Game Photos: Shock 69, Thunder 54

The Shock came in and got off to a big head start with some great bar-ball bounces and defensive plays and put the Thunder in an early 28-point hole, but Portland fought back before the Shock ended the comeback bid late in the game.

This’ll be my final Thunder game in person; thanks to everyone that supported me and reads this blog. From here on out the focus will shift toward general AFL coverage and personal blogging covering my relocation to the Dallas-Fort Worth area (Irving, specifically). I’ll throw in some stuff I worked on with the Thunder but never got to use, too, on occasion.

For the rest of the photos in this photo set, visit my Flickr album.

Jake McDonough battles Bryson Kelly of the Shock on the lines.

Game Preview: Portland Thunder (3-8) vs. Spokane Shock (3-8)

Let’s just call this one #TheStruggle. The Thunder enter the game coming off a four-game losing streak. The Shock have a three-game losing streak of their own. The teams struggled to score in their opening matchup, with Portland securing a four-point win, 47-43.

Game Day Breakdown: The Thunder have advantages in: Offensive turnovers, Defensive Yardage, Points Allowed. The Shock have advantages in: Offensive Yards, Points, and Success Rate; Defensive Success Rate and Turnovers Forced. Watch for Jared Perry, who went for 150 yards and 4 TDs last week.

In that game, Bryce Peila came up with an interception return for a touchdown and a fumble return for a touchdown helping overcome a 29-20 Shock lead at halftime.

Of course, in that game, Mike Washington led the Shock and Jamar Howard led the Thunder in receiving yards. Neither is expected to play. Former Thunder quarterback Danny Southwick is now a former Shock QB as well; he’s landed in Los Angeles and has helped them as they mount a turnaround on their season. Kyle Rowley may be backing up recent acquisition Alex Carder at quarterback for the Thunder.

With a previous matchup that went down to the wire and several differences in lineups since then, combined with mounting losses on the field, both personnel and record-wise, it’s tough to determine who has the advantage this week.

One thing’s for certain: After the recent wins by Los Angeles and Las Vegas, these two teams enter needing a win in order to feel comfortable heading into the final third of the season. Both teams trail the Outlaws by a game and both are ahead of the previously left-for-dead KISS by just a game.

And Duane Brooks will be exciting in the return game. He’s either one or two kick return touchdowns away from an AFL record for return touchdowns in a season. He’s also returned two for touchdowns in each of the past three games (unfortunately, one may count as a fumble recovery because he fumbled (and recovered) right before the line and another was called back on a phantom hold), so it’s not crazy to expect a couple on Sunday.

I said in my picks over on ArenaFan that Spokane would get even for the last game, and that the difference between this week and the last one is that Shox the Fox won’t interfere with their receivers. I won’t be that guy who picks both sides of a game, so I’m picking Spokane to win another tight game, 46-43.

On ArenaFan: Celebrating Brooks’ season; Weighted Power Rankings

I have a couple articles up on ArenaFan this week – First off is coverage of Duane Brooks, who has been the story for the Thunder in recent weeks as he moves toward the record books as having the best season for a kick returner in league history.

The second may not be so well-received by Thunder fans, as it incorporates a weighted “what have you done for me lately” system that sees Portland fall to 12th in the league in offensive/defensive success rate.

Check back later this week for a game preview and the Game Day poster! After this week, the blog will gradually be shifting focuses as I go up to Spokane for Hoopfest and then relocate to Irving, TX to begin work at North Lake College.

AFL Referees: Making NBA Refs Look Perfect

As a resident of the Northwest, and a guy who watches a lot of AFL games, I’ve been subjected to a lot of terrible refereeing. A good 80 percent of the worst refereed games I’ve seen have involved Dave Cutaia’s crew, and I’m sick of it.

When dealing with poor refereeing, I’m used to the NBA’s model, where the idea seems to be to err in favor of the team that’s losing by a considerable amount, or perhaps the home team, to try to keep the game interesting for longer. With Cutaia’s crew, however, it always seems as though they want to be part of the winning team, helping the superior squad gain even more of an advantage through horrific calls and non-calls.

Below are a few photos (and videos) of the most obvious missed calls and made-up calls. Continue reading AFL Referees: Making NBA Refs Look Perfect

Game Photos: Arizona Rattlers 69, Portland Thunder 42

While I was covering Friday’s game, I was also taking photos. A few of the photos I took are up on Flickr now (it’s just so much easier to batch upload). Includes terrible refereeing, big plays, and fine work by a guy out there on the field for the pizza promotion.

In fact, I liked his action sequence so much I won’t make you go to Flickr to see it.

Pizza Challenger

Game Preview: Portland Thunder (3-7) vs. Arizona Rattlers (8-2)

The Arizona Rattlers come into the Rose City this Friday pushing to stay within striking distance of the undefeated San Jose SaberCats for the top seed in the conference.

The Thunder, meanwhile, will try to hold on to their playoff position. Their 3-7 record ties them with the Spokane Shock and Las Vegas Outlaws for third in the conference, and a superior conference record (and head-to-head win) gives them an advantage over the Shock. The Shock and Outlaws play each other this week, so they’ll lose at least one spot if they lose.

Duane Brooks leads the Thunder into battle against the Arizona Rattlers this Friday. The Rattlers are better in all four offensive and defensive categories than the Thunder. Can special teams make up the difference?

Portland is looking to rebound from a loss to the previously winless KISS. Special teams continues to be a strong point for the Thunder, with Duane Brooks returning two kickoffs for touchdowns and jumping into a tie for 10th in AFL history with six return touchdowns in a season. He still has eight games to go, putting Hunkie Cooper’s record of eight kick return touchdowns in 2002 in jeopardy.

The Rattlers have given up a return for a touchdown this season, and Brooks himself managed a 34-yard return against them in the first matchup, so he has a chance to move closer to history.

To be successful, however, the Thunder need to try to prevent Brooks from having so many opportunities to return kicks – the defense needs to make some stops. After last week’s game against the KISS, the Thunder defense is dangerously close to becoming last in the league in defensive stop rate.

The bad news on that front is that Arizona quarterback Nick Davila has returned to the lineup. The Rattlers got along pretty well without him, winning everywhere but San Jose, but his return elevates them back up to elite status as an offense. Last week, he posted 275 yards on 60 percent completions and threw nine touchdown passes without turning the ball over against what had been the league’s third-best defense (they’re now fourth).

The main question most fans have is whether or not Alex Carder will get any action at the quarterback position. After intriguing fans with some deep strikes against San Jose, many (including me) thought Carder would get the nod against the KISS last week. Does the fact that the team is likely to lose this week change the thinking process? Let the younger player start since the team is unlikely to win anyway, and let him try to shock the league?

Whether it’s Carder or Rowley under center, I have to take the Rattlers in this one. They’re just too strong a team – they’re three-time defending champions for a reason. Rattlers 71, Thunder 42.

On ArenaFan: Team Rankings

The Thunder are getting dangerously close to having a worse defense than the KISS after last week’s game in Anaheim. Unfortunately, they face a reinvigorated Arizona Rattlers team this week, which won’t help them increase the gap. This week’s article also features the perfect example of how worthless yards are as a measure of offense in the AFL:

The Los Angeles KISS average more yards per game than the San Jose SaberCats, although the SaberCats have the most effective offense in the league and the KISS are the least effective.

Check out the rest of the numbers and this week’s picks over at ArenaFan.

Thunder Inconsistent, Lose to KISS 52-40

ANAHEIM – Thunder WR/KR Duane Brooks returned two consecutive third quarter kickoffs for touchdowns, and added two more scores receiving, but his input was not enough to help Portland overcome a number of unforced errors, as they fell to the LA KISS in front of 7,345 fans at the Honda Center Sunday afternoon in Anaheim.

The win for the KISS (1-9, 0-4) is their first of the 2015 AFL season, and their first over the Thunder (3-7, 1-2) in their last four tries.

“We have got to talk about the things that we need to do better,” Head Coach Mike Hohensee said following the loss. “You can’t jump offside on 4th down. You can’t drop interceptions.”

The Thunder were penalized 13 times, for 141 yards in the loss, including three defensive penalties in 3rd or 4th-and-Long situations, extending KISS drives that were eventually converted for scores.

“The majority of those were on defense,” Hohensee added, in regards to the penalties. “We’d get a sack, but take a penalty. That stuff takes the ball out of our hands. It seemed to happen over and over again. We have to play smarter than that.”

Brooks returned five kicks for 198 yards, averaging 39.6 yards per return, while breaking two returns for scores, the first a 57-yarder at the 6:03 mark of the 3rd Quarter, and the second, a 58-yarder just over three minutes later.

“I can only attribute these (runbacks) to the guys in front of me,” Brooks stated. “I let my eyes guide my feet, and I take what our blocking gives me. After that, I just try to make guys miss, and get in the end-zone.”

Duane added five receptions for 54 yards, totaling a game high of 252 yards, all-purpose.

A one yard touchdown rush in the dying seconds of the first half from KISS receiver DeMarco Sampson proved the only difference between the sides through the first two frames. The KISS, receiving the second half kick, were stymied by the Thunder defense, forcing Los Angeles to settle for a FG on their first possession of third.

Portland was unable to score on its next possession, turning the ball over on downs following a failed pitch out to FB John Martinez on a 4th-and-2 play, providing the KISS with an opportunity to balloon their lead to three scores. Los Angeles did just that one play later, as KISS QB Adrian McPherson hit former Thunder receiver Jeffrey Solomon for a 37 yard touchdown, providing a 18 point cushion that Portland would not be able to overcome.

McPherson threw 5 touchdowns on his return from injury, including three to WR Donovan Morgan. The former Florida State standout ended the evening completing 18 of his 33 passes, for 240 yards. Morgan caught seven balls from McPherson, totaling 98 yards.

Portland QB Kyle Rowley was given the start over back-up Alex Carder, despite being substituted for Carder midway through the third quarter of the Thunder’s loss to San Jose last week. Rowley finished the game 22 of 32 passing, for 233 yards, four touchdowns, and two interceptions.

The Thunder return home to the Moda Center this Friday, June 12th, as they take on the 3-Time Defending ArenaBowl Champion Arizona Rattlers. Kickoff is set for 7pm.