After 0-5 start, healthy Firebirds look to playoffs

After 0-5 start, healthy Firebirds look to playoffs
Saturday, May 16, 2009
By Bob Weiner (Contact)
Gazette Reporter

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ALBANY — Persistence and patience have paid off for the Albany Firebirds, who host a rare afternoon game today at 1 against the Manchester Wolves at Times Union Center.
The Firebirds opened the season with five straight losses, but they have rebounded with two consecutive victories. Injuries to key players played a prominent role in the Firebirds’ struggles, and now that they are healthy, they hope to make a run for the arenfootball2 playoffs.
“I’m not surprised,” said Albany head coach Tony Bowick, in his first season as a head coach in the af2. “I knew we were a good football team. We didn’t put things together like I hoped we would, but I figured it was just a matter of time. The guys didn’t give up on it. Their hard work paid off. I think we showed that we are a solid team over the last two weeks, but we’re not there yet.
“We beat a pair of struggling teams like ourselves, but now we’re playing a good team in Manchester. I thought we played a good game against them the first time we played them, but we got outplayed in the second half. Let’s see if we can beat them on our home turf.”
Probably the most dramatic change for the Firebirds is the play at quarterback.
Stephen Wasil has earned offensive player of the week honors in both contests since he returned from a five-week stint on the injured reserve list because of a lower leg injury. Last week, in a 54-41 victory over the Bossier City/Shreveport Battle Wings, Wasil threw for a season-high 302 yards and six touchdowns. He also ran in for a couple of scores.
“We’ve got a veteran quarterback now who knows the game. He makes it easier on the linemen because he gets the ball out quick. I appreciate what Adam [backup quarterback Adam Bednarik] did for us when he had to take over. I think he’s grown a lot and will be better if we ever need him again, but it sure is nice to have a veteran back there.”
Another key for the Firebirds last week was the play of leading receiver Christian Wise, who returned to action after missing the previous week with an injury. Wise earned the league’s iron man of the week award after scoring three touchdowns and piling up 190 receiving yards to go along with a key interception in the third quarter and several kickoff returns. Wise almost never left the field. He ranks sixth in the league in both all-purpose yards per game (179.2) and receiving yards per game (128.3).
Wideout/linebacker Alvin Ray Jackson caught three TD passes to tie Wise for the team lead with eight on the season and also added five tackles and an interception last week. He has a pair of defensive touchdowns this season, and is first on the team in interceptions (two) and second on the club in tackles (25).
Defensive back Jamel Ramsay registered seven tackles against the Battle Wings, while defensive end David Tash had a sack and a forced fumble for the second consecutive week. Linebacker/defensive back Malik Jackson made his Albany debut last week and broke up three passes, to go along with four tackles.
“People ask me who is my go-to guy, and I tell them all of my players are go-to guys,” said Bowick. “We want guys who can play more than one position. Look what Christian Wise did. He was great on offense, defense and on special teams. We’ve got versatile guys on this team. I’m so glad that we’re finally having some success, because the guys have been working their butts off all year.”
Manchester (3-3) is paced by quarterback James Pinkney, who has completed 120 of 195 passes for 1,543 yards and 30 TD strikes. He had three favorite targets: Emery Sammons (42 catches, 631 yards, 12 TDs), Steve Savoy (35 catches, 406 yards, 10 TDs) and Jason Messing (18 catches, 209 yards, five TDs).
Paul Jefferson is the Wolves’ leading rusher with 114 yards on 24 attempts. He has three touchdowns.
Bowick said it will be interesting to see how his team performs in the afternoon after playing the rest of their games at night.
“It’s an early game, so there will be no waiting around all day to play. There will be no excuses,” he said.

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