League scheduling has produced a miracle. Two games will be played this week, between four teams that can make the playoffs. The winners of those games will be in the playoffs, the losers will be out. That's the kind of planning that keeps the stadiums full in the APFL. Hats off to Comissioner George and his staff.
The early game will feature the Ark Grave Robbers in Seoul. Why "Ark"? Because they're only half a team without Jay Shines. Shines was injured after last weeks win in Haddonfield. Reports indicate that, as he exited Pumpkin Stadium, he was crushed under two rolling decahedrons the size of small houses. One was red, one was white, and they bore a digit on each face.
Shines was rushed to a hospital, where doctors discovered a very deep bruise that extended from his calves to his neck. The bruise was clearly and frighteningly shaped like the number "6".
Can the Grave Robbers win without Shines? It seems unlikely. They've already lost to Seoul once this season. The Choson are in a slightly worse position. The Pumpkins must beat Texas for a victory in this game to have any meaning. That might be difficult (see below).
The second pre-playoff playoff is Sand Bowl II. Virginia Beach faces Long Beach in a winner-takes-all game. Long Beach is quiet after losing last week's game on a last-play bomb. Do they have what it takes to bounce back and beat the Panthers?
The Panthers! What a joy to write about them. While their record is dismal and they play in a dismal conference, they find themselves in a position to make the playoffs after losing last week. They just need to win this game. Results are predicated on the idea that dormant Pullman will lose to dominant New Deal - a safe bet, if such a thing exists.
Long Beach has the better overall roster, but they've been completely unpredictable. They scored 74 points against 6-3 Arkham, while giving up 100 against 6-3 Haddonfield. More than any other team, the All-Stars hold their own destiny. If they choose to pay and compete, they will face Albuquerque in two weeks.
If the Panthers make the playoffs with four wins, it will be a huge triumph for the downtrodden of the APFL. It will also be an embarrassment for the league office. The realignment and 3-team divisions will have to be closely scrutinized to bring some kind of balance between the Conferences. Realignment is always a crapshoot, and every team in the National has enough good players to compete for second place in the conference.
Inter-conference record? American: 10 National: 8
The Lions need to share some of their victories with their Conference brethren.
Albuquerque and Long Beach had the most exciting game of the week. The snakebitten All-Stars lost another close one. How different the history of this talent-laden team might be, if they could add 5 points to past scores. In this game, Richard Naden hit Greg Hellwig on a 53 yard touchdown bomb as time expired.
Naden continues to impress. After a very weak start, and some controversy over who should play, Naden has emerged as a top player. Stanley Herman was released to help restore team unity, and the Scorpions have never looked back. Tim Scott and Hellwig have been the beneficiaries, going from talented mannequins last season to important roles in this one.
Albuquerque is still owned by Chris Barnes, however. Despite a nagging injury and a terrible performance, Barnes and his understudy, Holmes McKnight, got enough carries to keep the All-Stars defense honest. Naden threw four interceptions, which kept the game so close, but he also passed for nearly 500 yards and four scores.
On defense, the Scorpions had little to feel good about. They did manage three picks off Ken O, and Vince Gott had a decent but not great day.
Long Beach had a huge day from Mike Penn, who rushed 30 times for 139 yards. This produced a tremendous advantage in time-of-possession, but the All-Stars' defense wasn't prepared for the Scorpions' passing attack. Paul Trazie got 14 catches but only 139 yards, although he did score 5 touchdowns.
On the other side of the Long Beach ball, the rushing stats looked great but the passing stats were awful. Key linebacker Indra Gowasmi had 10 tackles for only 39 yards, while key defensive back Derek Berry had 3 tackles for 138 yards. Without a sack against a mediocre Albuquerque line, Long Beach lost yet another close one.
Gilbert Ford was one-for-two on field goals. It will all come down to next week, where Long Beach must win or go home. A bad game by Ford in a Long Beach loss will send him to the bench. Marco Cheah will be watching eagerly from the sidelines, while Coach Jon looks at the many promising kickers coming out of college.
Seoul needed overtime to get around the tenacious Moose. In a must-win game for the Choson, Jamey Thomas fumbled and set up the winning score after regulation time had expired. Szatch has suffered many bad breaks, imagined many more, and must be commended for fighting to the last game.
Sam Buck and Antwann Newburry both had very strong running games. With Newburry moving the ball so effectively, it might have been an easy day for Duluth, but Seoul's remarkable defense was up to the challenge. Halfback Phil Underwood hauled in 4 catches for 90 yards in a trend that is increasing throughout the APFL - passes to the halfback.
Sam Gorm continued to shine on the Moose defense. with six tackles for seven yards. Gorm has outperformed much more talented Halsey and Saaverda in the Duluth scheme. Hopefully Szatch can put the two youngsters in a position to make more plays next season. Sam Radway had four tackles and a stuff for a loss of three yards against the weaker Seoul offensive line.
Mark McGuire came up huge for Seoul, with six tackles and three stuffs for three yards lost. Duluth must look to the draft to bring in another offensive lineman who can slow down players like McGuire and give Jamey Thomas time to use his skills.
Seoul kept their playoff hopes alive with the narrow win. In any other division they would be an easy pick for the playoffs. In the winners-only Central, they must win next week, along with Haddonfield, to get a wild card spot. That would mean a date with Texas. Comissioner George will be rooting for the Choson. If they can both win, the Pumpkins get a first-round bye.
Arkham kept their playoff hopes alive with an extremely boring win over Haddonfield. The game featured only 22 pass attempts between the two teams. With one Arkham interception and two Pumpkin sacks, the passing game was not only absent, it was ineffective.
The Grave Robbers did manage to connect on a 60 yard bomb to Jay Shines for their only touchdown. In other depressing offensive news, Kenny Proctor had 40 carries for a paltry 131 yards, with 6 stuffs. Arkham kicker Trent Henley went 3-for-4 on field goals, as Coach Neal's new field goal sets proved faster, but not longer. These teams can't seem to put together a good game against each other, and the 16-10 final score told a lot.
Jay Shines ran for 131 yards on 20 carries, using a slight modification of the end-around that Arkham has run since the pre-season. Newton Newnan also had a decent day with 12 carries for 44 yards and two first downs. Newt has looked stronger in recent weeks. Halfbacks Kerry Terrell and Jamal Smith totalled 2 carries. With Shines running wild, they simply never got the call. The tough Seoul defense won't allow that to happen next week.
Receiving performances were generally dismal, with Kenny Proctor registering 1 catch for a seven yard loss. Proctor's receiving skills have been a key for Haddonfield in recent weeks. The lack of throws to Proctor hurt the Pumpkins in this game.
Safety stalwart Elliot Ross missed the game, but his absence was not bad for Arkham. Journeymen corners Ralph Marshall and Wendell Moore filled-in admirably for Ross. Zip Robertson had a monster game. Pasted to Kenny Proctor for most of the night, Zip recorded 16 tackles for a 4.2 yard average. When Zip was busy with other duties, Rupert Tingle covered Proctor, registering 7 tackles for a 4.6 yard average., along with a stuff, a pass defense, and an interception. Renaldo Johnson had his second huge game in two weeks, with 6 tackles for a net loss of 5 yards, and a stuff. Nose tackle Pete Frazier had the finest day of his career, posting four tackles for 3 yards, and two stuffs.
For Haddonfield, the stats were also good on defense. Saftey Lorenzo Newsome had six tackles with a 3.5 yard average, and defended a pass. Tim Greenleaf and Kenny Arnold combined for 11 tackles and a 4.4 yard average. Scott Dixon had two sacks, remarkable with so few pass attempts. And much maligned Cary Carlson managed 3 tackles for zero yards, an improvement over his last outing in Lovecraft Stadium.
Two essential players were injured in the game. Jay Shines went down in a bizarre geometric construction accident outside Pumpkin Stadium, while Kenny Proctor is unable to play after being battered by Zip Robertson 16 times. Both injuries are crippling for the two clubs. Arkham needs a win over Seoul next week to insure a playoff appearance, while Haddonfield needs to beat Texas to gain a first-round bye. Both teams will be underdogs.
In an interesting but meaningless battle for the top draft pick, the hapless Bengals overcame an abandoned Pullman team by a score of 21-17. George Preston and Barry Langer each returned Ed Ward interceptions for touchdowns. Why isn't Sam Atkins playing? Why didn't Baton Rouge post these kinds of defensive performances earlier in the season? Who can say?
It's clear that Pullman is jockeying for the number-one draft pick. Baton Rouge has lost key personnel and draft picks while underperforming. The results have not been pleasant to watch. Fans in Pullman regularly make purring sounds when the Cougars put up yet-another punt. And the Bengal fans in Baton Rouge seemed more interested by Elliot Ross' recent mishap in their red-light district than they are about the their own team.
Halfback Todd Elsworth finally had a decent game, gaining 155 yards on 41 carries. Unfortunately, he lost two fumbles and was stuffed 7 times, but he did manage to score. He also hauled in eight passes for 50 yards. Pullman's rushing was limited to 15 carries for Howard Washington, who was unimpressive.
On defense, it was a team effort for Baton Rouge. Preston and Langer stood out with outstanding work against the run and the pass. Clint Hasty looked good returning punts, as well. For Pullman, their defensive line continues to dominate. Marcus Terrell had 9 tackles for 15 yards with four stuffs, a monster game. Ricky Curry, Darryl Miller, and Abe Glassman also looked strong for Pullman.
Without Langer and Preston, this game would have been an easy win for Pullman. If Pullman had played harder in the previous games, it would be easy to feel bad for them. Would Sam Atkins have thrown up those picks?
Jed Wooden Update
New Deal roughed up Virginia Beach, leaving no doubt about who will represent the Nominal Conference in the American Bowl. Whether we see Long Beach, Virginia Beach. or Albuquerque in the Conference championship, all bets will be with Coach Hennig and the New Deal Lions. The Lions held the ball for twice as long as Virginia Beach in this game.
Scott Hennig and Matt Thomas had typical games for the New Deal. Matt Thomas fumbled, a rare occurance, but the Lions recovered. FriedRice didn't get enough carries to be really effective for the Panthers, but the carries he got were fruitless. Workhorse Earl Henley had a nice day, catching 10 balls for 166 yards and a score. This was a routine game for New Deal, which is frightening. Perhaps the only mistep was a missed field goal by All-Pro Trey Sylvester.
On defense, Napolean Sloan had a great game, and Matt Calhune recorded a sack. Defensive end Mac Whitfield had the best day for the Panthers, with six tackles for a 3.8 yard average. Alex Chamblee knocked down four Hennig passes, still playing too far from the line, but making it work.
The other blowout featured the Outlaws crushing division-rival Owasso. The expansion Rams have looked better as the season progressed, but Texas was hungry for a win, and their passing attack was brutal. Bill Connor, the second best quarterback for the Outlaws, completed 34 of 36 passes for nine touchdowns, with no interceptions. With 500 yards through the air, two sacks spoiled the second-best passing performance in league history.
Combine this with Anthony Gibson getting 149 yards on 25 rushes, and you have disaster. The beneficiary of the Texas aerial assault was rookie Shannon Shepard, who hauled in 13 catches for 219 yards and four scores. Gibson also caught 13 passes for 196 yards and 3 scores.
John Ballard was helpless against a formerly suspect Texas defense, with a rating of 25 and change. Levi Chung did manage to get 3 catches for 100 yards and a score, but it was not enough. John Calloway was unable to move on the ground, and rookie standout Miguel Evans disappeared.
Fullback Tyrone Campbell had a remarkable day returning punts. Whether this was made possible by his reclassification as a cornerback in the Texas team file is unknown. The game featured a remarkble team effort by the Outlaws defense, and a vey poor statistical showing by the Rams' defensive unit. James Fields and Frank Lee each hauled in John Ballard passes for interceptions.
Texas continued to push toward a first-round playoff bye with the win. If they can beat Haddonfield, and Seoul overtakes Arkham, they'll be freshly rested for a short run to a rematch with New Deal in the American Bowl.
The strange injuries of the APFL mount. Here is a brief history of the mystery:
The playoffs will come down to two final games.
Out of It
On the Bubble
With two great games next week, expect the best action of the season, a nod to the scheduling geniuses in the league office.
Unsung Game Balls to:
Check out Harold Carter. As long as he doesn't pass much, the Grave Robbers look solid.
Marco Cheah was investigated by the league office this week. He was discovered iwith a Glauck 9mm handgun in the Baton Rouge locker room. The name "Jed" was engraved on the barrel.