TWO-TIMERS: Soul weather the Storm to win ArenaBowl 30
In sports, it is hard to win championship, let alone win back-to-back championships. Furthermore, in the Arena Football League, it is rare for a team to repeat as champions as it’s only happened three times in league history (Detroit Drive, Tampa Bay Storm and Arizona Rattlers).
On Saturday night, that was the challenge for the defending champion Philadelphia Soul as they were trying to put their name in the AFL history books. But it would not come easy as they were going up against an upstart Tampa Bay Storm team.
However, the Soul were able to withstand a 13-point deficit in the first half to come back and defeat the Storm 44-40 in ArenaBowl 30.
The game did not start off great for Philadelphia, as they had a lot of miscues including penalties, dropped passes, a missed field goal returned 57 yards for a touchdown by Storm wide receiver Kendrick Ings, and a pick-six that was returned for a touchdown by Storm linebacker Alvin Ray Jackson, giving Tampa Bay a 20-7 lead in the second quarter.
Also on that same play, Raudabaugh suffered an injury, which was later revealed to be a torn ACL.
Despite all those things happening in the first half, Raudabaugh was not worried about the deficit as he knew they still had a chance in the second half.
“We never really thought the game was out of control, especially with the defense,” Raudabaugh said.
Coming into Saturday’s game, the Soul had the No. 1-ranked scoring defense in the AFL, only giving up 42.3 points per game. In the second half of the ArenaBowl, the Soul’s defense locked the Storm’s offense down as defensive lineman Sean Daniels sacked quarterback Randy Hippeard for a safety to put Philadelphia up 37-27.
Later in the fourth quarter, the AFL’s Defensive Back of the Year Dwayne Hollis iced the game with an interception with the Soul leading 44-40.
Along with the defense stepping up, the offense did their job, too. As aforementioned, the first half was rough particularly for the Soul’s offense as Raudabaugh struggled and wide receiver Darius “Money” Reynolds dropped two wide-open potential touchdown receptions.
With Reynolds struggling early, Raudabaugh turned his attention to wide receivers Shaun Kauleniamoku and rookie Darius Prince. Kauleniamoku was once again a consistent target for Raudabaugh as he had eight receptions for 81 yards and a touchdown.
However, Prince was a key factor in Saturday night’s ArenaBowl as he got the scoring started early in the second quarter with a two-yard touchdown reception, followed up by a one-yard reception in the fourth quarter.
He also made an impact on special teams. Prince had three special teams tackles, which stopped Ings in his tracks and pinned Tampa Bay’s offense deep in their territory.
Prince, who played with the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks of the NAL, finished the game with five receptions for 27 yards, had two touchdowns and was named MVP of ArenaBowl 30.
After the game, the former Steelhawk spoke about winning MVP and how the 13,648 fans in attendance at the Wells Fargo Center helped the Soul pull out the victory.
“When they told me [winning the MVP], I didn’t believe at it first,” he said. “It was a team effort tonight. We started off slow, but we came out in the second half and we picked up.”
The Soul outscored the Storm 30-20 in the third and fourth quarters and got key fourth-down stops, which was ultimately the difference.
Prince also added, “Me personally, I never played in front of so many people before. Just being in that environment, the atmosphere, looking around seeing thousands of people. When you are in the spotlight, you got to make plays.”
While the rookie wideout was making plays, Reynolds picked up his play in the second half as he opened up the third quarter with a 40-yard touchdown reception.
The veteran wide receiver finished the game with six receptions for 122 yards and a touchdown, leading both teams.
Philadelphia’s comeback to win ArenaBowl was not easy as Tampa Bay’s offense was still able to get big plays from wide receivers Joe Hills and Justin Hilton. However, Dwayne Hollis said after the game it made the victory that much sweeter.
“I think that it makes it even more special than it was last year because last year [ArenaBowl 29] we were kind of up the whole game. This year, we had to go through a little bit of adversity and we came back and we did it.”
The Soul have officially put their names in the AFL history books as the fourth team to win back-to-back ArenaBowls. Now, they face another challenge heading into next season, which is a three-peat, a rarity in any sport. Just ask the Golden State Warriors.
However, if this ArenaBowl may have taught us anything, is that under the leadership of head coach Clint Dolezel they should be a contender for many years to come.
With that being said, if the Soul are able to keep their core together and win that record-setting third straight ArenaBowl title, there may need to be a conversation if Philadelphia has become an AFL dynasty.
But, for right now, fans and players can just enjoy them bringing a championship home to the City of Brotherly Love.