Friday, June 29, 2007

Soul send Preds packing in home playoff debut

By Michael Rushton
Phanatic Magazine

Philadelphia, PA - In a game, and for a team, known for its offense, the Philadelphia Soul got defensive in their first-ever home playoff game.

The Soul D allowed just six points in the second half, and was backed by three Tony Graziani second-half touchdown passes on the way to a 41-26 victory over the Orlando Predators.

It was Philadelphia’s second straight win over Orlando after closing out the regular season with a 63-49 win over the Preds in its regular season finale. It also avenged a loss to Orlando in last year’s National Conference Division Round, which is exactly where the Soul head next.

“It’s very difficult, especially against what I think is the best arena football coach in the league in (Orlando head coach) Jay Gruden,” said Soul head coach Bret Munsey of playing the Predators in consecutive weeks. “The guys won more championships than anybody and I’m not going to lie to you, I was a little nervous heading into that one.”

The fourth-seeded Soul will either play on the road at Dallas or Georgia, depending on the results of Saturday’s game between Tampa Bay and Columbus.

But for now, the Soul can just relish in picking up a win in their first-ever playoff game in front of the Philadelphia faithful.

“It’s great,” said Graziani. “I’ve been here three years now. We’ve been through a lot, it’s been a roller coaster and to bring it back and have a home game is pretty special, especially to get the win.”

Meeting for the second time in seven days, the squads were deadlocked at 20-20 at halftime.
On the opening drive of the third, Orlando marched to the 10-yard line, but a holding call on the offense followed with a sack by Gabe Nyenhuis forced the Predators into a 4th-and-14 situation. The club had to settle for a 34-yard field goal by Jay Taylor and a 23-20 edge.

That is when the Soul took over, especially on defense, an area Philadelphia has struggled in all season long.

Graziani had an answer to Orlando’s score in the form of a four-yard touchdown pass to J.J. McKelvey to put Philadelphia ahead by four.

A sack by Bryan Save on fourth down of Orlando’s next drive gave the Soul the ball back at the Predator 17-yard line with a chance to extend their lead, and they did just then when Graziani hit a wide-open Charles Pauley for a 17-yard scoring strike and a 34-23 advantage with just over two minutes remaining in the third frame.

The defense continued to come up with stops. Orlando drove to the Philadelphia six, but defensive back Brian Mance broke up a pass play on third down, and an offensive pass interference call on Predator wide out Ron Johnson erased a touchdown catch on the following play.

“Brian is a guy…(who) continues to get better in practice and its one of those you scratch your head going, ‘we might need to get him more time on the field.’ Every time I put him on the field he makes plays,” said Munsey, who was on Orlando’s coaching staff from 2003-05.

Now pushed back, the Preds only came away with a 31-yard field goal by Taylor and trailed 34-26 early in the fourth.

The Soul then began to pull away on their ensuing drive after Graziani connected with a leaping Jerrian James for a 23-yard scoring pass to make it a 41-26 game with 9:49 to go.

James was waived by the Predators on April 25 of this year, two days before he signed with the Soul.

“(James) came up with a great catch,” Graziani said. “It wasn’t a very good ball, he made a good adjustment on it and I’m just happy that he was able to kind of stick it to (Orlando).”

Eddie Moten’s interception on fourth down with under 4 ½ minutes to go all but iced the game for the Soul.

“We had a good pass rush, the guys in the secondary just running around, basically we just had fun tonight,” Mance said.

The Soul put together a lengthy opening drive to the game, but Graziani couldn’t punch it in from one yard out on fourth down. On the Predators first play from scrimmage, Johnson slipped behind the defense for a 49-yard catch-and-run up the right side for a 7-0 edge with 8:03 to go in the first.

The Soul had to settle for a 24-yard field goal by Todd France on their next drive, but went ahead 14-10 on the resulting kickoff, as Mike Brown knocked the ball out of T.T. Tolliver’s hands with James recovering in the end zone.

The clubs then exchanged touchdowns before two Taylor field goals put the Predators ahead 20-17. Taylor’s second kick came with just five ticks on the clock, but his ensuing kick off went out of bounds, giving the Soul the ball at the 20-yard line.

After a short pass by Graziani to Sean Scott, France booted a 38-yard field goal as time expired to even things at 20 heading into the break.

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