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AVENGER REPORT

First-Round Bye Becomes Their Priority

May 03, 2003|Mike Terry | Times Staff Writer

The Avengers have a playoff spot locked up, but there is reason for them not to cruise through the last three games of the Arena Football League's regular season.

Los Angeles wants one of the first-round byes given to the top four seeded playoff teams. At 9-4, the Avengers are tied for first in the West Division with San Jose and have a game left against the SaberCats.

Right behind both teams is Arizona, the Avengers' opponent Sunday in Phoenix.

Defeating the Rattlers may be more important to the Avengers than beating San Jose. Los Angeles is 1-6 in its history against Arizona, and has lost the last two meetings in overtime, most recently an 82-76 decision at Staples Center on April 13.

The Avengers scored their only victory over the Rattlers two years ago in Phoenix.

"We've not beaten Arizona since I've been here," said Avenger Coach Ed Hodgkiss. "We'd like to get over that hump. But what I'm more concerned with is playing at a high level at this time of year."

Meaning Hodgkiss wants his team to fight through the lull creeping up on them. Since winning five in a row, the Avengers have dropped two of their last three games.

"Last week [in the 60-57 loss to Dallas] we had some penalties that were uncharacteristic of us. If we can get back to that high level, we give ourselves a chance to win," Hodgkiss said.

Other concerns include how to replace receiver-defensive back Kevin Ingram, who broke his lower left leg against Dallas.

Ingram is the team's third-leading receiver with 35 receptions for 355 yards and 10 touchdowns. On defense, he leads the Avengers in interceptions with four.

"We're still not sure what we're going to do," Hodgkiss said. "I don't expect us to sign another player to replace him. I think we have enough depth at wide receiver. But it will be difficult to replace what he gives us on defense."

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A big reason the Rattlers have been so successful against the Avengers is quarterback Sherdrick Bonner.

The former Cal State Northridge quarterback, 6 feet 4 and 240 pounds, is in his 11th Arena season with Arizona and ranks third all-time in touchdown passes (514) and passing yardage (26,013).

He's also adept at torching the Avenger secondary. In the game April 13, Bonner threw nine touchdown passes and had a career-best 470 yards.

"He's a real solid, fundamental quarterback," said Avenger defensive specialist Cornelius Coe. "We'll have to be more aggressive defensively this time and make him make the perfect pass to beat you.

"You're not going to rattle him. He's smart and has been in the league many years; knows it like the back of his hand. Plus he's a big guy, and it's easy for him to read the defense. We'll have to be fundamentally sound ... and make the outcome different."

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Around the league: Earlier this week the Carolina Cobras fired Coach Mike Hold after an 0-13 start. Hold was in his first season after two years as coach of the Arena Football League 2 Augusta Stallions. He was replaced by Eddie Khayat, a former NFL coach at Philadelphia, and an Arena coach with the Nashville Kats.

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