They say, “It’s a game of inches.” They say that about every game, right?
The View from the ‘Nation: Photo: Kram
A coach or player will often tell you after a close loss, “We had many different chances to win that game.” And, he or she would be correct. But it’s that one play. Sometimes one key play at a key time can be the difference between winning and losing.
The day began with the IronPigs on the radio. We listened to Matt Provence, the Voice of the IronPigs, as we made our way to the pre-game tailgate festivities at Stabler Arena in Bethlehem for the SteelHawks home opener. The ‘Pigs took an early 3-0 lead on Jon Pettibone as he worked with mostly cutters it seemed. The ‘Pigs were able to tie it up 3-3 behind a Castro reached-on-error, a Henson single, a Thomas double, and a Cedeno ground-out RBI.
Just before Pettibone was to give way to Hector Neris in the top of the sixth, Brignac followed a Murphy K with a triple off the top of the wall. With one out, Cameron Rupp was up. Matt Provence began what sounded like a doctorate thesis on why it would be foolish to pitch to the red-hot Rupp in that situation–one out, guy on third, lefty on the mound, two lefties due up. Before he could give us his conclusion and bibliography, Rupp proved him correct. All it took was one pitch. Rupp went deep for the third time in as many games (he had yesterday off) to give the IronPigs a 5-3 lead.
Neris then worked around beaning Lavarnway–not necessarily a bad idea IMHO–with a couple ground-outs and a K. Embattled reliever Kyle Simon entered to redeem Friday’s horrific loss. He yielded a lead-off double to Alex Hassan, who eventually scored, but got the ground-outs necessary to preserve the lead, 5-4.
While the ‘Pigs couldn’t get any insurance, Luis “The Barber” Garcia was able to close it out in the bottom of the ninth to salvage a 2-2 split in the IronPigs opening road series in Pawtucket. There were many opportunities for the ‘Sox to score–and to prevent scoring–but it was that one pitch to Rupp (and Rupp’s huge bat) which won the game. By one. 5-4 was the final.
As we made our way to the ‘Hawk perch high above Stabler, rumors swirled about the SteelHawks and their competition. As I wrote this morning, the young weapons at QB Adam Bednarik’s disposal were unproven and untested. Could the SteelHawks score enough points? Weapons signed for the defensive side of the ball could make the difference, but news that key free agent DL Larry Ford (#92) had been called up to the AFL tempered our expectations. He was to play, but how well? And then rumors about the kickers. Who cares? you say… But a source reported a pre-game injury to Trenton’s kicker and the relative strength of the SteelHawks’ #10 Michael Barnard who had been in camp with the Eagles and Packers.
DL Larry Ford gives it up. Good luck in the AFL! Photo: Noise Nation
The game was a typical back and forth affair, which we’ve grown accustomed to in the PIFL. The Freedom, who had already played a game–and won–looked to have the more diverse offensive attack initially. They scored first, but missed the extra point as the kicker hammered the kick into the back of an O-lineman.
However, the SteelHawks had the better QB as Adam Bednarik used touch passes, timing routes, and rifle shots to move the ball and score touchdowns. A late over-throw on a sluggo (slant and go) was the only bad pass I saw him throw all evening. The SteellHawks had a 28-26 half-time lead as the hard-hitting defense picked one off and then prevented a late bid from the Freedom to take the lead before the half.
QB Adam Bednarik signs after the game.
The rumor of an improved defense was realized. I was able to make it to four games last season, and didn’t see as many hard hits from either team in those four games combined as I saw from the SteelHawks tonight. They were able to gather two interceptions on the evening, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they force some fumbles in the games ahead. There were a couple instances early where some guys went for ‘kill shots’ when they should have “wrapped up” better, but they’ll get that cleaned up.
In the fourth quarter, a couple drives stalled for the ‘Hawks, and they missed a FG attempt. Junior was ready to go home. DiPro and I warned him–and we were right: these games come down to the end and scoring can happen quickly. the SteelHawks coughed up a couple like that last season. This time it happened to Trenton. Welcome to the PIFL, fellas.
In their last two possessions, the Freedom attempted to run the ball to bleed the clock. But against the big, athletic D-line of the SteelHawks and with the hard-hitting LBs and DBs backing them up, it wasn’t going to happen. Their QB wasn’t good enough given limited opportunity to convert first downs.
On Trenton’s penultimate possession, the SteelHawks were able to stop a run play, get a sack, and shut down a short pass with a solid tackle to force a 4th and 4 deep in Trenton territory. Without a quality kicker, they were unable to attempt a long field goal up by six, which would have put them up by two scores had it converted–and pinned the ‘Hawks deep had it not. Worries of blocks and returns led the Freedom to get cute with a short pass. It was stuffed, giving the SteelHawks’ possession in scoring position with just over a minute to play.
Photo: Noise Nation
At the time, I was thrilled to see the ‘Hawks get the ball back, but worried they might score too quickly. I guess they heard me, because they took it all the way to fourth down before Adam Bednarik found #6 Brandon Renford in the back of the end zone for the TD. Michael Barnard converted the crucial one-point conversion to give the SteelHawks a late one-point lead.
On the ensuing kick-off we debated the proper strategy: Squib it? Try for the Uno? Kick it deep? Kick it into the end zone stands? Ultimately, they kicked it deep, with plenty of hang time, to the Freedom returner positioned deep in the end zone. The return only got as far as the four yard-line as #4 DB Stanley Dunbar, Jr. made a text-book open field tackle to pin the Freedom deep, with less than a minute on the clock.
The Freedom couldn’t convert a first down, and a late deep pass was intercepted. SteelHawks win 48-47. One missed kick. One made kick. One pure tackle. The power of ONE. 1-0 SteelHawks!
Here’s the SteelHawks official account:
Bethlehem, PA: After a hard fought see-saw match up between the Trenton Freedom, the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks came out on top in an exhilarating home opener. The win puts the Steelhawks at 1-0 and atop the National Conference standings as the only undefeated team in their division early on in the 2014 season.
An exciting first quarter from Stabler Arena with two touchdowns within 2 minutes of the start of the game. The Trenton Freedom jumped out to an early 6-0 lead after scoring on the very first play of the game with a 35-yard touchdown pass from QB Warren Smith to Antoine Rivera. The Steelhawks answered back quickly with an 8-yard touchdown run by Brandon Renford (6 rec, 83 yards, 3 td) on their second play. After a successful PAT and uno by Steelhawks kicker Michael Barnard, Lehigh Valley took an 8-6 lead. The Freedom’s offense drove down the field, leading to a touchdown pass from Jaquan Bryant to Roger Jackson. Following a successful two-point conversion, Trenton held a 14-8 lead half way through the opening quarter. The Steelhawks were quick to answer once again with a strong drive ending in a touchdown pass from QB Adam Bednarik (16-27, 182 yds) to Brandon Renford. An even match after one quarter with the game being tied 14-14.
The Freedom started the second quarter deep inside Steelhawk territory, scoring immediately with a 7-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Bryant to take a 20-14 lead. After an out of bounds scrimmage kick from Trenton, the Steelhawks were awarded the ball in good position on the Freedom 20-yard line. Bednarik quickly found WR Scott Pillar in the end zone for a touchdown, and after a successful PAT, Lehigh Valley led 21-20. On the Freedom’s next possession, Steelhawks DB Dwayne Hollis (10 tackles, 2 int) intercepted Warren Smith’s pass giving the Steelhawks their first interception of the season and solid field position. This led to Bednarik throwing his third touchdown pass of the game, connecting once again with Renford, giving him his third touchdown as well (one rushing, two receiving). The Steelhawks held a 28-20 lead until Freedom QB Warren Smith scurried into the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown run, shortening the deficit to only two points. The Freedom quickly regained possession after a missed field goal attempt by the Steelhawks, but were stopped deep in Steelhawk territory to end the half. Steelhawks lead 28-26 at the midway point of the game.
Lehigh Valley started the second half off with a long possession, resulting in a second consecutive missed field goal by kicker Michael Barnard. On the ensuing possession, the Freedom pushed the ball down field resulting in a powerful touchdown run by FB Melik Brown. Following the PAT, the Freedom held a 33-28 lead. Lehigh Valley quickly answered back as Bednarik found Pillar for the second time in the back corner of the end zone to regain the lead late into the third quarter. After three quarters of play, the Steelhawks held a 35-33 lead.
Trenton once again started the quarter in great field position, resulting in a touchdown pass from Smith to Jackson on the first play to take a 40-35 lead. The Freedom defense held the Steelhawks to minimum yardage on their next possession, resulting in a third missed field goal by Barnard. With momentum on their side, the Freedom worked their way down field for another touchdown pass from Smith to Rivera. This touchdown and PAT gave them the largest lead of the game at 47-35, halfway through the final quarter. On the following drive the Steelhawks moved the ball down field as Bednarik connected with OL Darryl Kurtz for his fifth touchdown pass cutting the Freedom lead to six with 2:43 remaining in the game. A Steelhawks defensive stand gave the offense one last chance at the time of the one-minute warning. One chance was all they needed as Bednarik found Renford once again for his fourth touchdown of the game, followed by a made PAT giving the Steelhawks a 48-47 lead with 33 seconds remaining. After a strong defensive effort and a game ending end zone interception the Steelhawks found themselves victorious after the intense season opening match up.
Tonight’s Offensive player of the game is awarded to Brandon Renford having a total of three touchdowns, including the go ahead score with 33 seconds left, and 113 total all-purpose yards. The Special Teams and Defensive award goes to Dwayne Hollis for his consistent efforts on the return team as well as a dominant defensive effort recording 10 tackles and two interceptions.
Steelhawks next contest is on the road, taking on the Harrisburg Stampede (April 11th, 7:30pm). The team returns to Stabler Arena for their next home game on April 26th, 7:00pm kickoff; that game is deemed “Friends and Family Night” presented by ESSA Bank & Trust. A special drawstring backpack will be given away to the first 1,000 fans through the door.
See you at the park, tomorrow! Rain or Shine!