It took a couple of months, but we did it! We determined the single top play of the 2014 season for the Portland Thunder.
Fitting for a defensive backfield that had three players in the league’s top 10 turnover forcers, the top play of the Thunder season was Eric Crocker’s interception of the Tampa Bay Storm’s B.J. Hall, which turned into a 23-yard touchdown run by Varmah Sonie.
The play involved one of the EIGHT fumbles between both teams in the game, six of which were picked up by the opposing team. Tampa Bay’s Michael Lindsey forced three of them, the top mark for the AFL in 2014, including the one that sent Sonie into the end zone.
“Not again!” said Crocker, when asked about what he was thinking as the ball was poked out by Lindsey. “But Varmah was Johnny-on-the-spot, and he has great return skills, so once the ball hit his hands, I was like ‘He’s going to score anyway.'”
The cap to the play was Sonie’s roll across the end zone from the T of Tampa to the Y of Bay before Coach William Mulder stopped him and pulled him up to celebrate.
“I was just happy I got in the end zone,” said Sonie. “I think that was my first touchdown of the season on defense, so I was just excited.”
Check out the full interviews with Crocker and Sonie below.
Since #ThunderTopPlay never got properly resolved in 2015, let’s fix that early in 2015 with a Battle Royale among the final four.
If you remember way back in November, we started with 32 plays from the Thunder’s five wins (because I didn’t have video from EVERY game, but I did have video from the wins – and how can a top play not contribute to a win?) We narrowed it down to four before this blog temporarily disappeared.
Now it has been resurrected, and we’re going to finish what we start.
Our final four will battle – you can vote in the poll below. You can vote for it on the Thunder Fans’ Facebook group. You can vote by hitting me with the proper hashtag on Twitter or in a comment replying to my picture on Instagram.
Let’s go to our announcer:
Coming out of the New Orleans region, it’s the No. 6 seed – K.C. “The Assassin” OHHHHHbi!
And now, from the Florida region, coming from an upset off of one of the AFL’s plays of the year, Douglas McNeil’s one-handed grab, it’s a tag-team entry! Welcome Eric Crocker and Varmah Sonieeeeeee!
I’m not sure how he’s going to do it, but Obi’s battling on two separate entries in this Battle Royale! He sees the Crocker/Sonie tag team and has picked up a teammate of his own! Out of the Los Angeles region, it’s KC Obi and Bryce Peila!
And finally, the lowest seed to make the final, an underdog all the way through, who simply “can’t stop, won’t stop” on his way to glory, it’s Dannnyyyyyyyyyyyy Southwiiiiiiiiiiick, with the longest TD run of the year!
You have until kickoff of the Oregon Ducks/Ohio State playoff championship game to get your votes in, so vote early! Vote often!
After the Pittsburgh Power quit suddenly, prior to the original 2015 schedule release date, the league has finally moved on without the Power and allowed the rest of the league to move forward. Here’s what the schedule looks like (for full schedule with dates/times, click here):
The season kicks off on March 27 with the Tampa Bay Storm hosting the Cleveland Gladiators, followed by Matthew Sauk’s return to Portland with the Los Angeles KISS.
The game against the KISS kicks off a three-game homestand to start the season for the Thunder, who then go on a brutal three-game road trip that will amass nearly 8,000 miles in travel distance in three weeks as they’ll take on the three-time defending ArenaBowl champions, the National Conference runner-up, and a Philadelphia team that has made it to the ArenaBowl in two of the last three years.
Aside from the early part of the season, however, Portland’s schedule looks relatively nice. They have their bye weeks as evenly spaced out as possible, with a home game following each bye. They also get their East Coast trips out of the way early, with their last long journey being to Orlando in Week 9.
The Thunder, by virtue of their location, will travel more than any team in the league, however, assuming Philadelphia stays in Florida for their Jacksonville-Tampa Bay road trip, traveling 19,946 miles via air this season (though the team will probably bus to Spokane, making the trip longer).
They’ll also face the toughest road slate of anyone in the league, with opponents carrying a 2014 winning percentage of .625, the rough equivalent of an 11-win team (actually 11.25). The good news for Portland fans is that the home schedule should be a bit easier, with the fifth-easiest slate in the league.
Unfortunately for the Thunder, the 3-15 KISS probably aren’t going to be as dysfunctional as they were in 2014; they acquired a great offensive coordinator in former Portland coach Matthew Sauk. They picked up Adrian McPherson, the stud quarterback they didn’t have last year. Sauk is also the new director of player personnel – all he and his staff did in 2014 was find two All-Arena performers, a Grey Cup (CFL) champion, and a half-dozen guys who have signed NFL contracts.
It should be an interesting year for the Thunder, who are basically starting over with a new secondary and a new coaching staff. In a week or two we’ll know more about what the team may look like as we see what happens in the expansion draft and dispersal draft!
NOTE: For more schedule analysis on a league-wide basis, check out my article over at ArenaFan.com. The site and its members have a wealth of knowledge about the league and have extensive statistics dating to the creation of the league in 1987. Please give them a visit.
Never give up. The 2014 Portland Thunder never did, and these two plays provide an example of the great things that happened because of that effort.
First, Eric Rogers fights off being wrapped up when he catches the ball and punches it into the end zone between two defenders that just can’t catch up.
Secondly, KC Obi gets deep on his assignment with one of the AFL’s top return men, Larry Beavers Jr taking it up the opposite side of the field. Obi shows why hesitation kills and comes out of nowhere to end the return.
The fans determined that 3 > 2, in that three Douglas McNeil TD’s were better than two Varmah Sonie picks. However, they also determined that 2 > 3, in that the two seed, the forced fumble recovery in the end zone, beat out Antron Dillon’s fourth-down sack to put a dagger in the KISS’ comeback hopes.
So which is true this week? Does Dougie dash away with the LA’s entry into the semifinals?
Or will KC Obi and Bryce Peila combine to take that spot away?
Did you vote in the San Antonio Final? You should. You can find it here.
San Antonio stayed true to form, continuing to be the upset bracket. We’re left with the 4 seed and 7 seed battling each other to face our Los Angeles finalist on Friday.
Here are your San Antonio finalists:
In this corner, here’s the 4 seed, the infamous Sonie/Peila tag team striking the Talons. Big reception? How about no, says Sonie, and Peila returns it into the red zone.
In the other corner, we have the longest touchdown run in Thunder history. We suspect QB Danny “Lightning” Southwick is rigging the vote somehow, but he just keeps getting through…kind of like he got through the Talons’ defense.
No upsets in the Florida bracket, which is probably the strongest bracket of the four, since we were able to use highlights from two games and battle them against each other.
Both of these are fantastic catches; we can probably assume that McNeil’s catch is going to continue a run to the regional finals, but let’s not underestimate the difficulty level in managing to stay under the bars on the jump, then getting down in time to tap the toes before hauling in the INT.
Two great plays, both end up with Thunder players on the ground. Eric Rogers got there organically, flying over the wall to make a touchdown catch and landing in the VIP section. Great catch, great touchdown, everyone’s happy.
But there’s just so much more going on with this Crocker/Sonie play. First Crocker gets the INT and a big return. Then Michael Lindsay, as part of his THREE forced fumbles in the game, pops the ball out. Sonie chases it down and eventually corrals it, then turns around and finishes the return and ends it with a consummate Thunder Roll.
Which moves on – the classic AFL touchdown or the crazy one? You get to decide!
To vote in today’s other #ThunderTopPlay matchup, click here.
Eric Crocker picked off the most passes for the Thunder. Eric Rogers scored the most touchdowns. That Crocker and Rogers would help the Thunder pull off their fourth win of the season is no surprise -Crocker’s pick-six started the game against the Voodoo off right for the defense, and Rogers’ final touchdown was the final offensive score of the game.