PHILADELPHIA – It was a banner night for the Philadelphia Soul in their home opener against the Baltimore Brigade on Saturday night in South Philly. Before the kickoff, the team unveiled their championship banner from the 2017 campaign and had a small ceremony on the field. But as the game kicked off, last year was just that; last year.
However, two key players from last year’s squad would make their presence felt early. Just about two minutes into the game, quarterback Dan Raudabaugh hit wide receiver Darius “Money” Reynolds in stride for the first touchdown of the contest. While the extra point was blocked, the Soul would take a 6-0 lead off their first scoring drive.
From that point forward, the game went from a tight defensive standoff to an offensive barn burner, with both teams moving up and down the field. Baltimore would put a touchdown on the board with Brigade quarterback Randy Hippeard finding wide receiver Brandon Collins alone for the score, the first of two connections between the duo. Hippeard’s name should sound familiar to Arena Football League fans as he quarterbacked the now-defunct Tampa Bay Storm to an Arena Bowl XXX appearance while being named 2017 AFL MVP, as well as the league’s Offensive Player of the Year.
Philadelphia had a chance to retake the lead, but a costly fumble right on the doorstep of the end zone kept them from punching it in.
In the second quarter, the doors blew open, as each team scored on three of their possessions, including a sequence of onside kicks that saw three touchdowns scored within the final three minutes and 24 seconds of the first half. The final scoring play in the second quarter was another Raudabaugh to Reynolds connection. As the buzzer sounded for halftime, the score was 28-27 on favor of the Brigade.
Speaking to reporters after the game, Raudabaugh talked about Reynolds, but also showered praise on other receivers and teammates as well.
“[It] makes my job real easy,” Raudabaugh said. “They’re running out there as fast as a racecar, and Money’s a tank out there, he’s running through guys and SK’s [Shawn Kauleinamoku] probably one of the toughest covers in the whole league, and then we got the youngster [Darius] Prince, he’s still learning our nuances and the game, but he’s able to learn on the run.”
Raudabaugh added, “We’re a working unit, everyone’s got to do their eighth, eight guys out there got to do your one eighth and if our line keeps protecting like that, I’ll be able to find those good receivers.”
In the second half, Baltimore and Philly kept exchanging touchdowns. The third quarter was quiet, but Raudabaugh did connect with Reynolds again for his third touchdown of the night. It was on the celebration after the play that Reynolds spiked the ball had enough to send it caroming up near the top of the goal post netting. As he explained after the game, he intended it as a statement towards the Brigade.
“Once they started doing a couple of cheap shots and stuff like that, we had to let them know that we weren’t going to back down,” Reynolds said. “They beat us last year so I’m pretty sure they were confident that they could do it again, so it was kind of a statement that we’re not going nowhere. We out here, we’re going to continue to stay aggressive and keep fighting.”
As the game came down the stretch, Baltimore held a 42-41 lead. A Jeramie Richardson touchdown run, his second of the game with a minute and 50 seconds left, would swing the lead back to the Soul at 48-42. However, Baltimore would drive down again, with Hippeard finding wide receiver Milton Williams for what looked like the game-winning score to put the Brigade back on top with 31 seconds left.
Then, in the final 30 seconds, the Soul would drive down the field. Raudabaugh would again find Reynolds in the end zone, and with 12 seconds remaining on the clock, it would turn out to be the game-winning score. As the clock hit zeroes, Philly would win by a final score of 54-49.
Speaking after the game, Head Coach Clint Dolezel said that while the team was a little sloppy in the first half, he wasn’t incredibly worried as the early part of a season can sometimes give rise to those mistakes. He also noted that the performance turned around in the second half. And
Dolezel also praised the receiving corps for being dangerous at every slot, and specifically touched on the Raudabaugh to Reynolds connection which he noted was strong this week, chalking it up to Reynold’s ability to get free in coverage.
“Well he’s probably the most powerful receiver I’ve ever seen play arena football first and foremost,” said Dolezel. “You’re not going to press him, you’re going to play him tight, he’s going to run through that, and so yeah, he’s the definite go to guy.”
The win improves the Soul’s record to 2-0 in the young season, while Baltimore drops to 1-1. This won’t be the final meeting between the two teams however, as the Soul will face off against the Brigade in week four, week seven, and week 12, twice in Baltimore and one more time at the Wells Fargo Center.
According to AFLDigital.com, Philadelphia outgained Baltimore in total first downs (21-16) and total offensive yards (340-264). The Soul also converted on four of five third down situations, while the Brigade only converted on one of five chances. Philly’s defense also played a big part in the victory, sacking Hippeard twice for a cumulative loss of 14 yards, both of which came in key situations. The Soul also went six of seven in the red zone, while Baltimore went zero for two in the same area.
The next Soul game is a home contest on April 28 against the Washington Valor that kicks off at 7:30 p.m. The Brigade are also home next Saturday as well, taking on the Albany Empire in a game that kicks off at 3 p.m.