Sunday, July 27, 2008

Soul win Arena Bowl

-Courtesy of the Philadelphia Soul

NEW ORLEANS (July 27, 2008) -- The Philadelphia Soul capped a pressure-packed season with its first Arena Football League Championship, knocking off the defending champion San Jose Sabercats, 59-56, in ArenaBowl XXII Sunday afternoon in New Orleans.

Before a sold out crowd at New Orleans Arena, the Soul got key contributions from defense and special teams in a momentum-changing second quarter sequence to take a lead they would never relinquish. The Soul maintained control until the latter stages of the fourth quarter, when San Jose scored 14 points in 11 seconds to close within three points with :15 seconds left.

The anxiety subsided when Philadelphia’s Rod Davis recovered the onside kick, enabling D’Orazio to eat up the final seconds with three deep drops and tosses into the sideline spectator seating.

Philadelphia’s big-play offense was the biggest difference, as the team answered the pre-season challenge of majority co-owner Jon Bon Jovi and team president/former Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski that the only acceptable result for 2008 was the league championship.

Bon Jovi and Jaworski went out and made two critical off-season acquisitions in wide receiver Chris Jackson and backup quarterback Matt D’Orazio. Both turned in all-league performances as the Soul proved to be the class of the league, posting a 13-3 regular season record while receiving the best fan support in franchise history.

D’Orazio, brought in to backup standout signal-caller Tony Graziani, ended up as the league’s top QB when injuries sidelined Graziani for most of the campaign. Sunday, D’Orazio was one of several stars for the Soul, completing 26 of 43 passes for 302 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions. He was named the Game MVP for the second time in his career (Arena Bowl XX, Chicago Rush).

Jackson, arguably the greatest wide receiver in the history of the league, had 11 catches for 146 yards and three touchdowns and he captured his first AFL championship in a nine-year career.

The pivotal second quarter sequence started with Philadelphia’s Clifton Smith making a highlight-reel tackle for the kickoff coverage team with the score tied 20-20. The defense then notched the game’s first stop when Gabe Nyenhuis’ pass rush forced an incompletion on fourth and four, giving the Soul possession at the Sabrecats’ 20 yard line. On the next play, D’Orazio hit Larry Brackins for the touchdown and the Soul took a 27-20 lead.

The Soul defense finished with five stops, including an interception by Eddie Moten, fumble recoveries by Phil Bogle and Kevin Carberry and a two-point safety by Raheem Orr and Carberry, which gave the Soul its biggest lead of the game, 46-27, in the third quarter.

Brackins finished with six catches for 70 yards and two touchdowns and Brent Holmes contributed five catches for 69 yards and one touchdown. Bogle, an offensive lineman, chipped in with two catches for 12 yards and the Soul’s final touchdown.

San Jose quarterback Mark Grieb, twice the Arena Bowl-winning quarterback and game MVP, kept his team alive throughout, finishing 27 of 44 for 299 yards and eight touchdowns. San Jose’s Rodney Wright set a new Arena Bowl record with 13 catches, accounting for 144 yards and two touchdowns. Jason Geathers added eight catches for 101 yards and five touchdowns for San Jose.

The victory gave the Soul a final 2008 record of 16-3 and the first title in its five year history. The Soul converted its third straight playoff appearance, winning two home playoff games at the Wachovia Center before going to New Orleans to capture Arena Bowl XXII.

San Jose, winners of three of the previous six Arena Bowls, finished the season at 13-6.

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