Soul have work cut out for them to repeat as champs

Tough loss: Soul defensive back Torez Jones talks after his team’s 12-point loss to the Baltimore Brigade Sunday night. AL THOMPSON / FOR THE TIMES

By Al Thompson

It was an unusual post-game atmosphere after Sunday night’s Arena Football League playoff game between the Philadelphia Soul and Baltimore Brigade at the Wells Fargo Center in front of an announced crowd of 8,164 fans

Neither team seemed particularly thrilled with how the game ended. Baltimore won the game 57–45 but left the Soul off the hook after the home team came back from a 55–25 deficit, allowing Philadelphia to score 20 points in the final 1:22 of the game to make the score respectable.

That was huge because this is a home-and-home AFL semifinal series. The winner of the series is determined by the aggregate score if each team wins a game.

If the Soul defeat Baltimore on Friday, July 20, at Royal Farms Arena (7 p.m.) by more that 12 points, they will move on to ArenaBowl XXXI. If the Soul win by 12 points, there will be overtime (rules to be announced).

The winner of this series will face the winner of the Albany-Washington series.

Former Temple standout offensive lineman Colin Madison, now with the Brigade, acknowledged his team let the Soul back into the series.

“We should have finished a little better,” the 6-foot-4, 330-pounder said on the field right after the game. “But we came together as a team and got the win in a tough place.”

The Brigade had engineered what was pretty much a blowout, jumping out to a 27–0 lead in the second quarter.

It was 27–7 at the half after Soul veteran quarterback Dan Raudabaugh found the end zone, connecting with Darius Prince for a touchdown with two seconds to go.

The Soul came out strong to begin the second half with Raudabaugh completing a 29-yard pass to Darius “Money” Reynolds and then finding Shaun Kauleinamoku wide open for a touchdown.

A missed extra point left the score at 27–13.

On Baltimore’s first possession of the half, Soul defensive back Torez Jones intercepted quarterback Randy Hippeard’s pass, which deflected off the wall, and returned it for another Soul touchdown, bringing the score to 27–19.

However, the Brigade were able to answer the Soul’s momentum, as wide receiver Brandon Thompkins returned the ensuing kickoff for a Brigade score, giving them a 34–19 lead.

It was downhill from there for the Soul, at least until the final five minutes. The Brigade led 55–25 with 5:45 left in the fourth quarter.

But Raudabaugh rallied his team to go on a 20–2 surge to finish the game, giving the two-time defending ArenaBowl champions a fighting chance to make it three in a row.

Soul coach Clint Dolezel was not happy with his team’s performance but added there is legitimate hope for Friday.

“No doubt, we had to,” Dolezel said of the late rally. “Being down 30 at that one point, that’s just too tough to overcome. We got two onsides kicks, got it manageable for 12 points for next week. I’m somewhat pleased with that, but we didn’t come out with much fire tonight and that is disappointing.”

Dolezel said it was a tough sideline for most of the game.

“It’s hard when a lot of things aren’t going your way,” Dolezel said. “It’s hard to have a big smile on your face when you’re down 30, that’s just human nature. We can’t put ourselves in that situation and get down that much. It’s tough to tell these guys to stay upbeat when you’re getting your butt handed to you like we were. Not much went our way, but we battled back and made it respectable.”

There were mental mistakes not seen often since Dolezel took over the Soul six years ago.

After the Brigade went up 20–0 with 4:59 to go in the first half, a lapse in concentration by the Soul special teams allowed Baltimore wide receiver Demetres Stephens to grab the ball off the end zone net on the kickoff for a recovery, giving the ball to the Brigade on the Soul 5-yard line. Hippeard hit Thompkins on the next play, and the score was 27–0.

There were dropped passes, and Raudabaugh threw two interceptions and another pick on a two-point conversion with one minute to go in the game right into the hands of Brigade defensive back Josh Victorian, who raced the length of the field for two points.

“We’ve got professionals,” Dolezel said. “They’ve got to make the plays, they know it. You can’t harp on it too much. The more I harp on it, the more it makes them nervous. They know this can’t happen. We’ve just got to overcome that.”

Raudabaugh, who was 24 of 47 for 332 yards and five touchdown passes, said for the Soul to win on Friday, he has “to stop throwing the ball to the other team.” And agreed with his coach about moving on from the loss.

“What’s done is done, you can’t change it,” said Raudabaugh, who connected with Prince 11 times for 128 yards and four touchdowns. “It happened. It put us in this situation, but we’re going to find a way to dig our way out. You can’t harp on the bad stuff, you can’t harp on the good stuff, either, because it’s in the past. We’ve go to improve the things we did poorly, and the things we did well we have to continue to do well. We have to play almost perfect football. Our defense stepped up in the second half and if we can continue to build off of that, we’ll be successful.”

Madison said that, despite letting the Soul off the hook, they still believe in their strategy.

“We came in with a great game plan, we executed,” Madison said. “But we didn’t execute the second half because they came back. But they’re a helluva team, it’s going to be a fight to the end.” ••

The Soul are running a promotion for fans who want to attend Game 2 in Baltimore, Friday, July 20. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. The Fan Bus Trip is sponsored by Sabre On Point. Round-trip transportation and a game ticket are included for $50. The first 40 fans receive a commemorative T-shirt. Seats can be purchased at philadelphiasoul.com/bustrip

The game will be broadcast live on CBS Sports Network and 97.5 The Fanatic.