Conquest eke out win over Pioneers, clinch playoff berth
The Conquest escaped the Pepsi Arena on Saturday night with a heart-stopping 59-58 win over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers. The Pioneers came into the game with a 5-7 record, but had won four of their previous games. The Conquest should have expected the Pioneers to play tough, but this Pioneer team didnít look like a team that dropped to 5-8. Nevertheless, the win gives the Conquest a playoff berth for the second season in a row and brings them one step closer to a first-round bye.
It was a see-saw battle right from the beginning; the Conquest were up 13-6 at the half, but the Pioneers scored 28 points in the second quarter. To indicate how far the Pioneers have come since their last meeting on May 3, Pioneer QB Chris Boden had only two touchdown passes in the first half. On Saturday night, Boden burned the Conquest for four, including two from long distance. One was a 43-yard strike to WR/DB Terrell Johnson and the other was a 31-yard pass play to WR/DB John Anderson.
The Pioneer defense came up big when it had to early in the game garnering stops on two straight Conquest possessions. The first big play came after WR/DB Jamie Ware picked off Boden; after a first down, the Conquest went for a fourth-and-goal on an attempted offensive lineman eligible from Vena to OL/DL Ljub Stamenich. The rookie lineman could not hold onto the ball and the Pioneers wound up scoring on the ensuing possession. The next Conquest possession featured another extensive drive, but couldnít seal the deal when Nate Bandy knocked down an attempted pass on fourth-and-three from the WBS nineteen. What wasnít surprising was Conquest head coach Pete Costanzaís gamble; what might be surprising is Costanzaís lack of confidence in K Chris Drennan. Drennan still hasnít attempted a field goal since June 21 at Norfolk and is 3-for-12 this season the last made field goal coming April 18.
The Pioneers had their biggest lead of the night at the 11:17 and 5:31 mark of the third quarter when they were up thirteen. The 5:31 mark was the last time the Pioneers would have a lead that large. Venaís one-yard run with 1:03 remaining of the third shrank the lead to six. The final touchdown of the third quarter would set the stage for a wild final quarter. The Conquest would take the lead early in the fourth quarter after Stamenich sacked Boden and Boden proceeded to cough up the ball which would be recovered by Conquest DS Jon Stewart. The Conquest then took the lead when Vena found Phil Taylor for the second time of the night; Drennanís PAT made it a one point affair with 8:41 to go.
Let the see-saw battle begin!>
The Pioneers took the lead back with 3:33 to go when Boden found WR/DB John Anderson from ten yards to take back the lead at 52-47. The Conquest reclaimed the lead when Vena tossed a 43-yard bomb to Ware and the Conquest went up 53-52. After a dubious call by the officials (which is what all Conquest home games have been victim to this season) on an onside kick, later explained by referee Ed Keirce to be an illegal block by Conquest FB/LB Rashon Lewis, the Pioneers got the ball at the Conquest nine-yard line. A personal foul call on OL/DL Nick Anderson advanced WBS to the three-yard line and FB/LB Kevin Nagle scored on a three-yard run to give the Pioneers the lead back at 58-53. The Conquest got one more possession and made it count; two completions and a short run by Vena later, the Conquest advanced to the Pioneersí six-yard line. Vena then found OS Corey Hill over the middle for a touchdown and the lead was secured at 59-58. Or was it? The Pioneers still got one more chance with just over twelve seconds remaining. Two quick plays by WBS advanced them to their own fifteen-yard line where K Denn Wuestkamp would attempt the game-winning 50-yard field goal. The kick would go wide to the right and Corey Hill only had to return the ball three yards to run out the clock and the fans left happy for the fifth time this season as the Conquest would escape with a win. The teams will meet again this Saturday night July 12 at the First Union Arena at Casey Plaza.
Game MVP: Albany QB Ryan Vena; 20 completions on 30 attempts, 342 yards, 7 TDís; 6 rushes, 13 yards, 3 TDís.
Ironman MVP: Albany WR/DB Phil Taylor; 6 receptions, 97 yards, 2 TDís.
Defensive MVP: Albany DS Jon Stewart; 8 tackles, 4 assisted tackles, 1 fumble recovery, 5 passes breakups.
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