Philadelphia PA – In possibly the most anticipated matchup of the season, the Philadelphia Soul (9-0) defeated the Tampa Bay Storm (7-2) by a score of 62-41. Coming into the game, these two teams were clearly the best performing in the league, and their 56-52 result on April 15th proved this game could have gone either way. The Soul began the night with the best scoring offense in the league, totaling an average of 59.4 points per game against their opponents.
Philadelphia set the tone in their first drive, starting with a big passing gain to Ryan McDaniel, and finishing with Soul quarterback Dan Raudabaugh finding Darius Reynolds for what would be his first of 5 touchdowns. Tampa Bay’s top wide-out Joe Hillis found the end zone, hinting that this game was going to be a back and forth shootout. Hillis’ touchdown gave him a score in 77 consecutive games, and he is now just one off the league record.
Those dreams of a high-scoring Storm first quarter were quickly quelled by a tough Soul defense that kept quarterback Randy Hippeard constantly being flushed out of the pocket, and throwing the ball into the stands numerous times. A forced fumble and multiple 4th down stops helped Philadelphia get out to a 28-7 lead. Even though Tampa Bay would climb back to within a touchdown, the Soul offense scored at will on their way to their highest point total in the past three games.
Soul fullback Mykel Benson put in his best performance of the season, running the ball in for 4 touchdowns, scoring only a total of 11 in the 8 previous games. His highlight reel play was steamrolling Storm defensive back LaRoche Jackson on the goal line late in the 3rd quarter, putting the Soul up 48-28 and essentially sealing the victory. A confident offensive line, combined with Benson’s size, gives coach Clint Dolezel a valuable asset in close yardage situations.
This may have been the Soul’s most impressive win of the season on both ends of the football. Raudabaugh and Reynolds showed they can still score at will, even against the team they may end up playing in the finals if the playoffs finish true to the standings. Ryan McDaniel did not find the end zone, but was very active with 6 catches, forcing Tampa to pick their poison when it came to covering the best receiving tandem in arena football.
“All three phases were on tonight,” coach Dolezel said in his post-game press conference. “We were solid on coverage all night long…we got after Hibbeard, and that’s the difference in the football game. We’re tough to beat when all those things are happening.” When talking about the ground game, he said “You can’t have any kind of running game without a good offensive line. We have a bunch of veterans that know how to take care of each other on and off the field.” Asked about Benson’s trucking touchdown, Dolezel chuckled a bit. “Well, I wouldn’t get in front of that man. He’s about three bills if not more. You gotta go low there, don’t want to take a big man like that up top.”
Philadelphia will travel to Cleveland next week, just two games removed from their 59-49 win over the Gladiators. The road to repeat continues, and for the moment, there’s no sign of it slowing down.