Albany gets Macon
Keys for the Conquest – What do the Conquest have to do to avoid getting eliminated in the conference quarterfinals for the second straight year?
First, they need to get effective pressure on the quarterback. Macon’s offensive line has given up only ten sacks all season to their opponents; fourth in the league in sacks against. The Conquest have taken down opposing quarterbacks 27 times this season, fifth in the league, eight of those by OL/DL Spencer Conley. On the other side of the ball, the Knights only had fifteen sacks as a team this season, 1/3 of them by FB/LB Byron Douzart. The Conquest have allowed 21 sacks this season, sixteenth in the league and pretty high considering Conquest QB Ryan Vena also does damage on the ground as well as in the air. He was sixth in the league this season in rushing yards (174 on 69 rushes) and third in rushing touchdowns (seventeen, which includes four against Mohegan in their regular season finale).
Second, the Conquest need to stop OS Jacques Rumph. Conquest OS Corey Hill and Rumph were 1-2 in the receptions category with Hill tying his own record of 161 receptions (if you don’t believe me, check the Albany Conquest website) and Rumph finishing thirty receptions behind. But Rumph did a lot of damage to his opponents. Check out these statistics: 131 receptions (2nd in af2), 1,704 yards (1st in af2), and 34 TDs (3rd in af2). Rumph was also second to Norfolk’s Travis Burns in all-purpose yardage with 2,832 yards and scored 42 TDs, second in af2 to Peoria’s Jack Walker. Look for either Conquest DS Elijah Beamon or Jon Stewart to try to take away Macon’s best offensive weapon.
Third, the kicking game will be important for both teams. Macon doesn’t live and die on the field goal or extra point because K Wesley Wilson has been pretty much automatic this season in converting 96 of 111 PAT’s (86.5%). But Albany has lived on the sword’s edge this season. K Chris Drennan left the team in week fifteen, unhappy with his performance this season (72-103 PAT, 70%, 3-13 FG). Feeling he was more of a hindrance than a blessing, he left practice the Thursday before week fifteen’s game against Rochester. Veteran Rich Ehmke has stepped in and performed effectively, making twelve of fifteen PATs and converting all three field goal attempts in the final two games this season. Granted, all of them have been from less than 25 yards, but it’ll be interesting to see how Ehmke will take to the task.
Next, the Conquest have to get every receiver involved, especially WR/DB Phil Taylor. Taylor had his worst game as a Conquest player in the regular season finale against Mohegan. Taylor caught only five balls for 59 yards and had no touchdowns, but the biggest statistic was that he dropped three attempts. He made up for that with a big reception in the final drive of the game that got the Conquest from deep out of their territory, but never seemed to be in the game. Nevertheless, Taylor has been a big impact for the team, being Ryan Vena’s deep threat all season and leading the team with 28 receptions. In his first year as a two-way player after being head coach Pete Costanza’s OS in Columbus, Taylor was a big help defensively with two interceptions, 23.5 tackles, four passes defended, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery.
Last, the Conquest have to come out quickly and not show complacency. The Conquest earned their second consecutive Northeast Division champions and earned their bye week. Vena was the league leader in total offense, pass rating, and passing yards and Hill was the league’s reception leader for the second straight season; Taylor was Albany’s leading scorer. These three cogs on the offense have to come out early and score some points. OL/DL Spencer Conley and DS Elijah Beamon and Jon Stewart are the Conquest’s best defensive players. Conley and all members of the defensive line have to get pressure on Macon QB Jermaine Alfred early and often. Stewart and Beamon have to send a message to Rumph and counterpart Anthony Snead that the Knights are in for a war. The defense has to be disciplined; no off sides or illegal defense penalties, which have killed Albany this season. The Conquest can’t come out unworried and expect to take the Knights lightly. The last time that happened against an opponent was week thirteen against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and they only won by a point.
All in all, the Conquest have a very tough opponent in the Macon Knights come this Saturday night. The Conquest’s road to the Arena Cup starts with Macon. Good luck, Albany.
Notes: The only way the Conquest will get to meet division rival Mohegan again is if the Wolves beat top-seeded Tennessee Valley. The Vipers have a perfect home record this season and have outscored their opponents by an average of 55-39 this season. This will be an interesting match as the Wolves have one of the league’s best defenses and the Vipers have a high-scoring offense. Vipers QB Matt Sauk passed for 4,098 yards and 84 TD’s this season… The Conquest will only host the Arena Cup if both top seeds lose during the playoffs. The Quad City Steamwheelers won the right to host the Arena Cup for this season if they win their next two games. Tennessee Valley was perfect through week fourteen but lost home field advantage when they lost their final two regular season games. However, the Vipers are the top seed in the American Conference and will host the conference championship game if they get past Mohegan. The Conquest holds the strength of schedule over the National Conference’s two seed Tulsa; Albany’s opponents have a combined 108 wins while the Talons’ opponents have a combined 107 wins. Ah, horseshoes and hand grenades…
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