Conquest `Steel` A Victory
At the start of the game, it looked as if the Conquest were going to run the Steeldogs out of town. On the opening possession, the Steeldogs attempt at a long field goal after a three-and-out was botched as WR/DB Anthony Jordan dropped the snap. After an attempt to get extra yards, he intentionally grounded the ball in the end zone while FB/LB Nick Anderson had Jordan in his grasp and the Conquest did the “Safety Dance” as they got an early 2-0 lead. On the Conquest’s opening possession, Vena found Linyear deep on the Conquest’s first play of the game to Albany a 9-0 lead as K Chris Drennan missed the extra point. The Steeldogs cut the lead back to three as QB Chris Windsor found Jordan from 36 yards on third-and-seven.
In the second quarter, the Conquest increased the lead to 16-6 when Vena found OS Corey Hill from 22 yards. There were two key plays in the second quarter and they came almost consecutively. Conquest DS Yuichi Watanabe, who took the place of an injured Jon Stewart, picked off Windsor on a deep play and returned the ball 25 yards back to the Steeldogs’ 20-yard line. But Vena’s attempted pass to Phil Taylor deflected off of the receiver’s hand and into the arms of Birmingham’s Quincy Roe.
While the Conquest could not capitalize on two turnovers (OL/DL Spencer Conley forced a fumble late in the first quarter), the Steeldogs did. Even when he got sandwiched by two Conquest defenders, Windsor completed a pass to Jordan, who kept his concentration, and the receiver did the rest with a 29-yard touchdown to bring the lead to three after Rhett Gallego’s kick. The Steeldogs took the lead at the 11:27 mark with Windsor running the ball in from nine yards to give Birmingham a 20-16 lead. Leroy Thompson scored on a sweep from four yards out to give the Conquest a 23-20 lead with 55 seconds remaining. The lead was short lived, however, as the Steeldogs marched back down the field thanks in part to some ill-timed Conquest penalties; three consecutive in fact – an illegal defense, off sides, and pass interference penalty – got Birmingham to the Conquest’s five yard line. After a short run, Birmingham used the lineman eligible play with Windsor tossing a three-yard score to William Mayes to give the Steeldogs a four-point halftime lead.
The Conquest took the lead back early in the third quarter. On a third down play on the first possession, QB Ryan Vena looked for a short gain, but was run out of the pocket by Birmingham defenders. He found Adriel Linyear in the end zone, albeit well defended, but leaping over a Steeldog defender for a 32-yard score to give the Conquest the lead back at 28-26. Once again, the Steeldogs came back as QB Chris Windsor found OS Demontray Carter from 12 yards out to get the lead back at 33-28. The next Conquest possession was hard fought, but rewarding. Vena’s scamper from a yard out gave the Conquest the lead once again at 35-33. The Conquest defense stopped the Steeldogs next offensive possession thanks in part to a sack by FB/LB Ron Perry and three penalties on third down and long; a false start and two unnecessary roughness penalties by Windsor and Carter forced the Steeldogs to their own one-inch line. They were stopped and Rhett Gallego’s long field goal attempt was well short. The defense gave the Conquest a chance to add to their lead and attempt to pull away. Vena’s nine-yard pass to WR/DB Phil Yarberough put the Conquest up 42-33 with 1:39 remaining in the third quarter.
The seesaw battle would lead to an exciting fourth quarter of play. Birmingham shortened the Conquest’s lead quickly into the final stanza as Windsor found Anthony Jordan again, this time from ten yards out to reduce the lead to two points. The next ten minutes would be another see saw battle, this time of possessions. Each team made important defensive stops late in the game. Albany faced a fourth-and-two in Birmingham territory when they decided to go for it. Matt Vittengil’s run looked like he had gotten the first down, but the running back was stopped very short to turn the ball over on downs. Birmingham took over and drove to the Conquest sixteen-yard line before a third and three. Windsor tried to run an option play; he was not only stopped well short of a first down but also actually lost a yard in the process. Gallego’s attempted go-ahead field goal missed wide and Conquest OS Corey Hill wisely took the touchback. The Conquest took a gamble on first down; after the game, Albany head coach Pete Costanza mentioned the Steeldogs’ coverage of the short pass during the game was very effective. So Costanza thought of going long on a hitch-and-go and the gamble paid off as Vena found Jamie Ware, who faked Quincy Roe out of his helmet strap, wide open for a 45-yard score to pad the Conquest’s lead to 49-40 with a minute to go.
But on the ensuing kickoff, the Conquest kick coverage, which had pinned Birmingham deep in their own territory all game long, had over committed on their routes and allowed Terrence Harris to run the ball back 55 yards for a touchdown, reducing the lead once again to two points with only a minute to go after Gallego’s kick. An onside kick attempt by the Steeldogs failed when Conquest DS Elijah Beamon recovered the kick with thirteen seconds left. After being stopped on first down, Conquest FB/LB Ron Perry scored on an eleven-yard run to put an end to the game as the Conquest took the first game of the two meetings between the teams with a 56-47 win.
Game MVP: Albany QB Ryan Vena, 19 completions on 27 attempts (70.4%), 318 yards, 5 TD’s, 1 INT; 6 rushes, 18 yards, 1 TD.
Defensive MVP: Albany OL/DL Spencer Conley; 3.5 tackles, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery.
Ironman of the Game: Albany WR/DB Adriel Linyear; 2 receptions, 72 yards, 2 TD’s, 1 tackle.
Ryan McCarthy has been an on-and-off Internet columnist and blogger since 1997. He has been an avid follower of Arena Football since 1990 when the Albany Firebirds were established. Ryan currently attends Regent University, where he is pursuing his Bachelors degree in Communications with a Journalism concentration. He anticipates graduating toward the end of 2019. You can follow Ryan on Twitter at @rwhoisryanmcc