For Predators, it's redemption time
Last season when the Spokane Shock made their way into the Amway Arena I can assure you that there were not a whole lot of Orlando Predators fans who had ever heard of them. So what if they were the reigning champs of the AFL’s minor league? In the minds of anyone in Orlando, they were minor league and this should have been a win for the home team.
With the Preds leading 52-40 after three quarters, it sure seemed like Orlando was on their way to finally climbing above the .500 mark for the first time in the 2010 season. Orlando held a 52-46 lead in the waning moments of the game and was inside of the Spokane red zone when the fireworks went off.
Preds quarterback Nick Hill failed to account for the Jack linebacker and was picked off by Antwan Marsh. That setup the game-winning touchdown pass from Kyle Rowley to Raul Vijil and sent the Preds nation into a complete uproar.
In postgame interviews, Kenny “The Glove” McEntyre questioned Hill’s ability to effectively run the Predators offense in the Orlando Sentinel while also saying he could not believe they lost to an af2 team. Yours truly had lost it as well, I thought for sure the next week we were going to see if back-up QB Glen Gauntt could do any better.
But to his credit, Preds head coach Pat O’Hara did not panic as Hill started the next week and ripped to shreds the top-ranked defense of the Jacksonville Sharks in a resounding 70-48 clubbing of the division leaders at the time. In that game, Hill threw for 232 yards and six touchdowns while rushing for 33 yards and two more scores. It was that week that Orlando fans saw the potential that O’Hara had seen the previous year and why Hill was brought in to start from the beginning.
It was a rocky road the Predators traveled into the playoffs and fell just short of an ArenaBowl berth to get their rematch with the Shock. Hill proved himself under pressure in those playoffs leading the Preds to a 73-69 win in Jacksonville with six TD passes. He followed that up with a Preds single-game record nine TD passes in the championship game loss at Tampa Bay.
After a clutch 23-yard touchdown run by Hill last week to defeat the Georgia Force, Orlando sits tied atop the southern division at 4-1. As they finally get their rematch with Spokane on Saturday night at 7:30 inside the Amway Center, O’Hara says there is no revenge factor heading into this one.
“There’s no revenge factor because it is a totally new season,” O’Hara said. “Spokane is the reigning AFL champion and we have to beat the champions to achieve our goals.”
Coach’s point is obviously valid because the Shock sit at the bottom of their division at 1-4 and they will take any win they can get at this point. Rowley is off to a very slow start throwing seven interceptions that have all seemed to come in clutch situations for Spokane. Hopefully for the Shock, Rowley’s performance last week was a sign of things to come as he threw for nine touchdowns and no picks to post clearly his best game of the season to date in a 69-62 loss to the Utah Blaze.
For Hill, it has been a banner year so far as he has thrown for 28 touchdowns and five picks (one off a fan, but we won’t go there today). He is also the team’s leading rusher with 112 yards on 31 carries and ran for three scores. Hill has led the Preds offense on two consecutive game-winning drives against the Philadelphia Soul and the Force. To this point, it has been fun watching this young quarterback mature before our very eyes in Orlando. This team will only go as far as his south paw takes them which we are all hoping is a shot at the ArenaBowl title that has eluded Orlando for the last nine seasons.
Maybe for O’Hara this is just another game his team needs to win, but I have to believe that a win Saturday night would erase a bad taste in the mouth of one Mr. Hill. Maybe I’m wrong here, but speaking as someone who has been in athletics all his life. After a tough loss like the Preds suffered to Spokane last year and now the Arizona Rattlers this year—it is only human nature if Hill wants a win in the worst way to redeem himself against the Shock.
The only thing I know for a 100 percent certainty, the fans in Orlando know who is coming into their building this time so expect the new Jungle to be a little more rowdy than usual.