Portland Thunder press release
PORTLAND – The Portland Thunder have so eagerly wanted a way to show the level of effort and growth that defined the 2014-15 offseason. A gutty performance against their expansion rival was good way to start. The Thunder defeated the LA KISS 42-37 in their 2015 AFL season opener, to the delight of a packed Moda Center crowd of 7,194 on Friday night.
“I’m just excited for this team,” stated head coach Mike Hohensee, following the win. “I know we worked hard. I know we were in better shape than that football team, and it showed in the end. I believe our players saw that as well. Hopefully our guys see now why we work so hard, because it pays off.”
The night marks not only the Thunder’s first win in a home opener in franchise history, but also the first win for Hohensee as Portland’s head coach.
“We just wanted to win,” Hohensee continued. All the other accolades and things are for the organization. For all these players, that are grinding every day, putting the hours in in the meeting rooms, we just wanted the ‘W’.”
The win was anything but easy, and true to Hohensee’s words, the Thunder found themselves in a difficult position early on. A position that only hard work could get them out of.
Los Angeles opened up the scoring just over three minutes into the first, as veteran QB Adrian McPherson made contact with WR Donovan Morgan for a short, three yard touchdown toss. That TD ended an opening drive for the KISS in which the Thunder gave up nearly half the field in penalty yardage, a hallmark of the 2014 Thunder defense. To make things worse, three straight incompletions ended the Thunder’s first offensive drive just a few minutes later.
“I think you know that there are always going to be some bumps in the road,” Portland QB Kyle Rowley explained. “But then I thought we composed ourselves. We knew coming in that whatever happens, whatever learning curve we have, we could refocus.”
And refocus they did.
Following a quick defensive stop that left Portland to start on the KISS 19 yard line, Rowley capitalized three plays later, scoring on a one yard touchdown rush, to give the Thunder their first lead of the night, and to settle a few nerves.
The sides traded scores for the next 2 quarters, but the Thunder were always more so in the ascendancy, with big plays taking momentum away from the KISS.
The biggest such play was a 28 yard touchdown catch made by Thunder receiver Jamar Howard. Howard, running at pace, extended himself in the left corner of the endzone during the third quarter score that gave Portland a five point lead, only to find himself flipping head over heels into an adjacent tunnel, between two sections of seats. Howard immediately rose to his feet, waving the ball in the air.
The Thunder defensive front then caught the big play bug, with linemen Frank Trotter and Marquis Jackson causing numerous problems for McPherson. Jackson was consistently in the offensive backfield, sacking McPherson twice, while Trotter batted down four of Adrian’s passes.
Rowley finished the game 19 of 28 passing, for 209 yards and five scores, with his favored target of the evening, Jamar Howard, accounting for 114 of those yards, and three TD’s.
Russell Athletic Offensive Player of the Game – Jamar Howard (PDX)
Riddell Defensive Player of the Game – Marquis Jackson (PDX)
J. Lewis Small Playmaker of the Game – Bryce Peila (PDX)
Cutters Catch of the Game – Jamar Howard’s 28 yard 3rd quarter TD Catch (9:19 OTC) (PDX)
AFL Highlight of the Game – Jamar Howard’s 28 yard 3rd quarter TD Catch (9:19 OTC) (PDX)