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Look Across the Field at the Manchester Wolves

Week 12 of arenafootball2 league delivers a match up between the Florida Firecats and the Manchester Wolves. This is the first meeting between the two teams this season, as the second meeting will be the last game of the regular season. Manchester brings its 5-5 record to Germain Arena in Estero to face the Firecats, who have won 3 straight games and are 7-3 on the season. A win by the Firecats will at least give them a share of the South Division lead. A win by Manchester will give them an all-time series lead over the ‘Cats, 3-2, and will be the Wolves’ 2nd straight win on the road. Not only will Manchester have an all-time series lead over Florida, it will bring the team over .500 and give them a winning record for the first time this season.

Manchester’s head coach, Ben Bennett, commands the Wolves in his third season as leader of the team. In 2005 his first year with the team, he improved their record from 5-11 the previous season to 12-4 and made the playoffs, winning the East division title. Overall, including the playoffs, as a head coach, Bennett is 51-31 all-time. Longtime Firecats’ fans of course will remember Bennett as the head coach who led Florida to the 2004 arena Cup Championship.

The Wolves roster has had some holes to fill this season, but they still have a lot of veteran leadership including the af2’s all-time interceptions leader, #21 Allistair Sebastien who has 31 career picks. Adding even more experience to the defensive secondary, last week Manchester added defensive back #12 Deon Giddens to the mix. Giddens, who stands 5'10 and weighs 185 pounds, joins the Wolves after playing two seasons and winning an ArenaCup title in2005 with the now defunct Memphis Xplorers. In 36 career games, he has collected a 160.5 total tackles, two sacks, nine interceptions, 54 pass breakups and five forced fumbles defensively. On offense, Giddens hauled in 39 passes for 389 yards and six touchdowns, while rushing for one touchdown.

Prior to the addition of Giddens, the Wolves had plugged in two-year veteran David Bailey, Shawn Murray who is on team suspension and the now released rookie Matt Castillo, who was in the Firecats 2007 training camp, in the middle spot of the secondary.

The 2007 season began with questions about the defensive line, like who was going to put pressure on the opposing team’s quarterbacks. That question has been answered by #44 Maurice Fountain who currently ranks 2nd in the af2 with 8.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for a loss.

The Wolves are coming off a home victory which saw its defense force 6 turnovers in a 47-35 victory over divisional foe Albany last week. Manchester was led by ADT Defensive Player of the Game Travis Pugh, who snagged two interceptions for the second time this year to go along with 5.5 total tackles and three pass deflections.

The defense wasn’t the only squad making plays for Manchester against Albany. Wolves’ quarterback #18 Mark Radlinski threw for 207 yards, with 5 touchdowns along the way. Three of the Wolves’ receivers all caught at least one touchdown in the game.

Radlinski is 2-2 as a starter for the Wolves, the 3rd QB to lead the team this season. Brian Zbydniewski began ’07 as the starter but was replaced by Ryan Porter after 2 games. Porter would eventually be traded to Tennessee Valley in exchange for lineman Chad Motte. Wolves QB’s have combined to toss 44 touchdowns and 12 interceptions this year.

The addition of center Chad Motte solidifies a line that has done well protecting the QB this year surrendering just 7 sacks. In fact the Wolves have only given up 12 sacks in the past 2 seasons combined.

Gone this year is receiver Steve “Speedy” Gonzalez, who led the team with 44 TD’s and 1355 yards receiving. Veteran #1 Jarrail Jackson and #10 Ari Confessor have picked up the slack this year and have caught 13 and 17 touchdowns respectively on the year. Add in #7 Patrick Rouzard’s 16 TD receptions and it’s easy to see that Manchester’s offense can strike from anywhere and with anyone stepping to the plate.

Manchest currently sits 2nd in the American East division behind the undefeated Wilkes-Barre Scranton Pioneers (9-0). The Wolves hope to start their playoff-push this week against the Firecats, but the Firecats are only the first obstacle for Manchester as they have the hardest strength of schedule in the af2 thru the final games of the season.