After establishing a 14-point head start, it’s hard to imagine Washington Valor (1-1) receiver Mike Washington (nine receptions for 125 yards and two touchdowns) and the rest of the team thought their first loss in franchise history would come on Saturday night.
But, as he and other team leaders stressed, winning dictates playing hard for a full 60 minutes.
“We just started out very lethargic in the second half,” Washington said after relinquishing their early lead and eventually falling to the Philadelphia Soul (2-0) 49-31 at the Verizon Center.
The “lethargic” second half came as a bit of a surprise considering how well the Valor started.
On the first play of the game, Valor quarterback Erik Meyer (268 yards passing, two touchdowns) ignited the home crowd with a 25-yard floater that landed into the hands of a wide-open Washington. This set up a short touchdown run a few plays later as backup QB Bernard Morris took a direct snap on 4th and goal and (with the help of an offensive lineman or two) pushed his way across the goal line.
Seconds later, on the Soul’s first possession, Valor defensive back Tracy Belton stepped in front of a short screen pass and took it the other way for six, stuffing his former team into an early 14-0 hole.
The reigning Arena Bowl champs would expectedly score on the ensuing possession as Soul QB Dan Raudabaugh (23-of-36 for 247 yards passing) threw the first of five touchdowns to make the score 14-7. Even still, the Valor weren’t fazed and continued to light up the scoreboard as Washington caught his first touchdown of the game on a 16-yard pass that was bobbled first by another receiver.
The home team had the Verizon center rocking with hopes of a 2-0 start as they led 21-7 at the end of the first period.
The home crowd would become less confident and witnessed their team get outscored 42-10 over the next three quarters. Meyer admits that sort of ineptitude can’t happen if the team wants to be successful this season. “I think when adversity hit [tonight], we kind of sputtered a little bit on the offensive side,” said Meyer. We only put up 10 points in three quarters and in arena football, that’s pretty much unheard of.”
The adversity Meyer references proved to be the turning point in the game.
After a promising Valor drive was stalled by a huge sack-for-loss, kicker TC Stevens bounced a 32-yard field goal off the goal post. In arena football, these situations are considered live, and Soul DB James Romain unplugged the phone booth by catching the ricochet and returning it 51 yards the other way for a score that gave his team their first lead, 28-24 just before the half.
Despite another Meyer-to-Washington touchdown connection seconds before the half, the Valor offense never looked the same after the potential 10-point swing. They were completely shut out in the second half and Meyer threw two costly interceptions.
Valor head coach Dean Cokinos knows that his bunch has room to grow if it wants to compete with championship-caliber teams.
“That’s the best team we’ve faced, maybe, this year, so a few more plays and I think we’ll learn how to play these games going into the fourth quarter,” said Cokinos.
The Valor will look to bounce back Friday, April 28 as they travel to Cleveland for their first road test against the Gladiators at 7 p.m.