Wilkes-Barre/Scranton took a 9-0 lead and won 51-40.
By STEVE BENNETT
SPECIAL TO THE VINDICATOR
WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — As it stands, Mike Hold and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers coach Rich Ingold are going to have to respectfully agree to disagree.
Because as Ingold assessed his team’s 51-40 victory over the Thunder Saturday night at the Wachovia Arena, he pointed to a lack of rhythm and efficiency in his team’s performance.
Hold saw things a little different.
“I thought they were pretty crisp; you can’t score every time even though they tried,” Hold said. “That is a pretty good football team.”
The turning point Saturday night came early, actually on the Thunder’s first possession of the game when they had to settle for a 59-yard field goal attempt that upon its flight, hit the bottom of the hanging scoreboard. That eventually set up the first Pioneers score, a 30-yard pass from Ryan Vena to Jim Jones. On the Thunder’s next drive, quarterback Glen Gauntt was picked off by Chris Royal and that led to a field goal that increased the margin to 9-0 before the first quarter came to a close.
“That is what was disappointing, I didn’t think we had too much rhythm going in the first quarter,” Hold said. “They have a good defense and Royal is a hell of a player.”
The interception was Royal’s eighth of the season, setting a franchise record, but after the Thunder finally managed to settled down, they played the Pioneers, the top ranked team in af2, evenly for the remaining three quarters.
The Pioneers improved to 12-0 and inched one step closer to clinching home field advantage throughout the postseason. They have already locked up a first-round home playoff game. The Thunder (5-7) are 2-2 in their last four games.
After Chris Archie hauled in a 24-yard TD pass from Gauntt to cut the deficit to 9-7, Jones, in his second game back after arthroscopic knee surgery, caught another TD pass to push the lead back up to nine. From there the teams traded scores with the Pioneers reaching the end zone last in the second quarter to lead 30-21 at the half.
The Thunder did have a chance as time expired by Derek Schorejs had his 37-yard field goal attempt blocked by David Dean.
The two key defensive stops the Pioneers made in the first quarter came back to haunt the Thunder in the third when the Pioneers took the opening kick and went 36 yards in three plays as Vena capped the drive with a 1-yard TD run to open up a 37-21 lead.
After the Thunder was stopped on the ensuing series, Reggie Perkins helped set up a DeMarcus Mathes touchdown when he intercepted a Vena pass in the end zone. Mathes hauled in a 26-yard scoring strike to bring the Thunder back within nine, but the Pioneers were able to tack on a pair of late fourth quarter scores to prevent the Thunder from getting any closer.
“The first game we played them they scored on every possession and last week they did the same thing,” Hold said. “All we needed was one or two stops with the way that offense is rolling. I think we did some good things out there tonight, but their defensive backs make plays and the defensive line batted down some balls at key times.”
XSteve Bennett covers the af2 for the Wilkes-Barre (Pa.) Citizens’ Voice.
Thunder 0 21 7 12 —40
Pioneers—Jones, 30 pass from Vena, (kick failed), 11:27
W-B/S—Davis, 19 field goal,:20
MVT—Archie, 9 pass from Gauntt, (Schorejs kick),12:03
W-B/S—Jones, 8 pass from Vena, (Davis kick), 8:57
MVT—Gauntt, 1 run, (Schorejs kick), 3:35
W-B/S—Vena, 6 run, (Davis kick), 1:51
MVT—Mathes, 39 pass from Gauntt, (Schorejs kick), :41
Pioneers- Jones, 4 pass from Vena, (Davis kick), :12
W-B/S—Vena, 1 run, (Davis kick), 13:25
MVT—Mathes, 26 pass from Gauntt, (Schorejs kick), 4:18
W-B/S—Vena, 17 run, (Davis kick), 14:56
MVT—Archie, 17 pass from Gauntt, (pass failed), 8:52
W-B/S—Jones, 27 pass from Vena, (Davis kick),5:35
MVT—Murphy, 5 pass from Gauntt,(pass failed), :37
Total yards303 296
RUSHING—Thunder, Murphy 5-11, Gauntt 2-2 (TD). WBS, Vena 6-50 (3), Kendrick 1-(-1).
PASSING—Thunder, Gauntt 20-45-1-290. WBs, Vena 22-3-1-1-247.
RECEIVING—Thunder, Mathes 6-126, Archie 6-102, Johnson 6-54, Murphy 1-5, Eaton 1-5. WBS, Jones 11-149, Kendrick 6-36, Ibeh 5-67.