Soul stay hot with 30-point thrashing of Blaze


Soul stay hot with 30-point thrashing of Blaze

Even the Utah Blaze, sporting burnt-orange pants that resemble their name, were no match for the red-hot Soul.

The Soul, sparked by five passing touchdowns from quarterback Dan Raudabaugh and a combined seven touchdowns from Andrae Thurman and Derrick Ross, notched their sixth straight victory with a 69-39 route of Utah.

The Soul picked up right where they left off from last Saturday’s blowout win over Chicago. They marched down the field with ease on their first possession, with Thurman eventually crossing the goal line and drawing first blood for the Soul.

“[Thurman] is one of those unsung heroes,” head coach Clint Dolezel said. “He’s a return guy, he’s blocking everybody, he tackles on kickoffs, he’s a great returner, as far as blocking as well. There’s a reason I brought him in here, because I’ve played with him before. He’s one of the guys that is making the nucleus of our team.”

If Thurman was the dynamic, speedy and athletic member of the Soul's offense, Ross was surely the hard-nosed bruiser. Following a Blaze turnover resulting from a dropped pass on fourth down, Ross barreled through Utah defenders for the 14-0 advantage in the first quarter.

Although Utah initially struggled to get anything going offensively, the Blaze picked things up when starting quarterback Jason Boltus was knocked out of the game with an injury. However, as Dolezel would point out, the Soul coach may have felt more comfortable with Boltus in the game rather than backup Tommy Grady. Grady shattered AFL records last year, tossing 142 touchdowns and totaling 5,870 passing yards.

“Grady is a great football player,” Dolezel said. “He broke every record in the world last year, so we knew it wasn’t going to be easy because he’s a good football player. I wasn’t overly thrilled when [Boltus] got hurt. We know what [Grady] can do.”

When Grady and the Blaze responded with their first touchdown of the game -- albeit with a botched extra point -- the Soul wasted no time in getting back on the board. Thurman recorded his second score of the game with an eight-yard touchdown catch delivered from Raudabaugh.

After Utah scored again, it was Ross’ turn to tally his second touchdown of the game, putting the Soul ahead 28-13 late in the first half. Raudabaugh tacked on another touchdown pass in the waning seconds of the second quarter, and the Soul led 35-13 at the break.

The Soul would not let up following intermission. Another four-and-out by the Blaze in the opening possession of the second half led to Raudabaugh’s third touchdown pass of the game, giving the Soul a commanding 42-13 lead.

Thurman and Ross would later tack on their fourth and third touchdowns, respectively, while Raudabaugh threw for his fifth touchdown pass as the Soul once again won in blowout fashion.
With their sixth straight win and just two games remaining, the Soul improved to 11-5 and now have a half-game lead over the Jacksonville Sharks atop the American Conference. Their final two regular-season games will come on the road against San Jose on July 20 and San Antonio on July 27. The Soul will then host their first-round playoff game on Saturday, Aug. 3 at 7 p.m. at the Wells Fargo Center.

Before they get to that point, however, Dolezel would like to see his team finish out the regular season strong.

“It’s tough going on the coast,” Dolezel said. “It’s always been a struggle to go there. We have to play good football. We have to keep pace with Jacksonville."

Soul celebrate Arenabowl championship in City Hall rally

Soul celebrate Arenabowl championship in City Hall rally

The 2016 World Champions banner ran across the stage, as the Soul received a hero’s welcome at City Hall on Wednesday. 

The Soul won their second ArenaBowl in franchise history on Friday, holding off a late rally by the Arizona Rattlers in a 56-42 win. Over 100 fans and onlookers cheered the organization on during a rally in the City Hall plaza despite strong humidity. Mayor Jim Kenney came to the stage amidst a cascade of light blue and white confetti and proclaimed the day “Philadelphia Soul Championship Day.”

“We are as a city extremely proud of this team that they were able to accomplish what they were able to accomplish this season,” Kenney said. “You guys really made us proud and provided us with much-needed bragging rights.”

Kenney singled out owner Ron Jaworski, the former Eagles quarterback who was instrumental in bringing Arena Football to Philadelphia along with Jon Bon Jovi and Craig Spencer in 2004. 

“One of the first messages I got after the game was congratulations from Jon Bon Jovi,” Jaworski said. “He still lives with his Soul.

“Craig, Jon and I said we’re going to do one thing, folks. We’re going to do one thing. We’re going to do one thing win … a total commitment to success and winning.”

Easily the most recognized figure on the stage, Jaworski began listing the Soul’s accomplishments to the crowd. 

“We are the winningest team in Philadelphia,” Jaworski loudly exclaimed. “We’ve brought two world championships to this city. I think that’s pretty darn good!” 

The players were introduced to start the rally, but noticeably missing was defensive lineman Jake Metz. The Shippensburg University product earned a tryout with the Eagles after the Soul’s championship and was signed in time to play in Thursday’s preseason finale against the Jets (see story). Metz made an appearance toward the end. He was brought on stage by coach Clint Dolezel, leading the Philly crowd to cheer the newest Eagle. 

Dolezel, a Texas native, said he has a soft spot for Philadelphia after his four years at the helm. 

“All you Soul fans, I know I’m from Dallas," Dolezel said to playful boos. "I understand, but there’s a little piece in here that’s got a little Philly in me now."

The Soul’s rally certainly brought out some characters. One man wore a blue full-body suit with Soul-colored facepaint and a blue wig. Others danced around wildly in championship bliss, soaking the momentous occasion for Philadelphia’s winningest franchise.

Many in the crowd were season ticket holders who made the time to welcome back their championship team. That included Mark and Cheryl Vitullo, who came from South Jersey for the parade, bringing their children with them. 

“We’re just so proud of them all,” Mark Vitullo said. “The coach did a great job. The owners too, it was just really nice. What I like about the game is they do a lot for the kids too.”

“The boys know the players,” Cheryl Vitullo said. “[The Soul players] know them. They come to see them before each game. They talk to one another. They high-five. The boys have given them four-leaf clovers for good luck, the whole thing. They have been with them the whole time."

The fans weren’t the only ones enjoying the moment. The Soul players were all smiles, signing autographs and taking in the moment. While it may not be a Super Bowl, the championship meant a lot to the players, especially offensive lineman and Temple alum Wayne Tribue.

“It’s great,” Tribue said. “This is my first real championship that I’ve ever won. I couldn’t have done it with a better group of guys, better coaches. I’m just thankful for it.”

Jake Metz, Soul credit strong 4th-quarter defensive effort for championship win

Jake Metz, Soul credit strong 4th-quarter defensive effort for championship win

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Despite the Soul leading by three touchdowns early in ArenaBowl XXIX, there was little cheering from the their bench.

Given the volatility that is Arena League football and the frequency with which teams can strike, the approach remained resolute and determined. Defensive tackle Jake Metz kept the mindset of a scoreless game and could not stop hearing words coming from Ron Jaworski, a highly vocal partner in the Soul’s ownership.

“He kept yelling that offense gets headlines but defense wins championships,” said Metz, who currently lives in Schwenksville, Montgomery County, and went to Shippensburg University. “That resounded with me, and brought the championship.”

Metz and his defensive teammates then went out and shut down a highly hazardous and explosive Arizona Rattlers offensive unit en route to a 56-42 win (see story). Led by quarterback Nick Davila, the only three-time MVP in Arena Football League history, the Rattlers could manage only seven points in a critical fourth quarter.

At the same time, Metz recovered a fumble by Davila with the Soul holding a slim six-point margin with just under six minutes to play. That turnover was the key point in the Soul’s eventual win, and cemented the role of the defense as a shut-down unit.

On the subsequent possession, Soul quarterback Dan Raudabaugh connected with Shaun Kauleinamoku on a 30-yard scoring strike. That created a 14-point comfort zone and the final margin of victory.

“These players deserve this championship,” Soul head coach Clint Dolezel said. “This is a first class organization and ownership gives the players a first-class experience. That way, we can attract great players, and with great players comes success.”

In capturing the league title Friday night, the victory was the second in franchise history. In 2008, the Soul and Phillies each won championships, and that was the last time a professional team captured a title in Philadelphia.

Metz remembers the Phillies' win over the Rays, and pointed out, “I went to those games as a kid.” That championship stuck with the 6-foot-6, 265 pounder, and helped to forge a championship mentality.

Early in the fourth quarter, Arizona caught the Soul at 42-42. From that point, Raudabaugh directed two scoring drives, and along with Metz’s important fumble recovery, carried the Soul to the title.

“It’s all about how you respond,” said Raudabaugh, who finished with 20 for 36 for 278 yards and six touchdowns. “Granted, they have a very explosive team, but we were never out it. They did come back, but we had an answer for them.”

The answer was a strong defense which Dolezel indicated was playing at their peak just prior to the title game.

Defensive back Tracy Belton, the AFL defensive player of the year and DB Dwayne Hollis, whose fumble recovery for a touchdown early in the game was another key defensive play, clearly showed how a defense can carry a team to a league title. That was the effort the Soul brought together in an environment as unpredictable as the Arena Football League.