Manchester took control in the second quarter of a 56-42 victory over Mahoning Valley.
By KEVIN RYDER
MANCHESTER, N.H. — Mahoning Valley looked like it might break it’s losing streaks during the early part of last night’s contest at the Verizon Wireless Arena. But some costly breakdowns on defense opened up the offense for Manchester, and the Wolves took advantage, pulling away in the second half for a 56-42 win over the Thunder.
The loss is the seventh in a row this season for the Thunder (1-7), and their 16th straight loss on the road while also denying coach Brennen Booth his first win since taking over after the fifth game of the season.
“Overall, it was a good team effort,” said Booth. “We lost three or four guys at key positions to injury and that left us scrambling. I was proud that they kept fighting.”
“I’m happy with the win,” said Manchester coach Danton Barto. “We closed the game out, and we played the game we are capable of playing. The biggest thing was that we were physical. Whenever you play a physical football game, it makes me happy as a coach.”
After the Wolves tied the game 7-7, one of the turning points in the contest took place on the kickoff. Chris Koepplin’s kick hit the bar behind the end zone and bounced past both Quorey Payne and Clarence Curry, who were awaiting the kick for the Thunder. The ball bounced high in the air near the goal line, where Manchester’s Al Phillips scooped it up and scored the go-ahead touchdown.
The teams continued trading scores throughout the opening half, and Mahoning Valley looked poised to keep the back-and-forth going in the second quarter as it was driving the field, thanks to a pair of completions from Davon Vinson to Payne which put the ball inside the 20. On second down, Vinson’s pass into the end zone was intercepted on a diving catch by Manchester’s Phillips. Four plays later, the Wolves scored on a touchdown pass from James Pinkney to Deyon Williams for a 35-21 lead at the half.
The Wolves seemingly put the game out of reach on their first possession of the second half, when the Pinkney-to-Williams combination struck again, this time on a 13-yard scoring pass where Williams was wide open in the end zone to put the Thunder down by three scores.
“It’s arena football, and that’s the way it goes,” said Booth. “This is so much a possession game, and we lost the game on those possessions.”
From that point on, the two teams traded scores, with the lead never going above 21 or below 14. Despite being down by multiple scores, the Thunder kept playing hard, as witnessed by what can only be described as one of the catches of the year in the league.
Down 21 points late in the fourth quarter, Blake Powers, on his first play back in the game after replacing the injured Vinson, heaved a deep pass to the back left corner of the end zone from 34 yards out. C.J. Brewer leaped high for the ball and, with Manchester’s Phillips in his face, made the catch, crashed into the wall and fell into the stands. He maintained possession for the touchdown, spiking the ball from the first row of the stands.
“That shows that the effort is still there,” said Booth. “He gave up his body and did what it took to get to the ball. [This team] never quit and kept playing throughout. They have a lot of heart.”
Vinson finished the game 17-for-27 for 195 yards, a touchdown and an interception while also running the ball three times for 16 yards and a score. Powers, in limited action, was 5-for-6 for 51 yards and two scores. Payne led the receiving corps with eight catches for 115 yards and a touchdown, while Brewer contributed eight catches for 83 yards and a score.
Pinkney was outstanding for the Wolves, finishing 21-for-30 for 282 yards and seven touchdowns. All his passes went to just three receivers, with Williams hauling in eight passes for 86 yards and three scores; Steve Savoy making seven catches for 99 yards and four scores; and Patric Rouzard adding six catches for 97 yards.
“We have to get healthy, that’s the big thing,” said Booth. “Our defensive line is decimated. We need to do some work on our personnel this week. We’ll make some moves to bring some guys in and try to get healthy.”