Blackjacks hold off Columbus 42-35 for 1st win in franchise history
Coming off a disappointing regular season opener loss at Philadelphia last week, the Atlantic City Blackjacks returned to action on Saturday, hosting their first home game in franchise history at Boardwalk Hall against the Columbus Destroyers in front of an enthusiastic home crowd of 6,139.
Receiving the opening kickoff did not fare well for Atlantic City who coughed up the ball deep inside their own territory. It took just two plays for Columbus to cash in on the turnover as quarterback Grant Russell threw a five-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Paul Revis. However, the Blackjacks answered back, going on a six-play drive that chewed up four minutes of the clock before resulting in wide receiver Lamark Brown plowing straight ahead for a two-yard touchdown run.
The Destroyers chalked up a lengthy drive of their own on the ensuing series with a 10-play drive that carved up almost 7 minutes of the clock. Facing a fourth and one situation, Russell connected with wide receiver Jenson Stoshak on a six-yard score with 1:21 remaining.
Once again the pendulum swung back in the favor of Atlantic City early into the second quarter. Quarterback Randy Hippeard went to the air connecting on a couple of passes to wide receiver Antwane Grant and Brown. The eye-opener play that brought the crowd out of their seats Hippeard hooking up on a pass to offensive lineman Cornelius Lewis that advanced the ball down to the Columbus one. Hippeard did the rest from their barreling ahead for the score on the QB keeper.
No lead appeared safe in this contest as the Destroyers stormed back in the span of three minutes. Russell heaving a 37-yard pass Revis. After an incomplete pass, connected with Stoshak for a second time on the day, tossing an 11-yard score. The back and forth action continued as the Blackjacks offense went to work with another time consuming drive, churning out six plays, 45 yards that ate up over five minutes of the clock resulting in nine-yard touchdown run by Grant as the Blackjacks led 21-20 at halftime.
Receiving the second half kickoff, Columbus seemed on the verge of reclaiming the advantage as Russell delivered a 20-yard pass to Stoshak setting up field position at the Atlantic City 10-yard line. That would be the line in the sand as the Blackjacks defense rose to the occasion by swarming the pocket led by Monte Lewis and Antron Dillon sacking Russell pushing the Destroyers back into their own end of the field.
Ultimately forcing Columbus into a turnover on downs, Atlantic City seized upon the momentum with Hippeard throwing a two-yard touchdown pass to running back Wesley Mauia. Despite the setback, the Destroyers refused to throw in the towel striking back with a seven play 41 yard drive that took nearly six minutes off the clock as Russell lofted a pass to wide receiver Fabian Guerra who crashed into the barrier in the end zone five seconds into the fourth quarter trimming the deficit to 28-27.
Looking to return the favor with a long drive, the Blackjacks offense hit a wall turning the ball over on downs. However, the defensive combo of Monte Lewis and Antron Dillon stepped up in crunch time with Lewis registering the sack of Russell while Dillon recovered the fumble. Demonstrating his quick-strike ability, Hippeard needed just three plays tossing a 10-yard scoring pass to Brown with eight minutes left.
Pinned deep in their own territory, Columbus looked for a big play only to see Blackjacks defensive lineman Lynden Trail change that in the blink of an eye picking off a Russell pass and returning it for a touchdown stretching the margin out to 42-27 with less than five minutes remaining. With the game seemingly in hand became a nail biter for Atlantic City with Russell throwing his fifth touchdown in the game and second of the contest to Guerra with 1:26 on the clock. Russell was not finished converting the two-point conversion on a running play. Attempting the onside kick, Lamark Brown sealed the Blackjacks first victory in franchise history recovering the ball.
Back on the road for a second time, Atlantic City travels to Washington D.C. next Saturday facing off against the Washington Valor (0-2) at the Capital One Arena with kickoff set for 7:00 p.m.
Sunil Sunder Raj
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