SaberCats-Thunder: What to watch for

SaberCats out to snap three-game skid against winless Thunder

SaberCats-Thunder: What to watch for
April 18, 2014, 10:15 am
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The SaberCats have lost three straight games; the Thunder haven't won yet this year. (SABERCATS)

Nick Laino

Programming note: Watch the SaberCats take on the Portland Thunder tonight at 7 p.m. on CSN Plus (Channel listings)

The SaberCats are in an early season funk as they have lost three straight games. The last two losses at home against conference rivals Spokane and Arizona were especially disappointing.

On top of the skid, the rigors of an 18-game schedule are starting to show; key members on both side of the ball are dealing with injuries. This week the ‘Cats travel back to Portland to face their Week 1 opponent, who they easily handled. Winning cures all, and this week that will be put to the test against a winless Thunder team desperate for a victory.

Here are some things to watch for Friday night:

Anatomy of a streak
The SaberCats are a model of consistency and don't lose more than one game often. This current three-game losing streak is the longest since the infamous seven-game collapse that marred the return of the SaberCats to the AFL in 2011. That seven-game span happened right in the middle of the season, but it is only Week 6 this year, with 12 games to go. Panic has not set in just yet with this group, but they know their losing ways can’t last too much longer. A win against a Portland team that is still searching for its identity will help alleviate some of that angst.

Every rose has its thorn, especially in Portland
Portland has not been able to put four quarters of football yet this season. Last week for three quarters they were in position to hand Spokane its first loss, only to see it implode in the fourth quarter. The Shock outscored the Thunder 28-6 in the frame to win 55-27.

In San Jose’s first meeting, Portland scored on its first possession of the game with QB Darron Thomas running into the end zone for the team’s first ever touchdown. Since then, the Thunder has been outscored 54-0 in the opening quarter. Add to that the revolving door at the most important position -- quarterback.

Local hero and former Oregon Ducks star Darron Thomas has been in an out of the lineup since that inaugural game while a myriad of quarterbacks have followed including former SaberCat Danny Southwick. Enter Kyle Rowley, who was acquired in a trade with Orlando for Portland’s top receiver Jeffrey Solomon. In 2010 with Spokane, under then-offensive coordinator Matthew Sauk, Rowley passed for a career-best 4,428 yards and had 100 TD passes against just 11 interceptions. He also earned Arena Bowl XXIII MVP honors after setting an Arena Bowl record with nine touchdown passes.

Next Man Up
The SaberCats player personal department has been earning its paychecks, finding replacements for fallen starters. To start the year, Russ Michna was knocked out of the game in Portland and replaced by Nathan Thomas, who guided the team to the win and their last win against Philadelphia.

Last week it was Dominique Curry and Odie Armstrong who replaced an injured Huey Whittaker and J.J, Payne.

Curry had to play both WR and LB to offset the loss of Whittaker. He hadn’t played defense since high school, but made a key interception off the rebound net that, at the moment, swung the momentum back in the SaberCats favor on Saturday. Offensively he was a big boost as he rushed for a score and then hauled in a 15 -ard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter.

Odie was able to find the end zone in the first quarter and kept Russ Michna upright for most of the game with his pass blocking ability.

Reggie Gray, who has been the leading receiver not only for the ‘Cats but among all of the AFL, will not be available after suffering an upper body injury Saturday. To fill his spot Mountain View native Doug Williams, who shined in preseason camp will make his AFL debut. Add to the list of injured four offensive linemen and defensive back/return man David Hyland, and the SaberCats resolve is definitely being tested early this season.

 

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