Conquest escape Nighthawks’ clutches
It was a bizarre game from the ensuing kickoff when Albany attempted and recovered an onside kick. In fact, kicker Chris Drennan recovered his own onside kick. The gamble worked as the Conquest would score the first touchdown of the game. Here’s more bizarre; Norfolk K Stephen Scaldeferri launched a kickoff over the left deflection net after the Nighthawks scored their second touchdown of the game. And even more bizarre; Norfolk QB Aaron Sparrow fumbled the snap from his own centers six times. Fortunately for the Nighthawks, he recovered all of them.
The game was unusually low scoring affair, especially with Albany being one of the top offensive teams in the league, but the game also featured some big defensive stands. This was especially true in Norfolk, who came into the game fourth in the league in scoring defense with 39.9 points allowed per game. The Nighthawks made two defensive stands in the first half, the first coming off of an interception near the end zone in the middle of the second quarter and the second on the possession after the Nighthawks’ offense gave up a safety when a fourth down lineman eligible play was botched. One of the biggest plays for the Conquest was on special teams when OL/DL Ljubomir Stamenich blocked Scaldeferri’s extra point attempt to make the contest a one-point game with 10:21 to go.
The most exciting moments of the game came in the remaining minutes; Corey Hill’s 5-yard touchdown catch with 5:21 to go was thought to be the final touchdown of the game as the Conquest went up by seven. It looked like the Conquest were going to make a big defensive stand when the momentum shifted their way as Sparrow tripped over his center forcing Norfolk to near midfield. But Sparrow’s 21-yard pass to WR/DB Stuart Brown and the two-point conversion tied the game with :44 remaining. The Nighthawks looked as if they were going for the win when they lined up with an onside kick formation. However, the onside kick never happened and while Jimmy Jones brought the kick back to midfield, the officials made a questionable call in handing the Conquest an illegal formation penalty. Vena threw three consecutive incomplete passes before finding Hill for a huge first down on fourth-and-ten to Norfolk twelve. Vena then threw a strike on second-and-ten to Jones, who advanced to the three. On third-and-one, the Conquest pivot then found Phil Taylor with a diving catch with 1.9 seconds remaining. The Nighthawks attempted a “Music City Miracle” of their own when WR/DB Stuart Brown tried to toss a lateral to WR/DB Dominic Banks. However, the backward pass bounced off Banks and was recovered by FB/LB Daryl Richardson, who carried the ball into Conquest territory only to be stopped well short of the goal line.
Albany’s win moved them to 9-1 as they remain in first place in the Northeast Division, two games ahead of second place Mohegan and one game ahead of Cape Fear for first overall in the American Conference. Norfolk, meanwhile, drops to 5-5, tied for second in the Atlantic Division with Charleston and three games behind Cape Fear. The teams meet again next week in Norfolk where the Nighthawks are 22-6 in four years at the Norfolk Scope. With Norfolk’s success at home and Albany’s success on the road, next week’s game should be just as exciting as this week’s game.
Game co-MVP’s: Albany QB Ryan Vena, 30-for-46 completions, 285 yards, six touchdowns, one INT; Norfolk OS Travis Burns, 5 receptions, 81 yards, 2 TD, 105 total yards.
Ironman MVP: Albany WR/DB Phil Taylor, seven receptions, 80 yards, 3 TD; 2.5 tackles.
Defensive MVP: Norfolk DS Kofi Smith, ten tackles, seven unassisted, one pass breakup.
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