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Crowd Warmly Receives Piranhas

Arena football: In grand style, team puts on show and defeats St. Louis in exhibition, 51-37.

April 21, 1996|DAVE McKIBBEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — The field was 50 yards smaller, the rules were slightly different and the players weren't making millions, but the 15,107 fans who watched the Piranhas defeat the St. Louis Stampede, 51-37, in an Arena Football League exhibition game at the Pond didn't mind.

They seemed to be happy that professional football was back in Orange County after a 16-month absence.

"I've been in this league eight years and this is the best opening preseason game I've been a part of," Piranhas Coach Babe Parilli said. "They did a great job getting everybody out here."

The crowd broke an Arena League exhibition attendance record and was only a few hundred short of outdrawing the Mighty Ducks' exhibition debut. The crowd also was only about 15,000 below the Rams' attendance for their final game.

Piranhas quarterback Scooter Molander, who completed 12 of 18 passes for 129 yards and two touchdowns, says he fed off the fans' enthusiasm.

"That was great," he said. "I think there's a lot of NFL fans going through withdrawal now. It helps so much when you have a big crowd cheering for you."

The crowd was treated to a 12-minute Disneyesque pregame show that included laser lights, fireworks, loud music, the Piranhas girls, and Piranhas mascot "Piranha man" jumping out of his tank. Once the game began, the fans realized "Arena ball" was a distant cousin of the NFL.

Coaches stood on the field shouting plays and instructions to their players. No punting was allowed, balls were fielded off nets in the end zone, kickers dropkicked balls through a goal post that was 15 feet high and nine feet wide. When the action stopped, the public-address announcer implored the crowd to cheer for its Piranhas.

The Piranhas got off to a shaky start as Mater Dei graduate Danny O'Neil threw incompletions on his first three passes and fullback Darrell Williams fumbled an O'Neil pitchout. But O'Neil settled down later in the quarter and threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Adrian Jarrell. O'Neil completed six of 11 passes for 83 yards before being replaced by Molander after a quarter.

The Piranhas led, 27-24, at half and trailed, 37-34, after three quarters. But they shut out St. Louis--coached by former Ohio State coach Earle Bruce--17-0 in the fourth quarter.

Afterward, Parilli said he is leaning toward making Molander his No. 1 quarterback over O'Neil and Troy Kopp, who played the fourth quarter and was two of four for 28 yards.

"Scooter's been with me four years and he knows the game as well as I do," Parilli said. "He moves the team the best."

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