Soul stay hot with 30-point thrashing of Blaze

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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."

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.

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.

Soul's Clint Dolezel shares Coach of the Year award with Rattlers' Kevin Guy

Soul's Clint Dolezel shares Coach of the Year award with Rattlers' Kevin Guy

For the third time in five seasons, the Soul and Arizona Rattlers will compete in the ArenaBowl. Prior to Friday night's 7 p.m. matchup, the leaders of both squads, Soul coach Clint Dolezel and Rattlers coach Kevin Guy, were each named Marcum Moss Coach of the Year.

Dolezel and Guy will share the award but not the ArenaBowl trophy, which the Soul haven't won since their lone triumph in 2008 over the San Jose Sabercats. Dolezel, who has been at the helm since August 2012, led the Soul to the ArenaBowl in 2012 and 2013 but lost to the Rattlers on both occasions.

This season, Dolezel, who spent over a decade as a quarterback in the AFL, coached the Soul to a 13-3 regular-season record. The team advanced to the ArenaBowl with a dramatic win in the American Conference championship game over the Jacksonville Sharks.

Dolezel also earned the Coach of the Year award last season for guiding the Soul to a 15-3 overall mark and a conference championship game appearance.

“Without a question, Clint is one of the best offensive minds in AFL history,” Soul majority owner Ron Jaworski said in a press release. “His success is attributed to a great deal of preparation and hard work. To make a playoff appearance every year as a head coach shows his dedication and willingness to win.”