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ARENA FOOTBALL

Avengers Showcase Defense in Win

March 17, 2003|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Avengers better hope Sunday's 42-20 victory over the Indiana Firebirds was an aberration, a one-time offense by the defense.

Otherwise, Arena Football League officials might be on the phone threatening action.

The Avengers ignored the league's offense-first philosophy with a paralyzing defensive effort before an announced crowd of 10,028 at Conseco Fieldhouse.

"Indiana is struggling a bit on offense, but anytime you hold an Arena League team to 20 points, that's a great job," Avenger Coach Ed Hodgkiss said.

In the Avengers' case, it's also a team record.

The previous low was 24 points, surrendered to the Tampa Bay Storm on May 17, 2002.

"We wanted to separate ourselves from the pack and let everyone know our record was no fluke," said nose guard John Dewitt, who helped the Avengers improve to 5-2 and remain in first place in the Western Division. "I was upset we let them score at all."

The Avengers held the struggling Firebirds to two field goals in the first half. Indiana (3-4), which has lost four games in a row, did not score a touchdown until Eddie Brown caught the first of two touchdown passes from Jim Ballard with 13 minutes to play.

By that time, the Avengers were ahead, 35-13.

"The defense won it for us today," said quarterback Tony Graziani, who completed 14 of 29 passes for 181 yards and four touchdowns. "It was good to see them have a great day."

Indiana has stumbled since quarterback Raymond Philyaw dislocated his right index finger in the fourth game. Craig Whelihan, the starter the previous two games, was waived last week after a loss against Orlando.

That left rookie Jose Davis to start against an Avenger defense that added veteran Cornelius Coe last week. Coe, a defensive specialist who played for Indiana for two seasons, and defensive specialist Damen Wheeler clamped down on receivers while Dewitt and others pressured Davis, who completed nine of 23 passes for 76 yards.

The result was an easy win that sent fans from this basketball-mad state streaming out of the building in the fourth quarter, presumably to get home and prepare for the NCAA tournament selection announcements.

"At the beginning of the season, we were having a hard time running the defense right," Wheeler said. "Today we only messed up once."

Indiana showed an unusual look on the game's first possession by rushing the ball five times during an 11-play drive that consumed more than eight minutes and culminated with a 22-yard field goal by Clay Rush.

The Avengers answered on the first play of the ensuing possession with a 45-yard touchdown pass from Graziani to Chris Jackson, who caught six passes for 91 yards and two touchdowns.

The Avengers were ahead, 14-6, at halftime. They put the game away in the third quarter on Graziani touchdown passes to Jackson and Greg Hopkins, and a fumble recovery in the end zone by lineman Mike Ulufale.

"This is exactly what we needed going into a tough game," Jackson said of the Avengers, who play host to Grand Rapids next Sunday.

*

OTHER GAMES

New York 65, Detroit 57 -- Aaron Garcia threw nine touchdown passes -- six to Mike Furrey -- at Auburn Hills, Mich., and the Dragons won in overtime for their first victory this season.

Andy Kelly threw seven touchdown passes for Detroit to become the first AFL quarterback to reach 500 touchdown passes for his career.

Tampa Bay 52, Orlando 32 -- The Storm won its fourth in a row behind John Kaleo, who threw for 209 yards and two touchdowns at Tampa, Fla.

Arizona 72, Colorado 45 -- Sherdrick Bonner was 18 for 25 for 275 yards and seven touchdowns to lift the host Rattlers.

Grand Rapids 45, Dallas 42 -- Clint Dolezel was 22 for 30 for 241 yards and five touchdowns to lead the Rampage at Dallas.

Chicago 68, Las Vegas 48 -- Chad Salisbury's 206 yards passing and five touchdowns fueled the Rush at Las Vegas.

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