By Steve Robinson | July 20, 2008 - 10:25 pm
Posted in Category: Pekin Daily Times, Peoria Pirates

FootballLOUISVILLE, Ky. – Following his Peoria Pirates 54-40 loss to South Georgia at Carver Arena last week, Pirates head coach Bruce Cowdrey had an explanation, in part, for the outcome of his team’s gameplay against the Wildcats.

“You gotta understand (that) we played guys who have been here for three days (and played them) against one of the best teams in the league,” the veteran coach said after the loss.

One of those newcomers was receiver Reggie Gray who led the Pirates receiving corps with 13 catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns. Gray also fielded 8 kick returns for 134 yards, the longest of which was 29 yards.

Peoria PiratesBy the time Cowdrey’s 4-11 Pirates get to Freedom Hall here for Saturday’s second game of the season with the Louisville Fire, Cowdrey, understandably, would probably like the latest batch of players to look like veterans for what will be the Pirates’ 2008 season finale.

Before his team left the locker room after the South Georgia loss, Cowdrey stressed for all his players to “come in for treatment” for their wounds this week.

“We’re going to be trying to get a team healthy,” Cowdrey said.

Louisville is one of the four teams Peoria has wins against this season. Beating the Fire in Kentucky would give the Pirates their only season sweep on a fellow Midwest Division opponent.

Louisville FireThe other wins this season were at Lexington to open the season April 5, against Tri-Cities Fever in Peoria April 19, against Iowa in Peoria May 24, and against the Fire in Peoria June 7.

A win over Louisville would close out the Pirates’ season at 5-11, matching the team’s final record in 2003, under Cowdrey.

Louisville Blues: Since beating in-state rival Lexington, 54-50 on June 23, Louisville (7-8, 5-5 Midwest Division) has lost three straight, including a 41-35 loss at home at Freedom Hall two weeks ago.

On the road against the Green Bay Blizzard last week, the Fire found themselves on the wrong end of a 33-20 final score, but the final score is not the only set of numbers that might startle fans. Blizzard defenders held Louisville to just 55 yards in the first half, and racked up five sacks and forced three fumbles.

AF2Home Attendance Tops 25,000: When 3,037 fans showed up for Peoria’s last home game Saturday, they helped the Pirates top the 25,000 mark in fans attending games in their first season back at Carver Arena.

For the eight games played, 25,324 people watched, cheered, and renewed acquaintances with fellow Pirates fans. That helped bring the season per game average attendance to 3,165 – a figure in the neighborhood of between 3,000 and 4,000 fans Pirates Assistant General Manager Julie Snell reported the team expected prior to the home season beginning.

Opposing Coach Saw “Tough Team”: South Georgia Wildcats head coach Derek Stingley said he was aware Cowdrey’s season has been a frustrating one, having to rotate as many players through Peoria that he has in 2008.

But Stingley said that, after looking at Pirates game film in preparation for the Wildcats’ matchup with the Pirates, he wound up telling himself, “(Peoria) is a tough team.”

“When I started studying film, I kept saying to myself, ‘this is a tough team’ (and) a tough team can go either way.”

Squib Kicks: When Milwaukee returns to 50-yard ball in af2 in 2009, the horse logo, synonymous with the city’s former AFL team, the Milwaukee Mustangs, will be back, but with a new team nickname: The Milwaukee Iron.

By Steve Robinson | - 10:21 pm
Posted in Category: Pekin Daily Times, Peoria Pirates

FootballPEORIA – Although hobbled by injuries and aware the regular season was as far as they would go this year, the Peoria Pirates continued putting up a fight against non-conference rival South Georgia Saturday at Carver Arena.

Head coach Bruce Cowdrey’s troops first, came from behind, and then went down swinging in a 54-40 loss to the visiting Wildcats as 3,037 fans watched their team’s home season end. The Pirates finish the 2008 season at Louisville next Saturday.

Each team scored a touchdown in each of the game’s first quarter, but Peoria trailed, 7-6, when kicker Nathan Palkovic missed his first extra point of the game following a touchdown pass from quarterback Donald Currie to receiver Reggie Gray.

Peoria PiratesReceiver Antwone Savage’s 2-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Andrico Hines at 12:19 of the second quarter pushed South Georgia (11-4) up, 14-6, following kicker Scott Hode’s extra point.

Although nursing a broken rib, receiver Phillip Brock scored the first of two touchdowns on the night, a 4-yard completion from Carrie with 3:56 until halftime. The two-point play that followed failed, but Peoria was down by only two, 14-12, as a result.

But the Pirates were forced into pursuit mode again with 32 seconds left in the half when Hines rushed 2 yards for a touchdown, capping an 8-play, 45-yard march, giving the Wildcats a 21-12 lead, after Hode’s extra point.

The Pirates opened the second half scoring on a 12-yard touchdown pass from Carrie to former Western Illinois University product Reggie Gray at the 11:44 mark, capping a 5 play, 27 yard drive. Palkovic’s extra point continued keeping the Pirates close, 21-19.

Hines’ 2-yard pass to receiver Buchie Ibeh at the 8 minute mark gave South Georgia a 27-19 lead. Pirates fans were heard chanting “block it, block it,” as Hode prepared for his extra point try. The ball bounced off a member of the Pirates front line defense and the crowd cheered the result.

Carrie scored from 5 yards out with 38 seconds left in the third quarter, and his successful two-point conversion pass to fullback Nick Consentino tied the game at 27-all as the two sides entered the fourth quarter.

South Georgia WildcatsWildcats receiver P. J. Berry scored the first touchdown of the game and followed it up with his second and last score of the contest to open the fourth quarter at the 14:19 mark, a 20-yard touchdown reception, putting South Georgia up 33-27.

Peoria responded with their longest drive of the night – a 9-play, 40-yard march, ending in Carrie running seven yards for a score. For the second time on the night, Carrie would connect with Consentino for a successful two-point conversion, again tying the game, this time at 33-all.

Hines would connect with Ibeh for the second time on the night, this time from 13 yards out, to put South Georgia up, 40-33, with 3:15 left in the contest. It would be the first of three unanswered scores for South Georgia, who would eventually increase its lead to 54-33 with 54 seconds left in the game.

Peoria receiver De’Tario Frederick would register the last home points at Carver Arena in the 2008 season on a 26 yard touchdown reception from Carrie with five seconds on the clock, capping a 5-play, 46 yard drive, and be followed by another Palkovic extra point.

AF2“Carrie played well, Palkovic missed extra points,” Cowdrey said afterward. “You can’t (miss those). There isn’t a hell of a lot you can say, other than he shouldn’t miss extra points.

“Carrie played good and he played hurt, and he came back and played hard,” Cowdrey said. “He had interceptions that hurt, but he made a lot of big plays, too.

South Georgia head coach Derek Stingley said looking a Peoria on film before this game told him that a wounded Pirates team was not something his players should treat lightly.

“I kept looking at film and saying, ‘(Peoria) is a tough team. A tough team. This could go either way,'” Stingley said. “I thought (Cowdrey) did a good job with the guys he had. They were competitive and it was a tough game…a good game. It wasn’t won until (close to the end of) the fourth quarter, so my hat’s off to them.”

By Steve Robinson | July 15, 2008 - 10:47 pm
Posted in Category: Pekin Daily Times, Peoria Pirates

FootballPEORIA – The Peoria Pirates, having been sideswiped out of the playoff hunt in a 54-34 loss on the road against Wilkes Barre/Scranton last week, now find themselves just two games away from simply ending the season.

The 10-4 South Georgia Wildcats visit Carver Arena for the first time Saturday at 7p.m. Under head coach Derek Stingley, the Wildcats are on a five-game winning streak, having shredded five previous opponents leading up to this game. The largest margin of victory came in an 84-28 win against Daytona Beach June 7.

But that game appears to be the exception to the rule, as victories over Florida and at Spokane were close affairs, with the Wildcats winning by margins of 10 and 2 points, respectfully.

South Georgia beat Oklahoma City, 55-34, last week for their fifth straight win.

Peoria PiratesBattered And Bruised Pirates: Already battered and bruised, Peoria (4-10) got jabbed some more in Wilkes Barre/Scranton, with last week’s loss to the Pioneers mathematically eliminating head coach Bruce Cowdrey’s team from the playoffs.

During the battle with the Pioneers, standout receiver Phil Brock exited the game with broken ribs, and defensive backs Blake Farris and Kofi Amoah exited with, respectfully, a knee injury, and an ankle injury.

About The Wildcats: The Wildcats began as the Cape Fear Wildcats in 2002, before moving to Albany, Georgia prior to the 2005 season. The Wildcats had winning seasons when they played at Fayetteville, N. C. in 2002-2004, going 35-13 during those three years.

South Georgia WildcatsIronically, in 2002, the Cape Fear Wildcats were beaten by the Florida Firecats in the Conference title game that landed the Firecats in ArenaCup III – where Florida lost to the Pirates, giving a Cowdrey-coached team its first af2 league title, beating the Firecats, 65-42.

After their move to Georgia in 2005, and in 2006 however, the Wildcats failed to make the playoffs during their first two seasons down south, posting identical 3-13 marks each year.

But with the hiring of Stingley as Wildcats head coach prior to the 2007 season, South Georgia reversed course, finishing 10-6 last season, including winning a first round playoff game against Florida, only lose in the second round to eventual current league champ Tulsa.

Chicago native Stingley played eight seasons in the Arena Football League, helping the Albany Firebirds win a league championship in 1999.

Home Attendance Pleases Pirates: While the team’s win-loss record failed to shine in the Pirates’ first year back from a four-year hiatus, attendance figures have made Peoria’s front office happy.

Pirates Assistant General Manager Julie Snell said the team had no projections of what kind of attendance to expect before the season began. She said that was due to the factors of a league change (Peoria had a United Indoor Football team, the Rough Riders, in 2005 and 2006), and having had no 50-yard ball at all in 2007.

AF2“We figured to average between 3,000 and 4,000 (fans per game),” Snell said of team attendance expectations. “We’re very pleased with the result.”

The top two games this season with the highest attendance were April 19’s home opener against Wilkes Barre/Scranton, where 3,964 fans came through the turnstyles, and June 28’s clash against the Lexington Horsemen with 3,884 fans attending.

Those two figures outpaced the attendance for the game with in-state rival Quad City on June 14 when 3,173 fans attended. The Pirates have had an average of 3,173 fans at the previous seven home games this season.

Pirates General Manager Jeff Creek said preparations for 2009 began roughly halfway through this season.

Squib Kicks: Grand Rapids Rampage defensive back Chris Martin, a member of the 2003 Peoria Pirates, was named a member of Arena Football League’s 2008 All-Rookie Team.

By Steve Robinson | July 8, 2008 - 10:21 pm
Posted in Category: Pekin Daily Times, Peoria Pirates

FootballWILKES BARRE, Pa. – If the Peoria Pirates’ record were higher than their current 4-9, this week’s game against the Wilkes Barre-Scranton Pioneers would simply be to settle a score brought about by a loss to the Pioneers at Carver Arena in April.

But the 74-26 loss at the hands of a former Pirates quarterback (Ryan Vena), added to that margin of loss, plus the survival mode Head Coach Bruce Cowdrey’s team now find themselves in in an effort to get to af2’s playoffs, make this anything but a routine venture for evening a score with an opponent.

Peoria PiratesPeoria has to win the remaining games on its schedule and look for help from other teams playing Peoria’s Midwest Division rivals in order to get into the last of eight playoff slots in af2’s American Conference.

Saturday night, the Pirates visit to Wachovia Arena at Casey Plaza in hopes a victory over the Pioneers will be a positive beginning toward a final push in the direction of the af2 playoffs.

A win would also erase the memory of the three-game losing streak Cowdrey’s crew have been living through of late, including the 61-33 loss at the hands of the Lexington Horsemen at Carver Arena two weeks ago.

Wilkes Barre-Scranton PioneersStanding in Peoria’s way here is a Pioneers team that is in the middle of its second winning streak of the season since Vena returned to the team after being released by the New York Dragons of Arena Football League early in the af2 season.

The previous streak for the Pioneers lasted seven games, ending in a 70-63 loss to the Manchester Wolves on May 31. Coming into this contest, the 11-2 Pioneers are streaking again, having won four straight, including the 69-27 thumping of the Albany Conquest on June 7 that started this current stretch.

AF2Two weeks ago, on the road at Florida, Head Coach Rich Ingold’s Pioneers came from 21 points down to beat the Firecats, engineering a comeback that ended in an 18-yard field goal as time expired, giving the Pioneers a 59-56 victory. The victory increased the Pioneers’ record to 11-2.

Squib Kicks: A victory would be considered an extra present for Cowdrey, who celebrates a birthday Saturday…Peoria’s last team to finish 7-9 was in the Pirates’ first af2 season in 2001, under then-head coach Gary Porter…United Indoor Football’s Bloomington Extreme will make their first appearance in a championship game Saturday night when they visit UIF three-time league champ Sioux Falls Storm in that league’s “United Bowl IV.”

By Steve Robinson | July 2, 2008 - 10:08 pm
Posted in Category: Pekin Daily Times, Peoria Pirates

FootballPEORIA – As a result of the 4th of July coming Friday, 23 of 29 teams in arenafootball2, including the 4-9 Peoria Pirates, have the weekend off. Head Coach Bruce Cowdrey’s crew will pick up again on July 11, with Peoria traveling to Wilkes Barre/Scranton for a game on July 12.

The bye week will give coaches, players, and team personnel from those 23 teams, including the Pirates, a chance, partly, to relax if they so choose, and to reload for next weekend’s games.

It will also give the general managers of the teams a chance to rest their travel budgets for the weekend, too.

When af2’s schedule was in draft mode last fall, there were three drafts before the last one was settled on, explained Pirates General Manager Jeff Creek. “The league tried to cut travel costs by 40 percent,” he said.

“We look at the number of hours spent on a bus versus flying,” Creek said. “It actually saves time and money and headaches to travel by bus.”

But every coach in the league can tell you those can be some very long bus trips. Two years ago, Green Bay Blizzard Head Coach John Landsee said he “led the league in number of miles traveled.” In 2006, in a three-week span, the Blizzard traveled by bus to Everett, Wash. for a game with the Everett Hawks, returned home and played a home game, and then spent the third week traveling to Estero, Fla., home of the Florida Firecats.

Peoria PiratesLouisville Fire Head Coach Tommy Johnson said the trip to Spokane for a playoff game for his team last season was 36 hours long one way.

“It was ridiculous,” Landsee recounted of that three-week period his team endured where he averaged roughly 2,000 miles per trip. “But now, (af2 league office) is trying to shut that kind of thing down, trying to equalize the situation for (all the teams).”

“I think (af2) wants to lessen (lengthy trips), but I just think, sometimes, it doesn’t work out for travel within the entire league,” said Pirates head coach Bruce Cowdrey.

“It’s not just one or two teams you have to work with,” Cowdrey continued. “You’ve got 29 teams, and sometimes, you wind up traveling.”

The Pirates started the season on the road with one of their longer trips, by bus to Albany, N.Y., an expense of roughly $7,500, according to Creek. Next week’s trip to Wilkes Barre, Pa. for a rematch with the Wilkes Barre/Scranton Pioneers will cost $6,000.

The Pirates’ shortest and least expensive trip, obviously, is to Moline to face the rival Quad City Steamwheelers at a travel cost of $600. The Pirates have flown only one time this season – to Estero, Fla. in May.

Louisville’s Johnson said he wishes the league would strike up a deal with an airline in an effort to ease the pain on team travel budgets.

AF2But John Gregory, head coach of the Iowa Barnstormers, said travel, by bus specifically, “is just part of the deal in af2.

“You’ve got, what I would call some intermediate cities, which are just quicker to get to by bus than by plane,” Gregory said, pointing out Oklahoma City, home of af2’s Yard Dawgz – a 12 hour one-way ride from Green Bay.

So far, Head Coach Mike Harmon and his Lexington Horsemen have yet to travel for double-digit hours to get to an opponent. With Louisville, Tennessee Valley, and even Green Bay and Mahoning Valley in driving range, Harmon does not think his team has been on a bus longer than nine hours one-way to get to a game.

The Pekin Daily Times was unsuccessful in contacting af2 Executive Director Jerry Kurz for this story.

The three games that will be played this weekend will be short trips for the visiting squads, as two of those games will have two Florida-based teams facing each other, two California-based teams facing each other, and Bossier City-Shreveport visiting Hidalgo, Texas to take on the Rio Grande Valley Dorados.

Squib Kicks: After Peoria’s loss to Lexington last week, the Pirates cut defensive back Lewis Barr and receiver Roger Sippio… Three Pirates who sat out the Lexington game — quarterback Justin Rascati (shoulder), defensive back Blake Farris (ankle) and center Jason Kressen (knee) – are all expected to be back with the team after the bye.