The Road to the ArenaCup
Last year in the AFL, the 2006 Chicago Rush entered the playoffs with a 7-9 record and battled through the tournament on the road as well and won the leagues coveted prize in Arena Bowl XX.
Last week in the arenafootball2 divisional round of the 2007 playoffs, four teams won on the road and two others came very close. Could it be that this year too, be a season where the under dogs beat all odds and win the af2 championship?
If you witnessed the Louisville Fire upset win over Spokane, or the miraculous winning field goal to Central Valley defeat of Manchester, or the scare that the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers and the Rio Grande Valley Dorados lived through barely surviving to advance by the skin of last second scorings, then you are pretty well aware that anything that can happen, will happen, in this years run for the cup.
While the 62-35 decision the Louisville Fire had over the Shock was very impressive, especially considering they had one practice and a 37 hour plus bus ride to the great northwest. But just as equally impressive is how Central Valley travels cross country and beats Manchester, or how about the Tri-Cities Fever taking the 14-2 Pioneers down to the wire after losing their last four games and making the playoffs on a three point technicality?
The tough battle in Rio Grande Valley was expected considering they had arguably the easiest schedule in the Deuce but the Steeldogs came in with winning on their mind and nearly pulled it off had it not been for a game winning field goal.
Another impressive win was Green Bay on the road at Quad Cities where the Blizzard have been 1-7 in their travels not to mention their unexpected and tragic loss of their assistant head coach and offensive coordinator, Kerry Brown. The Blizzard over came a 21-point deficit with two special teams touchdowns to steal the momentum and upend the Steamwheelers 39-34.
If you paid any attention to the divisional playoffs, you now understand how volatile the playoffs are and that no matter what you did in the 16-week regular season, anything is possible once the records get reset to 0-0.
So who is the odds-on favorite to win out on the road? Frankly, the one I think in the American conference goes against a team who has yet to lose at home. In the National conference, it is probably an easier decision to make.
Louisville was very physical and they dominated the line of scrimmage and their receivers dominated the secondary in Spokane. However, after a 37-hour ride back home, two practices, and a 13-hour trip to Green Bay, the question is how will the road wear on the Fire? Can they have a repeat performance? Will Green Bay’s divine intervention intervene in Louisville’s bid to advance to their second trip to the ArenaCup in three years, or will the Blizzard prevail for an opportunity to play for their second (back-to-back) conference championship? This game will define both teams. Louisville seemed destined for the championship while Green Bay now feels like they have something to play for besides an ArenaCup.
Bossier City has been a strong contender all year. Their fifth seed status has them poised to win out on the road and will try for their second post season win at Rio Grande Valley. In my opinion, this should be a shoe-in for the Battlewings. That’s what we thought about the Steamwheelers last week though too. In this “do or die” tournament, you have to be good now, you have to be better now, you have to be smarter and stronger now because there is no tomorrow. There are two advantages that the Dorados have in this contest, they are at home and they know what it is like to win and how to get it done. That said, Bossier City enters their first playoffs and have fully recovered from their mid-season slump. They have no problem going into Hidalgo, TX and putting this year’s best record team to rest. Despite a worse team record this year, Bossier City should be the favorite in this one.
So while we highlighted Louisville and Bossier City, less not we forget Central Valley who was impressive in shutting down Manchester’s offense or South Georgia’s upset win of the “sometimes good – sometimes bad” Firecats. So while we typically think of having home field as the hands-on advantage to winning football games, with only one round down and the two other professional football leagues each crowning a champion away from home, this year’s road to the cup could be just that, on the road.
Round Two Semifinals Games:
In the American Conference:
#5 Central Valley Coyotes @ #1 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers
#7 Louisville Fire @ #6 Green Bay Blizzard
In the National Conference:
#5 Bossier City Battlewings @ #1 Rio Grande Valley Dorados
#6 South Georgia Wildcats @ #2 Tulsa Talons
Gary Stibolt has covered the Quad City Steamwheelers since their 2000 inaugural season. He also owns, operates and is the Chief Editor/Publisher of SteamwheelerFans.com, a website dedicated to the Steamwheelers and their fans. He coresponds for other media outlets covering arenafootball2. In addition to leading the Steamwheelers Fan Club, Gary serves as Coordinator of the National af2 Fan Club. He is married with two sons and works as an Infrastructure Analyst for Deere & Company in their Corporate Computer Center in Moline, Illinois.