Blackjacks Drop Regular Season Opener to Soul 48-41
Saturday marked just not the 2019 Arena Football League regular season opener for the Atlantic City Blackjacks, but the first game in franchise history. The task would be a hefty one facing off against the three-time World Champions in the Philadelphia Soul in front of an announced crowd of 9,245 at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Blackjacks displayed no early jitters in the first quarter, receiving the opening kickoff it took just four plays for quarterback Randy Hippeard to roll out of the pocket and finding a wide-open Lamark Brown for a nine-yard touchdown score. Catching a break on the ensuing kickoff return as the Soul fumbled the ball away with linebacker Nick Haag recovering the ball at the one. On the first play for Atlantic City, Hippeard plunged in for the QB keeper.
However, Philadelphia responded in an emphatic way marching on an 11-play 45-yard drive resulting in a one-yard touchdown run by running back Adrian Ferns. Flashing his quick strike ability Hippeard needed just two plays back pedaling while launching a 38-yard touchdown strike to Brown 46 seconds into the second quarter. Placekicker Mark Lewis missed the extra point leaving the score at 20-7 Atlantic City.
Feeding off the momentum, the Blackjacks defense forced the Soul offense into turnover on downs. With a golden opportunity to expanded the margin, Philadelphia defensive back James Romain dashed those hopes intercepting a HIppeard pass in the end zone and rumbling down the left sidelines 50 yards to pay dirt. Looking to catch the Blackjacks off guard, the Soul attempted an onside kick but defensive back LaRoche Jackson managed to fall on the ball.
Hippeard shook off the mistake he had committed earlier connecting with Brown for a third time in the contest, a 14-yard strike down the middle of the seam. Philadelphia stormed back with another lengthy drive, this time seven plays and 39 yards resulting in quarterback Dan Raudabaugh firing a three-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Darius Prince but the extra point attempt failed as Atlantic City led 27-20 at halftime.
Coming out of the locker room, the Soul received the open kickoff and seemed to be the fresher squad and infused with energy churning out an eight play 39 drive with Ferns capping it off with his second rushing score of the game. On the Blackjacks ensuing offensive series, Hippeard got off on the right foot completing a nine-yard pass to his favorite target in Brown. The next pass is where Hippeard found trouble as James Romain swiped his second pick of the day and sprinted 23 yards down the left sidelines as Philadelphia enjoyed its first lead of the game at 34-27.
Sensing how vulnerable a lead can be, the Soul tried an onside kick but the ball bounced out of bounds. Four plays and 22 yards later, Hippeard atoned for his blunder heaving a 28-yard fade pass to Antwane Grant in the back corner of the end zone. The back and forth decisions with onside kicks persisted with Atlantic City gambling for a better outcome but it ended up failing as Philadelphia recovered the ball.
Four plays and 22 yards later, Raudabaugh completed a three-yard scoring pass to Darius Reynolds in the back of the end zone as Reynolds crashed against the padded wall as the Soul regained the lead at 41-34.
With dogged determination, Hippeard went to work engineering a seven play 48-yard drive aided by two critical penalties assessed against the Philadelphia defense. After throwing a couple of incomplete passes, Hippeard completed a pass to Brown but as he neared the end zone along the right sideline Torez Brown stripped him of the ball as Sean Daniels scooped up the ball and returned it to the Soul 11.
Just when it seemed the air had been sucked out of Atlantic City, Defensive back Marvin Ross energized the squad picking off a Raudabaugh pass and returning it to the Soul seven-yard line. On the interception return, Ferns dove helmet to helmet into Ross on the ground. Motionless on the ground for several minutes, Ross had to be stretchered off by paramedics. When play resumed, Hippeard capped off an emotional rally slinging his fifth touchdown pass to Kendrick Ings with less than six minutes remaining tying the game up at 41-41.
Looking to feed off the adrenaline, the Blackjacks attempted another onside kick but the Soul special team held on to the ball. Two plays later Ferns tallied his third rushing score of the day crashing through the line. Philadelphia decided to employ the onside kick strategy that paid off with recovering the ball successful and ultimately running out the clock for the victory. Hippeard finished the game completing 18 of 26 passes for 178 yards, 5 touchdowns and 2 interceptions while LaMark Brown caught 8 passes for 90 yards.
Atlantic City returns to action on Saturday May 4, hosting the Columbus Destroyers in the first home game in franchise history at the Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall with kickoff set for 3:30 p.m.
Sunil Sunder Raj
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