Tuesday, June 12, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Sabers win first game as champs

Leader sportswriter

Last year the Arkansas Sabers semi-pro football team dominated nearly every opponent it faced. They weren’t as dominant in their season opener Saturday at Jan Crow Stadium in Jacksonville, but they did get away with a 15-6 victory over Team Arkansas.

The Sabers finished the 2011 season with an unbeaten record, and won the Alliance Football League’s first annual World Bowl Championship at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.

Team Arkansas looked solid early offensively, finding the endzone on the game’s first drive. But the Sabers’ stubborn defense made sure Team Arkansas wouldn’t find it again.

Saturday’s exhibition wasn’t a blowout by any means, but Team Arkansas’ offense was clearly outmatched once the Sabers’ defense settled into the flow of the game.

The Sabers’ offense struggled at times throughout the game, but Sabers coach Charles Reynolds believes the team’s lack of practice time had a lot to do with that.

“They played well, but we need to make adjustments,” said Reynolds about his team’s play. “We need to go back to the practice field, iron out a few wrinkles, and I think our team is destined to repeat. One thing that stood out was our positioning on defense, and it’s just a lack of practice, a lack of chemistry.

“This was really a game we needed, because the team we were originally scheduled to play forfeited. So, this was kind of like a preseason scrimmage for us. It gave me a good look and it gave my coaching staff a good look to where we can go and make our adjustments for the season.”

Team Arkansas scored on an unlikely fourth down call at the 9:52 mark in the first quarter. On fourth and goal at the 11-yard line, Tamelle Jenkins took a half-back draw up the middle and dashed his way into the endzone as the defense dropped back into coverage.

Quarterback Josh Dixon tried to catch the defense off guard again on the two-point conversion attempt with a rollout play to the left side of the field. The defense wasn’t fooled, and Dixon was taken down in the backfield to make the score 6-0 Team Arkansas.

The Sabers’ opening drive looked promising as the offense started on its own 28-yard line, and after seven plays, set up first and goal at the Team Arkansas 5-yard line.

But an incomplete pass, two minimal runs, and another incomplete pass from quarterback Dylan Gonzales on fourth down resulted in a turnover on downs.

Sabers defensive back Ryan Wolff gave the offense excellent field positioning on its next drive as Wolff intercepted Dixon’s pass at the Team Arkansas 40-yard line.

The Sabers’ offense answered with an eight-play drive that ended with a six-yard touchdown run from fullback Anton Williams to tie the score at six apiece.

Holder, Daniel Brown, caught the Team Arkansas defense off guard on the extra point attempt, taking the snap and dashing toward the left pylon for the two-point conversion to give the Sabers an 8-6 lead.

Both defenses were relentless for the remainder of the game as neither team scored again until the 3:27 mark in the fourth quarter. With the game winding down, Team Arkansas was forced to go for it at its own 38-yard line, but an incomplete pass led to another turnover on downs.

The Sabers, however, nearly gave the ball right back as quarterback Grant Lewis, who played almost the entire second half, threw a gift interception to the Team Arkansas secondary. Team Arkansas appeared to be right back in the game, but a roughing the passer penalty allowed the Sabers to hang onto the ball with 5:01 left to play.

Three plays later, Lewis threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Caleb Brown in the back of the endzone to give the Sabers an eight-point lead. Garrett Morgan kicked the extra point to set the final margin.

Gonzales completed 50 percent of his passes for 96 yards and an interception on the night.

Lewis completed 40 percent of his passes for 53 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Matt Stewart led the Sabers in yards from scrimmage with 50 yards on four touches.

The Sabers (1-0 after league opponent’s forfeit) travel to Lincoln High School to begin league play Saturday against the Northwest Arkansas Battle. The Sabers’ next game in Jacksonville will be July 7 at Jan Crow Stadium. Check out www.alliancefootballleague.org for more information on the Arkansas Sabers.