Published: Monday, July 23, 2007
Vipers send Thunder tumbling
Mahoning Valley's 58-39 loss on Saturday eliminated its playoff chance.
By BILL BRYANT
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. The Mahoning Valley Thunder came into Saturday's game at Tennessee Valley needing a rare win on the road and a lot of help on top of that to keep its slim af2 playoff hopes alive.
It turned out the Thunder was in a much more giving mood than the Vipers.
During the second and third quarters, Mahoning Valley turned the ball over three times, gave up a net recovery for a touchdown and surrendered 29 straight points on its way to a 58-39 loss in front of a crowd of 3,952 at the Von Braun Center.
The Thunder dropped to 6-9 with Saturday's finale coming at home against Green Bay. The Vipers improved to 7-8, clinching a playoff berth in the process.
"There's no excuses," Mahoning Valley coach Mike Hold said. "We just didn't play well."
After allowing back-to-back scoring drives by the Vipers to open the game, the Thunder rebounded briefly when Chris Johnson took a short curl pass from Mike Schneider and turned it into a 39-yard touchdown.
Derek Schorejs' point after cut Mahoning Valley's deficit to 15-7 with a minute left in the first quarter.
But the game turned against the Thunder a couple of drives later.
Schneider was intercepted in the Tennessee Valley end zone by Carlos Campbell, and the Vipers soon afterward turned that miscue into a 7-yard score by fullback Brandon Isaiah. That gave them a 21-7 edge and took a substantial bit of air out of Mahoning Valley.
"You can't throw an interception there," said Schneider, who went 23-of-45 for 236 yards and four touchdowns while subbing for the injured Glen Gauntt.
"If you throw three interceptions like I did, you're not going to win in this league."
Plagued by dropped and otherwise incomplete passes the rest of the second quarter, the Thunder went into the locker room trailing 29-7 at the half.
Mahoning Valley's malaise continued into the third quarter, when it failed to cover the second-half kickoff.
The opportunistic Campbell recovered the ball for the touchdown, and the two-point conversion set the Thunder back 37-7.
"In this game, the team that creates opportunities is the one that's going to be the most successful," Hold said.
"It's a game of momentum, and that creates opportunities. Their players wanted it more tonight. Give them credit."
Vipers strike again
After another Schneider interception and a failed possession, Tennessee Valley struck again when backup quarterback Tony Colston Vipers starter Chris Gunn threw for a pair of scores and ran for another found Travis Blanchard streaking down the field for a 35-yard touchdown.
That made it 44-7 with nine minutes left in the third quarter.
Tennessee Valley got a little sloppy at that point, allowing three touchdowns a 6-yard scoring pass from Schneider to Brian Majors, a 22-yarder from Schneider to Kenneth Johnson and a 1-yard Tim Murphy run in a six-minute span to make things briefly interesting.
But Gunn returned to the game to steady the Vipers and they got a pair of short Isaiah rushing touchdowns to put the issue to rest.
Bill Bryant is sports editor of The Huntsville (Ala.) Times.