By ROB TODOR
VINDICATOR SPORTS EDITOR
YOUNGSTOWN — The schedule will credit the Mahoning Valley Thunder with a “L” Friday night, but for the first time in five weeks, coach Mike Hold saw some grit in his af2 team.
The Thunder (3-5), with Sharon native Mike Schneider starting under center for the first time in his indoor career, lost their fifth straight game, 50-40, to the Manchester Wolves at the Chevrolet Centre. It wasn’t the result Hold was hoping for, but he did get the effort he was seeking.
“It’s tough. After a loss, especially five in a row, to find that thing to say to [the players] in the locker room,” said Hold. “We didn’t win, but we fought our tails off and we gave ourselves a chance to win the game.”
Unlike their 67-49 defeat in Manchester April 28, the Thunder played a stout defensive game, forging a 21-all tie at halftime.
“Defensively, we played a great, great game,” said Hold.
Manchester’s Mark Radlinski, making just his second career af2 start, threw for 242 yards and five touchdowns. But the Thunder put good pressure on him all game, finishing with sacks, and the Wolves didn’t have a rush longer than 7 yards.
“It sucks that we lost,” said Hold, “but we made huge strides tonight. We fought hard, we gave ourselves opportunities.”
Schneider responds to call
Schneider shook off an interception on the first play of the game — it didn’t lead to any points for the Wolves — to finish 20-of-31 for 200 yards and three TDs. He was intercepted two more times, and the last one did lead to the Wolves’ final touchdown of the game that made it 50-34 with two minutes remaining in the game.
“I give myself an ‘F,’ ” said Schneider, when asked to grade his performance. “I’m not satisfied at all. I made a lot of mistakes and we didn’t win.”
Hold’s assessment was much different.
“Mike had a heck of performance,” said the coach. “It’s tough, until you get in there, to understand how tough it really is. Mike answered the call for us tonight and he’s only going to get better.”
One of Schneider’s interceptions was a deflection, but the other two were simply a case of the rookie trying to use his arm strength to gun the ball to the receiver, rather than floating it over the defense.
“Defenders in this league, when they see you trying to muscle the ball in there are going to cut underneath the receiver and make interceptions,” said Hold. “That’s probably what happened.”
Thunder pulls to within 36-34
Schneider, though, did show his ability on one particular play, a 32-yard beauty to DeMarcus Mathews that closed the Thunder’s deficit to 36-34 with 7:57 remaining in the game.
“I liked [Schneider’s] toughness, his mental toughness,” said Hold. “[The Wolves] were bringing it after him all night. It’s easy to get gun shy after a while, but he stayed right in there.
“We can win with Mike Schneider. We will win with Mike Schneider.”
Manchester (4-4), which took over sole possession of second place in af2’s American Conference East, took the lead for good, 33-28, on a 1-yard run by Radlinski with 6:46 remaining in the third quarter.
After Manchester’s Dylan Pohlman kicked a 42-yard field goal, the Thunder closed to 36-34 on Schneider’s second TD hookup of the game to Mathes. But Tim Murphy was stopped short on the two-point conversion attempt.
Four plays later, the Wolves put the game away with a 23-yard TD pass from Radlinski to Patrick Rouzard. Pohlman’s conversion kick made it 43-34 with 3:57 remaining.
Jarrail Jackson’s 2-yard run and a 21-yard scramble by Schneider closed the scoring.