Worrisome Trades, Jumpers in Progress and Absent Mascots: Talking Sixers Basketball with Michael Levin

Worrisome Trades, Jumpers in Progress and Absent Mascots: Talking Sixers Basketball with Michael Levin

Officially in the throes of an unexpectedly promising Sixers season, I turned again to Michael Levin of fine Sixers blog Liberty Ballers
for a healthy dose of guarded realism to temper out my unbridled
enthusiasm. So far this year, Mike is impressed with Evan Turner and
Spencer Hawes, but disappointed with Jrue Holiday and Thaddeus Young,
and still believes the team's core to far well short of
championship-caliber—though he does see the Sixers winning the hearts of
the City of Brotherly Love by season's end.

Check out the interview below, and make sure to take note of his
post-season prediction for the Ballers—when we asked him the same
question halfway through the season last year, he called it perfectly:
"7th [seed] is where I fit them in for now, which most likely means
Miami, and a 4-1 series loss...But they'd be mostly close games and the
management would claim IMPROVEMENT!"
Andrew: So when we talked last season, you were still encouraging the team to
tank. After an 11-5 start and what looks like a clear path to the
Atlantic division title, you're not still rooting for losses, are you?
 
Michael Levin: No, I wouldn't say that I'm rooting for losses. But I'm not exactly
living and dying by each win either. Definitely keeping a blog for the
Sixers (and getting older, I suppose) has hardened me to the idea of
straight "fandom" and I've become very rational about what I think the
team can achieve. So I'm not advocating Tankfest but I do value a great
game out of Evan Turner or Jrue Holiday more than I would a win on the
shoulders of Elton Brand or Lou Williams.

Do you think the start is a function of legitimate team
improvement, or just an impossibly soft start to the season
schedule-wise?
 
Definitely both. The schedule (and injuries)
has benefited the Sixers greatly so far, but you also can't discount
the fact that they've had a full year together under the same coach,
with the same core.
 
Did you like their off-season strategy of basically just getting the band back together?

For
what they're trying to do, it was absolutely the right move. They're
all about continuity and chemistry and all of those buzz words. So
keeping the team together was integral to their continued success. But
in terms of a championship, no, I still don't think this team is
anywhere close to contending, even though I may be leaning the other way
more than I was last time we spoke. Like for example, I disagree with
signing Thad Young.
 
Too much money? [Thad re-signed for 5 years, $42 million]
 
The
money was actually for less than I thought it'd be. It's just that in
four seasons (this is his 5th), he hasn't gotten better at anything
really.
 
Well, he's one of the best bench scorers in the league, no? Isn't a guy like that worth 8.5 a year?
 
I
don't think so, no. Especially on a team that, I don't think, will ever
contend for a championship. Lamar Odom on a 4-seed and a 2nd round
playoff exit is not a good guy to have. Thad was great at scoring in
transition, finishing off the offensive glass, and playing high energy.
He's still good at those things. Only he hasn't gotten better at
shooting, dribbling, rebounding, or defending (markedly at least).

Do you think that the money the Sixers gave Thad was partially in the hopes that he was still young and would improve his game?

Yes
definitely. Or at least I hope so. He's below average at so many
aspects of basketball that paying him 8.5 is outlandish for him to stay
that way. Now, I think he won't ever get much better than he is
currently. But the Sixers are banking on the fact that he will.

Well, the other guy who the Sixers brought back definitely has
improved his game considerably. Did you see this coming with Spencer
Hawes, and how sustainable do you think his numbers are?

I'm
particularly blown away by how Wight Howard (our nickname for Spence on
LB) has played thus far. Did not see it coming at all, though I've been
saying since last year that Hawes wasn't as bad as most people were
giving him credit for. Mostly, he's feeling more comfortable within the
offense and has been able to use his formidable passing skills to
generate a lot of movement from the high post. That being said, the main
reason for his effectiveness is that his jump shot has been falling.
And I don't think it will continue at that rate—he's shooting 57% on
attempts from 16-23 feet. That's aburd.
 
The Sixers are 1-3 without Spence in the lineup, does that show
how important he's become to the team? Or is it just that they played
tougher teams over those games?

Both, again. There's never
just ONE REASON why a team loses a game. It's what makes watching
individual games fun and unique, because there's more than one guy or
one play that can be singled out as the reason the team won or lost. But
Spencer has been a huge part of the team's success thus far, and
there's no question that without him, the frontcourt has been extremely
thin and rebounds hard to come by, especially considering how bad Thad
is on the defensive glass.

Now if I remember correctly, you weren't that high on Nik Vucevic
coming out of the draft (and for the record, neither was I). Are you
changing your tune at all about him given how he's played so far,
especially in Hawes's absence?
 
A little, yeah. He's been better than I expected, but at the same
time, his current play was never an issue I had with him. I called his
ceiling that of a below average starting center, somewhere like what
Hawes' is. He'd be a great backup big man on a good team, but he's not
athletic, nor is he very skilled. He doesn't try to do too much and gets
his within the flow of the offense. No question he's helped so far, but
I didn't think it was the
right pick then and I still don't now, in terms of what I think the team
should be doing.

Still, if you can get a quality backup
center with the 16th pick in a historically weak draft, that's something
of a coup for GM Rod Thorn & co, isn't it?
 
Yeah,
that's definitely what they wanted. I have to be clear in illustrating
that yes, he's a perfect fit for what they wanted, I just didn't want
the same thing because my longterm goals for the team are different from
theirs, sadly.
 
You think the goal for the team is just to be as competitive as possible as quickly as possible?
 
Absolutely, no question about it.

Well,
what about the Marreese Speights trade, then? Didn't moving a potential
role player for draft picks show some kind of long-term vision?

No that wasn't what that was about. Speights never had a role on
this team as long as Collins is here, so they just moved him for
essentially nothing to get him out. I love 2nd rounders, but they're
rarely anything more than bench fodder, so it's not like they got great
value for him. If they can package that as an asset with which to move
up in the draft this year? That's great. But this shouldn't be seen as a
great move even if it was the one they had to make.

Back to recent Sixer draft picks—you were one of the biggest
advocates last season for staying patient with then-rookie Evan Turner,
saying he was coming along and just needed time (and opportunity) to get
used to the pro game. Are you feeling vindicated somewhat by his
improved play thusfar this year?
 
Yeah, I think pretty much everyone who's around basketball would
have told you that while Turner's start wasn't ideal, there's no reason
to think he wouldn't get better. And he has, which makes me extremely
excited for when he finally gets 35 minutes per night and takes full
control of the team, but Doug Collins keeps making us wait for that.
 
What's it going to take for Evan to wrest the starting two-guard spot from Jodie Meeks, you think?

I
don't think it happens this season, unfortunately. We've discussed
extensively on Liberty Ballers about whether starting actually matters
and I've come to the conclusion that it doesn't 90%, to 10% that it
does. It indicates a role the player has on the team. I want Evan Turner
to be our primary offensive option. That won't happen if he's not
starting, especially considering Doug uses the start of the 2nd half
like it's his starting lineup again. So that's immediately 10-15 minutes
there that ET isn't in. But as long as he technically gets more minutes
than Jodie...I'd be relatively content, if not completely satisfied.

Do you think he's ready to be a first option, though? It seems a
lot of his improvement this year has come from learning to pick his
spots better—if he's shooting 20-25 times a game, won't his efficiency
plummet, at least at first?

Well, he's only shooting 9 times per game now. So to say he'd
jump all the way to 20-25 is a steep climb. But 15 shots with,
hopefully, a bunch of trips to the line, could keep that efficiency
high, all the while picking his spots in the framework of the
offense...The way the team is constructed ,there isn't necessarily a
"first option," save for when Lou Williams is on the court,
unfortunately. But if he's playing 30-35 minutes a game, he'd have the
chance to get his opportunities more than he has so far

But you think the future of the team's offense, at least in
stretch runs, might look something like when Evan went into takeover
mode in the fourth quarter against Denver?
 
I'd hope so,
although I would like him to involve his teammates a bit more. Evan
plays very much in streaks, when he goes from deferring to his teammates
in the half court to deciding to take over and kind of putting his
blinders on. That's something that will improve with time and exposure.
He's got the ability to score himself and find his teammates, he just
has to use them simultaneously. That would make him, at least on the
offensive end, a complete player.
 
How are you feeling about the jumper?

Better than I
was last year but still not exactly pumped about it. The form is better,
undeniably, but the results haven't caught up with him yet. I have
faith that they will, but in the meantime I'm glad that he's taking the
shots but not being dependent on them, instead going to the basket and
getting fouled at a decent clip.

It seems like at the very least, he's taking the right shots now. They just have to start going in.
 
Exactly,
and as he gets better, he'll start getting those foul calls from the
refs that he hasn't really gotten the benefit of. Nothing wrong with a
little superstar treatment now and then.
 
As bullish as you've been on Evan this year, you've been kind
of down on Jrue Holiday of late. What about his play in '12 have you
found so discouraging?
 
All in all, he really hasn't done a
good job anywhere on the court. He's terrible defending the pick and
roll on defense, but I still see enough flashes of great D to be excited
about it for the future. Offensively, he's making bad decisions with
the ball and settling for outside shots, which limits his trips to the
line, thus limiting his effectiveness. That's the best thing about Lou -
he gets to the line a lot. Jrue needs to be able to get fouled going to
the basket because then it'll open up lanes for him to hit less
contested jumpers and find open teammates, which he hasn't been doing.
His jumper is looking nice though - a 47% clip from 16-23 is pretty
impressive. I'd just rather those points come at the rim.

If you had to tab one guy between Evan and Jrue as the future of the franchise, who would it be?

I'd
still mark Jrue as the more valuable player right now, capable of
achieving his ceiling, but I think Evan has the higher ceiling down the
road. Does that make sense? I hope that doesn't sound like a cop-out.

So, Iguodala and Brand—are we just stuck with these guys? If you
had to put odds on either being moved before their contract expires, how
would you mark them?

I'd give it a 20% chance that they
amnesty Brand in the offseason, but by that point his contract will be
expiring so I may even condone against it. For Andre, it's like 0.5%.
Management views trading any decent player as a step back and they are
100% against that, so they'll just keep them until they walk or pay them
another fat contract to maintain "continuity".
 
Are you worried about their potential activity at the trade
deadline, if the record remains good and they might start thinking about
trading some young guys for veterans?

Trading young guys for
veterans is something that worries me all the time, Phillies included.
Luckily, there aren't enough young guys on the Sixers that they don't
seem to value that could potentially go. Craig Brackins could be moved
but he's not doing anything. They won't trade Jodie because of his value
from the outside, and they won't trade Evan or Jrue because they do see
those players as franchise building blocks. I think the team is so in
love with itself that they don't want to break up anything they have
going. It's nice to see that kind of commitment to the team but when the
team's potential tops out at a 2nd round playoff exit, it's hard for me
to get too excited.
 
I haven't thought too much on it yet, but I'm betting they sign
Hawes to a long-term contract and keep the same exact team next year
too.

Do you see any potential for a big move a few years down the road that could bump the team up a level?
 
I imagine you're alluding at least in some respect to [Orlando Magic center] Dwight [Howard].
 
I was just about to add a Dwight-related addendum, yes.

OK.
Dwight's a guy that would instantly vault the Sixers to championship
contenders. Sub him in and I would be fully on board with them, feet
first. He'd fit perfectly next to, really, everyone and make guys like
Jodie and Lou even more valuable than they already are because of their
outside shooting. I would trade any three players for him as long as one
of them wasn't Jrue or Evan. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like
they'll have the money or be willing to part with the assets to bring
him in.

Besides all that, you don't think the Sixers have put themselves
in a position to potentially maybe package some of those guys in an
eventual KG/Gasol-type deal?
 
No I don't think they would.
They're extremely attached to the young guys, which I can appreciate,
but the likelihood that other teams value them as much as the Sixers do
isn't high. I'd love to make a deal involving Iguodala and one of the
Jazz big men, but that's just something in my head. Because
Evan/Jrue/high-upside big man can be something to hang your hat on.

So I know you guys addressed this a little on the blog, but who are some of the low-cost big men you're eyeing to improve the team's frontcourt depth?
 
Well I'd prefer someone young that can join the core and
possibly capitalize on high, untapped upside. Larry Sanders fits that
bill. So, to a lesser extent, does Kosta Koufos...But Collins is itching
for more vets, so I'm guessing no, they aren't realistic options. Older
guys that fill a role in the short-term and cost bad money down the
road seem inevitable.
 
Such as?

Anderson Varejao. Though I've gotten higher on him than I had been previously.
 
Seems like money aside, he'd fit a real need for this team.

Yeah
he would. The best thing about him is that he doesn't try to be
something he's not. And unlike Reggie Evans, he can also defend, and
isn't completely ass backwards on offense. But any more speculation
would just be guessing. I really think they'll go after somebody very
soon. Maybe with one of those second rounders or maybe with Noce's
expiring. Or just Mo's trade exception.

So I know it's still early, but you called it perfectly last
year—what do you think of the team's post-season prospects? Will they
win a first-round series, at least?

I've been really going
back and forth on it because I'm so blown away that Boston and New York
aren't better. But if I had to guess, I really think that Boston will
win the division. Maybe it's just history telling me things I can't
un-hear. But in spite of their oldness, I can't imagine they don't make a
big run at the division. Either way, I'm penciling the Sixers around
3-4-5 seed and a playoff win.
 
You're giving them the win?
 
Yeah, I say they get
it this year. But then they'll run into Miami or Chicago and get
steamrolled. And, just like last year, people will scream for
improvement and no trades/improvements/anythings will happen.
 
So you're not all that impressed by the prospect of the team's first series win since the Iverson era?

Nope.
I mean, one playoff win isn't much to write home about. The East isn't
as deep as the west, so winning a round puts them around 10th best team
in the league. Which is where I have them now anyway. But I can't see
them - ever, really - getting past the 2nd round unless a legitimate big
man comes in or Jrue/Evan become godlike.

So if I had to guess, Sixers beat Atlanta 4-2 in round one, then
lose to Miami 4-1 in round two. If I'm right again, I'm going to Vegas
in 2013.
 
Last thing—Do you think the Sixers become a
bandwagon team in the city of Philadelphia by season's end? Will we see a
full Wells Fargo Center for the Sixers' first post-season home game?
 
Yes to both. I think people are getting around to acknowledging
basketball's existence in Philly again, which is nice to see. They're
young and fun and everybody loves Jrue Holiday. It'll start to pack up
against better teams and then once playoff time rolls around, it'll be
rocking.
 
Especially if B. Franklin Dogg or Phil E. Moose shows up by then.
 
DOGGMOOSE 4 LYFE.

Best of NFL: Tom Brady on target, leads Patriots to win in preseason debut

Best of NFL: Tom Brady on target, leads Patriots to win in preseason debut

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Tom Brady looked sharp in his preseason debut, throwing a 33-yard touchdown pass to Chris Hogan in helping the New England Patriots to a 19-17 preseason win over the Carolina Panthers on Friday night.

Brady relieved Jimmy Garoppolo late in the first quarter and completed a 37-yard pass to Aaron Dobson on his first play from scrimmage, leading to a field goal. On his second drive Brady heaved a perfectly placed over-the-shoulder pass to Hogan down the right sideline for a 9-0 lead. Brady's other two drives failed to produce points.

While Brady was on the mark, league MVP Cam Newton struggled mightily in his most extensive playing time of the preseason. Newton was intercepted twice and the Panthers failed to get any points on his eight first-half possessions. Overall, the Panthers scored just three points in 10 Newton-led drives.

The sixth-year quarterback was high on some passes and didn't get much help from his receivers, who had problems getting separation and dropped four passes, including one by Brenton Bersin on a fourth-and-2 at midfield.

New England's defense shut down the league's highest-scoring offense from a year ago. They also intercepted Derek Anderson and allowed only one passing play of more than 15 yards in the first half.

Garoppolo, expected to start the first four games for the Patriots while Brady serves a suspension for his role in "Deflategate," returned in the second quarter but couldn't get anything going.

In the third quarter he rolled out of the pocket while under pressure and missed an open receiver who'd gotten behind the defense. His six drives resulted in no points, although Stephen Gostkowski missed a 30-yard field goal on the New England's opening possession (see full recap).

Redskins overcome slow start to beat Bills
LANDOVER, Md. -- Kirk Cousins found a groove and undrafted rookie running back Robert Kelley made the most of his chance and the Washington Redskins beat the Buffalo Bills 21-16 Friday night in the third preseason game.

With the Bills (1-2) resting almost their entire starting defense, Cousins overcame a rough start to finish 12 of 23 for 188 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.

Despite coming mostly against Buffalo's second- and third-stringers, it was an important recovery for Cousins, who had thrown only five passes in the preseason and didn't play last week in an effort to test backup Colt McCoy.

Kelley ran for 51 yards on 12 carries in a personal showcase with Matt Jones and Chris Thompson out and after seventh-round pick Keith Marshall sprained his left elbow on his only carry of the game.

Bills starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor played only two series, by coach Rex Ryan's design, going 2 of 5 for 11 yards before being replaced by E.J. Manuel.

Ryan also opted to rest running back LeSean McCoy and several key defenders, including defensive tackle Kyle Williams, linebacker Jerry Hughes and cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Stephon Gilmore.

Coach Jay Gruden took a more conventional dress-rehearsal approach to the third preseason game for the Redskins (2-1) and got the kind of performances he'd like to see from top players such as tight end Jordan Reed, receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, left tackle Trent Williams and cornerback Josh Norman.

Reed, Garcon and receiver Ryan Grant each caught a touchdown pass from Cousins, and Norman looked sharp on defense along with second-year linebacker Preston Smith and lineman Ziggy Hood (see full recap).

Roethlisberger shreds defense in Steelers' win over Saints
NEW ORLEANS -- Ben Roethlisberger torched New Orleans' defense for 148 yards and two touchdown passes on his first two series of this preseason, then got the rest of the game off while the Steelers rolled to a 27-14 victory over the Saints on Friday night.

Roethlisberger, who sat out of the first two preseason games, opened by leading a 14-play, 76-yard drive on which he converted two third downs and found tight end Jesse James for a 5-yard score. His next series was highlighted by his 57-yard scoring pass down the left sideline to Antonio Brown, also playing for the first time this preseason. The Steelers star finished with 12 completions on 17 attempts.

Pittsburgh running back Le'Veon Bell also made his preseason debut, gaining 21 yards on three carries, but his lost fumble in the second quarter -- forced by cornerback Delvin Breaux and recovered by linebacker Dannell Ellerbe -- led to Drew Brees' only TD pass. Brees' strike went to Willie Snead, who made a difficult juggling catch as he landed on his back following a collision near the back of the end zone.

Brees had a difficult night behind a struggling offensive line. It didn't help that starting left tackle Terron Armstead left the field unexpectedly in the first half for undisclosed reasons. Brees completed 9 of 12 passes, but for only 78 yards. One of his better throws connected with newly acquired tight end Coby Fleener for 26 yards, but it was called back for holding on Armstead.

The Saints have dropped all three preseason games.

Steelers backup Landry Jones went 19 of 22 for 206 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown pass to Sammie Coates. He also completed a 58-yard pass to Coates to set up Chris Boswell's 40-yard field goal (see full recap).

Adam Morgan, Phillies allow 4 homers in latest loss to Mets at Citi Field

Adam Morgan, Phillies allow 4 homers in latest loss to Mets at Citi Field

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK – The New York Mets set the tone for this game early on Friday night. Their first two batters stroked Adam Morgan fastballs over the wall and they were off and slugging to a 9-4 win over the Phillies at Citi Field (see Instant Replay).
 
“There’s not much to say,” manager Pete Mackanin said afterward, “other than we have to pitch better.”
 
The Mets, very much in the thick of the NL wild-card race, played inspired ball in powering their way to their fifth win in the last six games. They hit four home runs on the night, including three against Morgan, and got a typically strong start from Bartolo Colon.
 
“It’s never good when you start a game by giving up two home runs,” Morgan said. “If I make better pitches, it’s a different outcome.”
 
The third home run that Morgan gave up was the killer. It was a grand slam by Wilmer Flores with two outs in the bottom of the fifth. That turned a 2-1 Mets’ lead into a 6-1 Mets’ lead.
 
Flores’ grand slam came on a first-pitch slider. Morgan threw nine pitches before walking Neil Walker, the previous batter, to extend the inning. One of those pitches was foul pop down the right-field line that Ryan Howard could not chase down. Had he been able to make the tough play, Morgan would have gotten out of the inning unscathed.
 
Then again, the pitcher could have gotten out of the inning unscathed if he did not give up the two-out walk to Walker.
 
Or make a mistake with the first-pitch slider to Flores.
 
“It was a bad pitch,” Mackanin said. “He tried to backdoor a slider and it ended up in his wheelhouse.”
 
As for the pop-up down the right-field line …
 
“I was hoping somebody could run that down,” Mackanin said. “Nevertheless, you’ve got to pitch around those things and make good pitches. That mistake to Flores put it away for them. Morgan had command issues. Too many pitches out over the plate.”
 
In all, Morgan allowed eight hits, including five for extra bases, in his five innings of work. He dropped to 1-8 and his ERA rose to 6.50.
 
Reliever Frank Herrmann gave up the Mets’ fourth homer, a two-run shot to Asdrubal Cabrera in the sixth. Cabrera homered from both sides of the plate.
 
Meanwhile, Colon, the Mets’ 43-year-old control artist, did what he often does to the Phillies. He gave up just three hits and a run through seven innings before hitting the wall and giving up three runs without getting an out in the eighth. Colon had to settle for seven-plus innings of four-run ball. He is 12-7 with a 3.44 ERA. He is 9-3 with a 2.98 ERA against the Phillies as a member of the Mets.
 
“He seems to own us,” Mackanin said. “We can’t seem to square up the ball against him. He does a tremendous job with control and command.”
 
Peter Bourjos concurred.
 
“He’s different than any pitcher you see these days,” Bourjos said. “You don’t see many guys throwing mostly fastballs at 88 mph and sinking it. You see some guys throwing a majority of sinkers, but it’s 95. This guy changes speeds on his fastball and locates it so well.”
 
The game marked the Phillies’ first without Carlos Ruiz, who was traded to the Dodgers on Thursday. Jorge Alfaro came up from Double A and served as the backup catcher. He is expected to return to the Reading club on Saturday when A.J. Ellis arrives. The Phillies picked up the veteran backup catcher in the trade.
 
Alfaro did not play, but called the experience of coming to the majors “a dream.”
 
That was the only thing that resembled a dream for the Phillies on Friday night.
 
They have lost 20 of 29 games to the Mets over the last two seasons and 12 of their last 16 in Citi Field, hardly encouraging with two more games to play in the series.

Soul fight off Rattlers' comeback bid, win ArenaBowl XXIX

Soul fight off Rattlers' comeback bid, win ArenaBowl XXIX

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Prior to ArenaBowl XXIX, the consensus among players and coaches was the team which makes fewer mistakes had a reasonable chance to win.

When the Arizona Rattlers committed two critical turnovers in the initial minutes Friday night, the Soul jumped out to an early lead and then capitalized on big plays from the defense to earn a 56-42 win and their second ArenaBowl title in franchise history.

The championship is the first for a professional team in Philadelphia since the Soul and Phillies each took individual titles in 2008. Villanova captured the men’s NCAA basketball championship this past April.

Coming into the title game at Gila River Arena, Arizona averaged 83.0 points per game in postseason play, and the Soul defense, which averaged 45.5 points allowed in playoff competition, did not deviate from its norm.

“We trust in our defense,” said defensive back Dwayne Hollis, who scored on an early fumble recovery and had a key interception late. “The fumble was great work from the line. A few guys got in there and the ball came loose. I was able pick it up and I only saw the end zone.”

This one started in a way all too familiar to the Soul defense.

Following a 16-yard touchdown reception from Darius Reynolds, and an early 7-0 Soul lead, Hollis scored just over three minutes later. That’s when he picked up the fumble from Rattlers running back Mykel Benson and ran 48 yards for the score.

On the ensuing kickoff, the Rattlers’ Anthony Amos could not handle the rebound off the netting in the end zone and Tracy Belton, the AFL Defensive Player of the Year, scooped up the loose ball for a touchdown. That brought the Soul out to a 21-0 lead less than seven minutes into the game, and created a relatively secure comfort level.

“We go against those guys every day in practice, and know how good our defense really is,” said quarterback Dan Raudabaugh, who finished with a 20-for-36 night, 278 yards and six touchdowns. “This is such a great defense, and they proved it when it counted.”

Despite an early lead, the Rattlers managed to catch the Soul at 42-42 early in the fourth quarter. On the next possession, Raudabaugh engineered a six-play scoring drive that culminated in a 21-yard TD strike to Shaun Kauleinamoku. After the extra point was blocked, that created a six-point lead, and then the key defensive play of the game.

As Arizona quarterback Nick Davila attempted to pass from the Soul 15-yard line, his arm was hit and defensive tackle Jake Metz recovered. From there, Raudabaugh connected with Kauleinamoku on a 30-yard scoring strike, and this one was in the win column for the Soul.

“Our defense is persistent,” said Metz, a native of Souderton, Pennsylvania, who went to Shippensburg University. “This group never gives up, and we did our job.”

In postgame awards, Kauleinamoku was named the Playmaker of the Game, and Belton was honored as the Defensive Player of the Game.

For his key 30-yard TD reception late in the game, Kauleinamoku was given the Catch of the Game, and Hollis’ fumble recovery and touchdown early was noted as the Highlight of the Game.