FIRST. GAME. EVER.
It's officially official. Week 1 is in the books.
While I only got a chance to catch some of the Cleveland/Tampa Bay game, I was at the Washington Valor home opener. Verizon Center was buzzing, with the energy in the air, it felt like this was a playoff game and Arena Football had been a staple in D.C. for the last fifteen years. Even after the crowds rolled out, fans took to their phones for hours into the night posting and retweeting all the action from the game.
Over 15,000 showed up Friday night for the start of the AFL's 30th season. Some from as far as Philly, some maybe farther, but most showed up sporting their new home team's colors. There were plenty of Baltimore Brigade fans there too. A new beltway rivalry was born before the game even started.
The Valor jumped on the board quickly when quarterback Erik Meyer connected with wide receiver Mike "Joystick" Washington for a 34-yard pass just over two minutes into the game. It was the first of three scores that night for the pair, call it a hat trick if you like, we were in fact in the home of the red hot Washington Capitals.
After a 2-yard rush up the middle by former Tampa Bay Storm linebacker Jimmy Gordon and another touchdown from Mike Washington, Valor were up 20-0 going into the second quarter. An interception by 2016 Defensive Player of Year Tracy Belton then turned into the Joystick's third TD of the night, bumping the lead to 27-0.
Baltimore's Rookie QB Shane Carden entered the game with around ten minutes left in the first half, replacing Chase Cartwright who had struggled in his start. Carden's first AFL possession turned into a TD when he hooked up with WR Reggie Gray for 27 yards. Meyer and the Valor answered back, linking up with WR T.T. Toliver. It was 34-6, the crowd was turned up and DJ Kool was about to hit the field for the halftime show.
Making It A Night To Remember
Baltimore would in fact make a great comeback effort in the second half. After Washington's botched kickoff the Brigade found themselves in good field position, Carden hit former Baltimore Ravens WR Laquan Williams for an 11-yard TD and shortly after that, the rookie QB scored the first of two rushing touchdowns for the night. With the Valor's lead now cut to 34-20, kicker T.C. Stevens hit his mark, bringing it to 37-20 with just moments left in the third.
A fumble on Washington's own 6 turned into a 44-yard return TD for Baltimore's Dexter Davis in the fourth. With less than ten left on the game clock D.C. woke up again. Toliver caught his second TD of the night extending their lead 44-26 but Carden carried in his second career rushing touchdown shortly after that.
A few more plays and the Valor's backup QB Bernard Morris was taking in his own ball across the goal line too. Carden found Laquan Williams again with mere seconds left in the game. With a final score of 51-38 and a thrilling fourth quarter, it's sure to say that Arena Football will be a fan favorite in the DMV.
“I think we delivered what our message has been, it's a community, family, fast-paced, high scoring, a lot of action with the game changes, different type of football,” said Coach Cokinos after the game.
When asked about Mike Washington's three touchdowns Cokinos responded, “they [Baltimore] chose to play a lot of man coverage tonight and Mike's a special player, you try to match up one on one with him and it's really hard, we just took advantage of it. Erik had some nice pinpoint throws to him, they both had a big night but I thought collectively the whole group played well on offense.”
Washington has their first bye in Week 2, Baltimore hits the road again to take on the Cleveland Gladiators at their home inside of Quicken Loans Arena. The Valor return to Verizon Center Saturday April 22nd at 7pm to take on the Philadelphia Soul for the first time ever. Expect to see another BIG game against the defending ArenaBowl champs
Jon studied Business Management at the University of Pittsburgh and is originally from Maryland. An avid DMV sports fan, he often attends Capitals, Orioles, Wizards and Redskins games. Now a Washington Valor season plan holder and columnist for ArenaFan, he`ll be at every home game covering the team. He spends his free time with friends and family and freelancing graphic design projects. You can follow Jon on Twitter @5FIFTY3