff know that wins are fed from those who come to the games.

“The fans were great,” Smith said at the end of the game. “They really came through for us and made this place loud.”

Just like the last two seasons, the KISS are still battling for a spot that they want. Before it was the last spot to make the playoffs. This time around, with getting out of the basement this year, it is fighting to be one of the top four teams and earn a home game for the playoffs. At 4-4, they are notched up with Cleveland and Jacksonville. They have still yet to win a game against teams over .500, but Smith knows that there is still a lot more work to be done as they get ready to face Orlando next Sunday.

“Yes we are 4-4, but we have a lot of work to do,” Smith said. “We have too many things to correct, and getting ready for Orlando next week is the next item in our agenda.”

Manny Nunez is a freelance writer who resides in Los Angeles. He has been an arena football fan since 1996 while living in Phoenix, dedicated to the Arizona Rattlers. Although he lives in Southern California, he still reps his Arizona teams. He is also a beat writer for the Phoenix Coyotes for
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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