Soul rally falls short against San Jose

Posted: April 23, 2011

SAN JOSE, Calif. - There was much more at stake the last time the Soul and San Jose SaberCats had played each other.

Friday night, the SaberCats earned a small measure of revenge for the loss in the 2008 ArenaBowl championship game by soundly defeating the visiting Soul, 68-61.

The Soul struggled with an efficient SaberCats offense, which had entered the night with an Arena League-high 48 touchdowns this season. San Jose scored the first six times it had the football against an outmanned Soul defense and held off a late, furious Soul comeback.

Soul quarterback Ryan Vena, taking over for starter Justin Allgood, led the Soul back as they nearly erased a 25-point deficit. Vena and Allgood combined to throw seven touchdown passes. Wide receivers Donovan Morgan, Syvelle Newton, and Keith Stokes each caught two scoring passes.

It was the fifth consecutive loss for the Soul (1-5). San Jose improved to 5-2.

The Soul edged the SaberCats, 59-56, in ArenaBowl XXII, just before the league collapsed in the depths of the recession. This season, both teams returned as expansion franchises to a retooled league that had emerged from bankruptcy last year.

The two rosters are very different from three years ago. Only four players on the HP Pavilion field played in that title game - and former Soul defensive star Eddie Moten now is a SaberCat.

But another one of those returning players is San Jose quarterback Mark Grieb, and he sliced up the Soul defense with four touchdown passes Friday.

The SaberCats' offense wasn't stopped in the first half, building a 31-20 halftime lead. But the Soul offense kept the game close thanks to sensational plays and good fortune.

The Soul's first touchdown of the game came on a diving, one-handed catch by Morgan, hauling in a 3-yard pass from Allgood. Later, in the second period, Ty Nsekhe lost the handle on an Allgood pass at the goal line, only to see it pop into the waiting hands of teammate Stokes in the end zone.

But the SaberCats took command early in the third period. First, Grieb found Nichiren Flowers for a 6-yard touchdown. Then Jamario O'Neal intercepted a poor Allgood pass and returned it 10 yards for another score, increasing the San Jose lead to 45-20.

Allgood was replaced by Vena, who immediately added life to the Soul offense. He found Stokes for an 11-yard scoring pass in the third quarter. In the final period, Vena first added a 5-yard strike to Newton. Then he tacked on 45-yard bombs to Morgan and Newton as the Soul roared back into the game.

After a successful onside kick, Vena capped a short drive with a 4-yard scoring run to cut the lead to 62-54 with just 47 seconds remaining.

The SaberCats, though, recovered another onside kick to set up a 4-yard touchdown run. That allowed them to withstand a 25-yard touchdown pass from Vena to Stokes on the last play of the game.

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