Thunder Exit Playoffs after 55-28 Loss to San Jose
Saturday August 15, 2015
SAN JOSE – Wide receiver Duane Brooks returned a third quarter kickoff 54 yards for his ninth overall kick return touchdown of the 2015 AFL season, but a three score, first half deficit was too much to overcome as the #4 seed Portland Thunder exited the National Conference Playoffs with a 55-28 loss to the #1 seed San Jose SaberCats in front of 10,060 at the SAP Center evening.
With the score knotted at 7-7 midway through the second quarter, SaberCats quarterback Erick Meyer hit receiver Ben Nelson for a 22 yard touchdown pass, starting a series of three unanswered touchdowns for San Jose.
On the following possession for Portland, quarterback Kyle Rowley was intercepted by San Jose’s David Hyland on the drive’s first play, with the linebacker returning to the Thunder’s seven yard line. The turnover set Meyer up to hit receiver Reggie Gray two plays later, for a six yard score, and the second touchdown in this sequence, taking a 21-7 lead with left in the frame.
Rowley was able to find receivers Jared Perry and Jamar Howard for incisive gains on the next drive, but faltered on both a 3rd & 1, and 4th & 1 from the San Jose 19 yard line, handing possession back again to the SaberCats with 34 seconds left in the half.
Meyer would find Reggie Gray again in the end-zone, this time from 16 yards out, to put the SaberCats up 28-7 heading into halftime.
Despite conceding another touchdown on San Jose’s opening drive of the second half, Portland began to show some fire, with Brooks’ kick return providing the spark. The 54 yard runback was indicative of his previous touchdown returns, with the veteran deciding on a lane and sticking to it, breaking through the oncoming rush relatively untouched up the left wall for the score.
Portland’s defensive front began to make its mark on the game soon after. San Jose began the drive following Brooks’ return on their own 4 yard line, when pressures from defensive end Marquis Jackson, and a batted ball from lineman Frank Trotter forced the SaberCats into a four-and-out, gifting the Thunder a way back into the game.
San Jose’s defensive front, with their backs against their own goal line, responded as well. Former Thunder defensive end Donte Paige-Moss bottled up a first down rushing attempt from full back John Martinez on 1st-and-Goal, and following a pair of incompletions, Rowley was sacked on 4th-and-Goal by Francis Maka, turning the ball back over on downs.
The Thunder defense came up big again one play later, however, as linebacker Bryce Peila forced a fumble from 6-5, 315 pound lineman Rich Ranglin, who had received a screen pass from Meyer, with Portland linebacker KC Obi recovering.
Rowley hit Howard for an acrobatic two yard touchdown pass and catch following the turnover, cutting the SaberCats’ third quarter lead to just two scores, at 35-21.
With the Thunder seemingly in the ascendancy, Reggie Gray’s 57 yard kick return touchdown on the ensuing kickoff doused any hopes of a Portland comeback.
Rowley finished the evening 20 of 41 passing, for 244 yards, and three touchdowns, with two interceptions, while his counterpart, Meyer, completed 20 of his 36 attempts, for 215 yards, and five scores.
Howard, in just his second game returning from a knee injury that sidelined him since the Thunder first faced the SaberCats back in Week 5, led all receivers with eight receptions, for 87 yards, and two touchdowns.
Russell Athletic Offensive Player of the Game: Erik Meyer (SJS)
Riddell Defensive Player of the Game: Ken Fontenette (SJS)
J. Lewis Small Playmaker of the Game: Reggie Gray (SJS)
Cutters Catch of the Game: Jamar Howard (PDX) 33 yard TD catch in Q2
AFL Highlight of the Game: Reggie Gray (SJS) 57 yard Kickoff Return for TD in Q3
About the Portland Thunder
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