Conquest Come Back – Again – to Beat Wolves
Vena’s keeper from two yards out with no time on the clock gave the Albany Conquest a 54-51 win over their heated rival Mohegan Wolves. Vena also set the af2 single-season passing yardage record in the win, passing for 247 yards to raise the bar and finish at 4,452 yards for the season. The Conquest had already captured their second consecutive Northeast Division title and a first-round bye in the upcoming Arena Cup playoffs, but many wrote this off as a meaningless game. Not to Mohegan, who, with head coach Mark Stoute, were not only looking to extract a small measure of revenge from the 60-36 loss they suffered at the Pepsi Arena back on June 28 but were looking to gain a home playoff game.
The revenge would have to wait a bit with the Conquest getting lucky (real lucky) in the first possession. Though Vena got a bad snap from C Dave Mahoney and K Rich Ehmke’s kick was tipped, the ball fluttered in and the Conquest held a 3-0 lead. The lead was short lived as the Wolves got back on track with LaJohn Jones’ one-yard scamper to give the Wolves a 7-3 lead. The teams would exchange scores in for the remainder of the first half with the Conquest ending all scoring in the half as head coach Pete Costanza would pull into his bag of tricks again with Ehmke’s onside kick surprising the front line of the Wolves. Mohegan OS Mel Long failed to recover the onside kick, but recovered by Conquest OL/DL Ljubomir Stamenich. Ehmke would add a field goal with no time left in the first half from eighteen yards gave the Conquest a 27-20 lead at the half.
The third quarter would be Mohegan’s; QB Greg Smith used the long ball to WR/DB Cy Butler to set up a three-yard scamper by LaJohn Jones to tie the score at 27. The tie wouldn’t last that long as the Conquest went from Vena to OS Corey Hill from 32 yards out as Albany took back the lead. The Wolves used the long ball on their next possession from Smith to Long and Smith threw a 10-yard strike to WR/LB Anthony Comer to get within two, but K Zach Derr’s kick was blocked. Conquest WB/LB Jim Jones took the following kickoff back to the Conquest 20, but was popped by Wolves’ OL/DL Steven Lindsey and fumbled. The fumble was recovered by Mohegan at the Albany 22-yard line. The Wolves struck again as Smith connected with Long from twelve yards out. The two-point conversion failed and the score was 39-34 at the end of the third quarter.
The fourth quarter would be a barn burner with Vena starting the festivities with a one-yard sneak as the Conquest took back the lead at 41-39. Mohegan would come right back, using the long ball as they had all night as Smith connected with Long from 22 yards out. Derr missed another extra point as the Wolves went up by four. The Conquest used a long return from Jim Jones to set up another touchdown pass from Vena to Hill as Albany went up 48-45. The Conquest made the first significant defensive stop of the night, pinning the Wolves to their own three-yard line as Derr missed a 63-yard field goal. The Conquest could have used their next offensive possession to get some insurance, but the Wolves made a stop of their own as Albany turned over the ball on downs. The Wolves reclaimed the lead when Smith found Comer in the end zone from 28 yards; however, Derr missed his third consecutive extra point attempt as the Wolves failed to convert on their final four extra point attempts.
The final drive by the Conquest would be the game-winning drive. Starting from their own five-yard line, Vena completed passes to WR/DB Phil Taylor (which set the af2 single-season record for passing yards) and three consecutive to Hill. With less than five seconds left, the Conquest went for the win as Vena tried to find Taylor again for the score, but was interfered with by Wolves’ DS Ruben Carter. The ball was moved to Mohegan’s eight-yard line, but then OL/DL Greg Krause’s offsides penalty moved the Conquest to the two-yard line. It was decision time for Albany: field goal to send it into overtime or go for the win? The Conquest went for the win as Vena called his own number as a Mohegan linebacker followed Hill across the middle for his rout, which left a hole and lots of room for Vena to run. The 6,385 in attendance went wild as the field filled with jubilant Conquest players. Even without the extra point (Ehmke tossed the ball into the crowd), the Conquest were still the victors, winning the season series against Mohegan. The Wolves, meanwhile, failed to clinch a home playoff game and will travel to Cape Fear for their playoff game next weekend.
Next game: the Conquest will host their next game on August 9 when they host a second-round playoff match. They could face Cape Fear, Macon, or Florida, all who finished 10-6 during the regular season. Cape Fear eliminated Albany in last season’s Arena Cup playoffs and the Wildcats have won their two meetings with the Conquest. Albany has never faced Macon or Florida.
Notes: The Conquest, with a cross-promotion from Price Chopper and Time Warner Cable, failed the Fill the Arena challenge, finishing well short of their goal of breaking the single-game attendance record of 10,229 set by Louisville on March 29. On a positive note, the attendance of 6,385 was the largest since the season opener. The Lousiville Fire, on the other hand, raised the bar in that category with 11,888 in their final regular season game against Tulsa on July 19.
Game MVP: Albany QB Ryan Vena, 21 for 35 completions, 247 yards, 3 TDs; 4 rushes, 20 yards, 3 TDs.
Ironman MVP: Albany WR/DB Phil Taylor, 5 receptions, 59 yards; 2 tackles.
Defensive MVP: Albany DS Elijah Beamon, 5 solo tackles, 2 assists.
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