Soul

Soul topple Storm to win 2nd straight ArenaBowl

The Soul are the best team in the Arena Football League, again. They just had to deal with some first-half nerves, some sloppiness, and the small matter of a torn ACL to prove it.
 
In front of 13,648 rowdy fans at Wells Fargo Center, the Soul hoisted the Foster Trophy, with a 44-40 win over the Tampa Bay Storm. That outcome didn’t look very likely midway through the second quarter.
 
Dan Raudabaugh, the team’s star quarterback, only completed two of his first ten passes. He fired a pick-six straight to Storm linebacker Alvin Jackson, putting the Soul behind, 20-7. Oh, and he sustained a serious knee injury, which majority owner Ron Jaworski said post-game was a torn ACL.
 
Backup quarterback Luke Collis came in for a play, but Raudabaugh was determined to stay on the field.
 
“That’s my job,” Raudabaugh said. “I’ve missed very little play in my whole career, and I take a lot of pride in preparing like a champion and being reliable and accountable each week. I knew that we weren’t playing well, but we never lost hope or anything.”
 
Raudabaugh may have stayed positive, but after dropping what should have been an easy touchdown and the Soul’s second score of the game in the first quarter, wide receiver Darius Reynolds admitted that he wasn’t feeling too great about himself or the team’s prospects.
 
“A little doubt crept in, to be honest, but our fans stayed live and kept us motivated … I did get kind of down on myself, but I had a lot of inspiration from my teammates. I can make the worst play, I can fumble or anything, and they’ll still lift me up. Our team is very strong. We believe in each other and we let everyone know, no matter what happens, even if you mess up, we still have your back.”
 
After Jackson’s interception return, the Soul narrowly avoided another turnover when wide receiver Shaun Kauleinamoku, who finished with a team-high eight catches for 81 yards and one touchdown, fumbled after a third-down catch as he searched for extra yards. Fortunately, Reynolds recovered the fumble, and the Soul held on to possession. Fullback Mykel Benson finished the nine-play, 44-yard drive by punching in a one-yard touchdown, and the Soul entered halftime trailing by a 20-14 margin.
 
“As bad as it was, we were still down a possession and getting the ball to start the second half, so we never really thought the game was out of control,” Raudabaugh said. “Especially with the defense we have, we’re never out of it.”
 
The Soul’s offense began to jell in the third quarter. On the team’s first drive of the second half, Reynolds sprinted past the Storm secondary on third down, hauling in a 40-yard touchdown pass.
 
Though Tampa Bay answered with a score, the 6-1, 265 lb. Benson plowed in for another one-yard touchdown, and the Soul led 28-27 heading into the fourth quarter.
 
Cornerback James Romain, who picked off Tampa Bay quarterback and league MVP Randy Hippeard in the first quarter, sealed a decisive defensive stop early in the fourth quarter. On fourth down and 13, Romain tackled Storm receiver Joe Hills a yard short of the first-down marker.
 
The offense cashed in on the stop, thanks to another crucial fourth down conversion. Coach Clint Dolezel, having just called three rushes for Benson near the goal line, made a bold call. Instead of giving it again to Benson, Raudabaugh faked the hand off, rolled out, and fired the ball to rookie receiver Darius Prince in the back of the end zone.
 
“They all key on me when we’re down near the goal-line, so I understand if we go to someone else,” Benson said. “I’m not a selfish guy, I want to win and it doesn’t matter who scores, as long as we get that W.”
 
Prince was named MVP for his performance, which included five catches and two touchdowns. He was pleasantly surprised.
 
“I didn’t believe it at first,” he said. “It was really a team effort tonight. We started out slow, but we came on in the second half and picked it up.”
 
A sack in the end zone by defensive lineman and Temple alumnus Sean Daniels expanded the Soul lead. Daniels brought down Hippeard in the end zone for a safety to give the Soul a 37-27 edge and importantly, a two-possession lead.
 
Hippeard managed his third and fourth touchdown passes of the night in the fourth quarter, though Tampa Bay was in desperation mode following the safety. An interception of a Hippeard Hail Mary by cornerback Dwayne Hollis with 2:40 left effectively sealed the championship.
 
Even with his injured leg, Raudabaugh talked with the media after the game, and he was effusive in his praise for everyone, besides himself of course.
 
“It was a great turnout tonight. Great job by the city and the organization hosting it. The crowd was live as ever,” Raudabaugh said.
 
“I think our team really showed a bunch of grit tonight, and I’m proud of them. It was a full team effort.”