Pioneers’ Larry Kendrick catches a pass and runs for a touchdown past Albany’s Calvin Washington in the third quarter of Friday’s game.Jonathan J. Juka/For the times leader
WILKES-BARRE TWP. — Because of timekeeping rules, there’s no such thing as a hurry-up offense in arenafootball2.
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers, however, demonstrated they could pull off such an offensive approach by quick-striking the Albany Conquest into submission on Friday, 71-46, at Wachovia Arena before 5,396 fans.
Former Albany signal-caller Ryan Vena set a Pioneers and career mark for touchdown passes in a game with nine. He finished 19-of-24 for 319 yards. The Pioneers had only one drive – a four-play scoring march early in the fourth quarter – last more than three plays and faced only two third downs, both of which were converted, all game.
Vena was thrilled with his second victory of the season over his former team and coach Pete Costanza, but was blasé about his record-setting performance.
“It’s cool. I just love playing football,” he said. “It probably means I’ve been in the league too long.”
Vena, af2’s highest-rated QB, rebounded from a three-interception showing in last week’s hard-fought win over Tennessee Valley after not throwing a pick through the first six-and-a-half games.
“We just wanted to make sure we made a good comeback after last week,” Vena said.
The Pioneers defense was just as impressive, coming up with four turnovers, including three in the second half, to break the game wide open.
Chris Royal had two interceptions, the first of which he returned 40 yards for a score midway through the second quarter to give his team a 36-20 lead. His second pick came in the end zone in front of Albany standout Bakari Brown and set up a 16-yard touchdown pass from Vena to Tyreak Saviour for the Pioneers’ largest lead, 64-38, with nine minutes remaining in the game.
Pioneers head coach Rich Ingold said Royal made up for his earlier mistakes, which included giving up a long TD pass on Albany’s second play of the game. Royal, though, finished with a game-high 12.5 tackles and four pass break-ups.
“If we had audio of me during the first quarter talking to Chris, it would be R-rated,” he said. “He wasn’t playing his style, but (the interceptions) that’s what he does.”
Royal now has six interceptions this year, three of which he’s returned for scores.
Another big defensive play came with the Pioneers holding onto a 50-38 lead. Albany had a second-and-goal from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 1-yard line. Quarterback Ryan Hart tossed left to fullback Kanan Sanchez, who couldn’t handle the line-drive pitch, and a scramble ensued for the ball. Pioneers lineman Deon McPhee emerged from a pile with the ball and three plays later, Vena threw off his back foot and Saviour hauled in a 27-yard TD pass.
“I knew we’d be able to score; the thing for us was we had to get some stops,” Ingold said.
Much like its first meeting with Albany here, a 52-43 win on April 14, the game was back-and-forth through the early going. The Conquest (2-5), though, trailed due to point-after kick woes. Jeff Glass missed all three of his PAT kicks in the first half (Demetrious Austrum blocked one) and Albany wound up 2-of-4 on two-point conversions.
Albany drew within 42-32 when Brown caught a 3-yard TD pass from Hart with eight seconds left in the first half and cut the deficit to 43-38 when Hart scored on a 2-yard keeper on the first drive of the third quarter. The Pioneers, however, scored three unanswered touchdowns via Vena scoring strikes.
In his second game as a Pioneer, Buchie Ibeh led the team with six catches for 100 yards and three scores, while Larry Kendrick added five grabs for 94 yards and two TDs. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has a bye next week and returns to action on June 9 at South Georgia.
Brown led all receivers with 15 catches for 150 yards and four touchdowns. Hart finished 31-of-52 for 339 yards, six scores and two interceptions.