Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City has seen some of the best in sports come through its doors and put on a show. Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Oscar De La Hoya, and Floyd Mayweather have all fought inside the famed arena. The second & third fights in the greatest trilogy in boxing history (Micky Ward vs Arturo Gatti) were held at Boardwalk Hall. It is no stranger to big time sporting events. It is, however, a stranger to the Arena Football League.
On Saturday night, the AFL made its first appearance on the boardwalk. Spear headed by Soul owner, Ron Jaworski in an attempt to broaden the AFL brand, the first ever “Boardwalk Bowl” was held in Atlantic City and featured the Las Vegas Outlaws taking on the Philadelphia Soul. The Soul (9-1) are at the top of the American Conference, while the Outlaws (3-6) are in the midst of a losing streak that climbed to four games after Saturday night.
Rookie QB, Sean Brackett (making the first start of his career) got the Outlaws off to a fast start on offense. Brackett (18/35, 261, 6 TD’s, 2 INT) took the games first snap for 26 yards on a keeper, then hit Jason Willis (3 rec, 42 yds, 2 TD’s) on the next play for the Outlaws touchdown. Philly answered with a one play touchdown drive to even things up, but Brackett converted a 4th & 18 on the ensuing drive before hitting big Will Wright for the 5 yard rumble into the end zone. Both teams looked locked in offensively as the quarter ended in a 14-14 tie.
The second quarter was all about defense. Vegas failed to convert on 4th down to start the 2nd. Philly took the ball right down the field, but couldn’t convert from the 1 yard line. There was some controversy on that goal line stand. What looked to be a stop by Vegas ended up being challenged by Soul Head Coach, Clint Dolezel. The challenge was not the spot of the ball (which was close), but instead that he had called a time out before the snap. The ref did not grant the time out initially, but did grant it after the review. It was like the play never happened. Not sure anyone has ever seen that call made before. Tuck Rule anyone….? Vegas ultimately held on the following play after an incomplete pass by Soul QB, Dan Raudabaugh (21/31, 277, 7 TD’s). Vegas failed to score for the second straight possession, but was able to hold Philly to a FG with less than a minute remaining in the half. Brackett was finally able to get the offense back on track and hit Willis for his second TD reception with only 6 seconds left. Down 21-17, Philly found itself trailing at the half for only the second time all season.
Philly came out like a house of fire to start the second half. A two play touchdown drive followed by a successful onside kick, and another quick touchdown drive found Vegas suddenly down 31-21 without even touching the ball yet. On the Outlaws third play of the half, Brackett was picked off in the end zone. Raudabaugh quickly took Philly down the field for another TD. The Vegas secondary looked lost in the 3rd with Soul receivers running free all over the field. Raudabaugh ended the quarter 9-9 with 3 TD’s.
Trailing 51-28 late in the fourth, Brackett found Jomo Wilson (8 rec, 143 yds, 2 TD’s) for the 43 yard touchdown. Just as it looked like Philly was going to put the game away, Outlaws defensive back, Tanner Varner laid a huge hit on Philly WR Kauleinamoku and forced the fumble. Brackett again found Jomo for the Vegas TD following the fumble recovery. After a successful 2 point conversion pulling them to within 8 at 51-43, the Outlaws found themselves in the midst of a huge comeback for the second week in a row needing only an onside kick recovery to give themselves a chance to win. But like last week the attempt went begging, and Philly was able to run out the clock securing their 9th win of the season, 51-43.
The Outlaws have now lost 4 straight. If there is a silver lining, it’s that since Brackett has taken over for the injured JJ Raterink the Vegas offense has looked more explosive. Brackett is young and athletic and brings a running element to the position that they don’t have with Raterink. The Outlaws have scored 8 touchdowns in the 4th quarter over their last two games. If they can find a way to be ahead, or at the least even when entering the 4th quarter, they should be able to get back to winning football games.
The Outlaws return home next Sunday and will take on a franchise very familiar with Las Vegas. The last time the AFL had a team in Las Vegas was 2007, and it was the Gladiators. Now making their home in Cleveland, the Gladiators will return to the Thomas & Mack Center for the first time in 8 years. The Outlaws will no doubt be looking to ruin their homecoming.