Preds Defense Rules in Comeback Win
The Orlando Predators trailed the Philadelphia Soul 21-12 in the second quarter of Saturday night’s American Conference showdown at Amway Center when the unthinkable happened.
Preds quarterback Nick Hill sent a pass to his right intended for wide receiver Robert Quiroga. The ball sailed into the stands and appeared to be just another of many souvenirs given away in the Arena Football League. When the fan dropped the football out of his hands, caught Quiroga in his lap, and Soul defensive back Tanner Varner grabbed the ball. When the whistles failed to blow, Varner took off up the sideline uncontested for a 36-yard interception for touchdown giving the Soul a 27-12 lead with 9:13 left before halftime.
Preds head coach Pat O’Hara protested with the officials as the replay on the jumbo tron clearly showed the ball bouncing off the fan, down Quiroga’s back, and into Varner’s hands.
The head referee came over the public address system to let everyone know the call on the field was that, “The ball DID NOT come in contact with a fan.” That announcement sent the Jungle into one of the loudest boos I have ever heard in 20 years because everyone saw the obvious except the officials.
And here is where the league needs to stop for a second to realize if in-house cameras have a shot of something that could be overturned it needs to happen whether the NFL Network is there or not.
“I think the officials knew they blew the call, but because they can’t watch replays there was really nothing that could be done about it,” Hill said. “When something like that happens some teams might get down and let it snowball, but we just kept playing through it.”
As an avid fan of this league, I was embarrassed to see the events that took place in this instance and I sure hope the league has a look at their instant replay rules. I understand officials are not always going to get every call right, but a simple fix must be made on an obvious situation such as this one.
From there, the Predators managed to close the gap to 27-18 with 3:36 in the second as Hill hit Bobby Sippio from 17 yards out for his third touchdown pass of the game. The Soul took the remainder of the time off the clock and missed a short field goal to end the half.
After the Preds opened the second half with a long missed field goal from kicker Mark Lewis, the Soul again had a chance to run away with the game. Orlando linebacker Marlon Moye-Moore made the play that got his team back into the contest as he intercepted Philly QB Ryan Vena’s pass. By head coach Mike Hohensee’s decision, Vena got the start over Justin Allgood who had started every game to this point.
“Coach Lee Johnson put me in a good position to make the play and [Vena] just threw it to me,” Moye-Moore said.
On the Preds ensuing drive, Hill scrambled for nine yards on a third-and-10 play before Soul DB Mike Brown leveled him hard to the ground. Hill quickly got up with help from his fullback James Lynch, then fell back to the turf before running off under his own power.
“I tried to just pop back up real fast like I always do,” Hill said. “But when I got up I saw nothing but black so I went back to the turf. He got me pretty good, I run the ball a lot and had never felt anything like that before.”
Back-up QB Collin Drafts entered the game on fourth-and-one to deliver an 11-yard touchdown pass to T.T. Toliver bringing the Preds to a 27-25 deficit with 6:27 to go in the third.
After taking consecutive sacks, Vena quickly answered by hitting WR Donovan Morgan for a 42-yard touchdown on fourth-and 22 giving Philly a 34-25 advantage.
Re-enter a rejuvenated Nick Hill who refused to let the Predators lose as he ran the ball again meeting with Brown at the sideboards. Brown launched himself helmet-first at Hill, but flew into the stands as Hill stopped to avoid the contact. Hill capped the drive with a touchdown pass to Toliver bringing the Preds back within two points.
Philadelphia was nursing a 40-39 lead with the ball in Predators territory once again looking for a score to take a stranglehold on the game. Instead, pressure caused Vena to overthrow a screen-pass that Preds defensive end Paul Griffin read perfectly to make a key interception setting up Orlando to take its first lead of the night.
Hill wasted no-time finding Sippio on an out-route to give the Preds their first lead 45-40 with 3:30 left in the final stanza.
Morgan collected his third touchdown reception of the game to put the Soul back on top 46-45 with 44 seconds to go. He led the Soul with seven receptions for 156 yards.
Coach Hohensee made an interesting call on the Preds final drive as the Soul played half-speed defense allowing Lynch to score the game-winning touchdown from two yards out with 18 seconds remaining.
Philly got the ball back, but never got past its own 10-yard line taking a 53-46 loss. The Soul was coming off a similar loss to the Milwaukee Mustangs last Monday.
Orlando got the win by simply making the defensive stops when it mattered the most. Griffin’s pick was one of the most athletic plays I have ever seen by a defensive lineman and could not have come at a more critical juncture of the game. Moye-Moore’s interception breathed new life into a building that was beginning to quiet down as the Soul had dominated the game up until that point.
“We have a coach that preaches the H.B.O. defense, Help a Brother Out,” says Moye-Moore. “We had to pick each other up and keep making plays for each other. T.T. Toliver came over to us and said ‘if you stop them we’ll score’.”
The Predators not only helped a brother out on Saturday night, they helped the officials out by recovering from a horrible call going against them to get a win over a very talented Philadelphia team. I think because of the Preds win you may not hear much of a stink about the incident, but a change in instant replay rules needs to be made very quietly from the top this week by telling it’s officials two simple words, “look up,” because the evidence is right above your head on the video board.
Four games into the season the southern division is looking quite top-heavy with the Jacksonville Sharks, Georgia Force, and the Preds all tied for the lead at 3-1. Orlando travels to face the Force on Saturday night at the Gwinnett Center to break the tie. Georgia defeated the Dallas Vigilantes 55-48 at home last week led by QB Brett Elliott’s 373 passing yards and seven touchdowns.