Saturday was a night laden with positives for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Despite Manchester’s best attempts to stop them, the Pioneers clinched a second-consecutive American Conference East Division championship, locked up home-field advantage for the first-round of the playoffs and won an 18th straight home contest.
The 18 straight wins at Wachovia Arena is second all-time on the consecutive home wins list for arenafootball2. And the 69-40 defeat of the Manchester Wolves gave head coach Rich Ingold his 70th career coaching victory, putting him 70-29 all-time.
“It has a nice ring to it, 70-29,” said Ingold, who said he had only recently thought about hitting the 70-win mark and was glad he was getting his 70th win before his 30th loss. “I usually like to focus on the team things, but that really sounds good to me.”
The night was marred by an incident in the stands, however. After the horn sounded to signal the end of the third quarter, fans in section 119 of the lower level of Wachovia Arena started an altercation over a football that was tossed into the stands.
The incident spread and an unknown number of fans were escorted out of the facility by Wilkes-Barre Township Police and arena security personnel.
Two Wilkes-Barre/Scranton players tried to enter the stands during the melee. Newly acquired wide receiver Bakari Brown and defensive back Micheaux Robinson were both prevented by teammates and coaches from entering the stands.
After the game, Ingold said that both players had family members sitting in or near section 119 of Wachovia Arena and were only trying to keep them out of harm’s way.
“Bakari Brown and Micheaux Robinson, they had family members sitting there,” said Ingold. “They both apologized to me and the team afterward … They were just trying to protect their own.”
Two on-field incidents preceded the altercation in the stands. Both involved Pioneers quarterback Ryan Vena and Wolves lineman Marvin Wright.
In the middle of the first quarter, Wright issued what could have been deemed a late hit on Vena, sent him sprawling to the turf and then continued to pursue the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton quarterback.
When players from both teams came to the aid of their respective teammates, a scrum ensued at midfield and was quickly dispersed.
The Wolves were already down by three touchdowns by that point.
Back-to-back scores by Wyoming Area grad Rich Musinski in the first quarter gave the Pioneers their first big advantage. From there, it seemed to be a complete meltdown for Manchester.
“It was a big momentum swing for us,” said Musinski. “You could feel that changing point in the game.
“After that, they just seemed to be on a downward spiral. The defensive line was yelling at each other; the quarterback was running around like a chicken with his head cut off.”
The second on-field melee came on Vena’s only intereception of the game, just seconds before the incident in the stands.
“I threw that interception on a tipped pass and the defensive lineman tried to hit me in the face,” said Vena, describing how the second on-field melee started. “This is a heated division rivalry. It’s all part of the game.”
What’s to be seen is how the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton organization handles future incidents in the stands of the Wachovia Arena. The response from the Wilkes-Barre Township Police and arena security personnel was almost immediate.
On Saturday night, all the parties involved in the incident were issued citations after being detained at the arena for a short time
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton now sits in first place in the American Conference playoff standings, having clinched the East Division title and home field advantage.
If Louisville wins today versus Lexington, Quad Cities’ loss to Tennessee Valley will move them into the No. 8 seed and a possible first-round game with the Pioneers.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has to play at Florida on Saturday, a game that can either decide No. 1 in the conference or drop the Firecats into second in the American South and fifth in the conference.
“If we win out, we control our own destiny,” said Vena. “Florida is the No. 2 or No. 3 team in the conference right now. They’re a tough team to play at home.”
WHEN: 7:30, Saturday
WHERE: Germain Arena, Estero, Fla.
RADIO: WILK (103.1-FM; 910-AM; 980-AM; 1300-AM)
WHAT’S AT STAKE: For the Pioneers: The Pioneers enter the game leading the American Conference standings, a win over the Firecats keeps them in No. 1 and furthers their chances of an easier first-round game. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has already locked up home-field advantage for the first round. For the Firecats: The Firecats need a win to clinch the American Conference South Division. A loss knocks them down to fourth, or potentially fifth in the American Conference playoff standings after South Georgia defeated Spokane this past week and Green Bay has a matching record.