SAN JOSE -- The San Jose SaberCats (1-0) defeated the Portland Thunder (0-1) 64-34 in front of 8,509 fans at the Moda Center in Portland on Monday Night. San Jose came out firing on all cylinders in the first game of the 2014 season, and pulled away from the Thunder thanks to a big night from wide receiver Reggie Gray and stellar defensive play. Gray finished the night with six catches for 102 yards and 4 touchdowns.
“I thought my guys played hard, they came out and did what they had to do,” Owner/Head Coach Darren Arbet said after the win. “They took care of business. I liked the way they played.”
The Thunder received the ball to open the game, and marched down the field for their first points in franchise history. Quarterback Darron Thomas snuck in the end zone on the quarterback keeper to put the Thunder up 7-0. After a failed onside kick, the SaberCats wasted no time getting on the board. On their first offensive play from scrimmage, quarterback Russ Michna found familiar target Gray for the 16-yard touchdown reception, his first as a member of the SaberCats. After forcing a turnover on downs, Michna connected with wide receiver Rod Harper for an 11-yard touchdown reception, also his first with San Jose, putting the SaberCats up 13-7 after one quarter of play.
Opening up the second quarter, after another turnover on downs by the Thunder, the SaberCats offense made it three-for-three, as Michna connected with Gray from four yards out to bring the San Jose lead up to 20-7. The Thunder would answer right back as quarterback Nathan Enderle reached the end zone on a one yard QB sneak. Kicker Nich Pertuit would extend the SaberCats lead with a 24-yard field goal, but the Thunder would answer right back. Enderle found wide receiver Jeffrey Solomon on a 34-yard bomb for the first passing touchdown in team history. However, a missed extra point kept the score at 23-20. On the next possession, Michna and Gray hooked up for a third time in the half, connecting on a 32-yard busted play, increasing the SaberCats lead to 30-20. After the defense forced its third turnover on downs of the half, Michna spotted a wide open Jason Willis for the four-yard touchdown reception, putting the SaberCats up 37-20. With Darron Thomas back in the game, the Thunder executed a last minute drive after a failed San Jose onside kick attempt. Thomas connected with wide receiver Duane Brooks on fourth down to bring the score to 37-27 San Jose at the half.
Nathan Stanley opened up the second half at quarterback for the SaberCats, but the team didn’t miss a beat. Sandwiched around another Portland turnover on downs, San Jose added touchdowns from fullback JJ Payne on a six yard run and Gray, his fourth of the night, on a 20-yard completion. After interceptions by SaberCats defensive back David Hyland and Thunder defensive back Bryce Peila, the score was 50-27 SaberCats at the end of three quarters.
Opening up the fourth, the SaberCats kept their foot on the pedal. After forcing a fifth Thunder turnover on downs, Stanley connected with Willis from 21-yards out, increasing the lead to 57-27 San Jose. The teams traded touchdowns midway through the fourth, as Enderle connected with Brooks and Stanley hooked up with Harper, bringing the score up to 64-34 SaberCats. With no scoring in the final five minutes, the final result was a SaberCats 64-34 victory over the Portland Thunder.
For the SaberCats, starting quarterback Michna, playing in only the first half, went 12-for-16 for 166 yards with five touchdown passes and no interceptions. Stanley, who entered at the start of the third quarter, went 8-of-14 for 89 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. Harper, in his first game in green and gold, added ten catches for 105 yards and two scores. Hyland led the way on defense, racking up four tackles and an interception. Linebacker Huey Whittaker added six-and-a-half tackles, and defensive back Ken Fontenette added five tackles.
For Portland, Darron Thomas led the way on offense , completing 11-of-27 passes for 73 yards and two total touchdowns. Brooks hauled in seven passes for 58 yards and two scores, and Solomon added one score. Defensive back Dwight Mclean recorded six solo tackles, while Peila recorded three-and-a-half tackles and an interception.
The SaberCats are back in action on Sunday, March 29 as they host the Philadelphia Soul (0-1) at the SAP Center at 5:00 pm. The game can be found on the radio on KNBR 1050.
Courtesy San Jose SaberCats media services