Miami 8 @ New York 14

Staten Island, New York, July 8, 2006
It was a fairly warm afternoon as the New York Sharks (8-0) hosted the wild card Miami Fury (7-1) in the first round of the IWFL Eastern Conference playoffs. The Sharks were in the playoff for the fifth year in a row while Miami was playing in their first ever playoff game. But with a lot of rookies on the young New York team, playoff experience was not going to be much of a factor.

The Sharks won the coin toss and as they have been apt to do all season, they elected to defer their decision until the second half. Miami then chose to receive the ball. Coach Vance has done this all season, having great confidence in her team’s defense and so far this year it has not let her down.

After a very short opening kick, the Miam Fury started their first drive in the playoff season in the shotgun formation. But it was only a ruse as quarterback Anonka Dixon handed it off to Natasha Moore who picked up a quick 9 yards. Letting the legs of Moore lead the way, the Fury drove all they way down to the Sharks 5-yard line. Moore carried the ball 6 times for 41 yards as Miami was starting the game by knocking on the Sharks’ door. But deep in Sharks waters, Miami went to the air and almost scored as twice the receiver had the ball bounce off of their hands. Instead of 6 points, the Sharks were able to dodge a huge bullet and got the ball back on a turnover of downs on their own 5-yard line.

New York almost made Miami pay dearly for their mistake as Shark quarterback Karen Mulligan hit Jen Blum for a 26-yard gain to give the team some breathing room. Then Yumi Warner broke out one of her big runs as she got all the way into the Fury secondary as was at the Miami 28-yard line when disaster struck. With defenders coming to her right, she tried to switch the ball into her left hand and the ball squirted out free. Miami recovered the ball on their own 22-yard line and they had dodged their own bullet as well.

In the second quarter the Sharks defense forced the Fury to punt and New York started their drive on their own 38-yard line. On first down, Miami was off-sides but instead of playing it out just stood around while the Sharks took advantage of the free play. Mulligan handed the ball off to Warner who ran down the left sideline for a 15-yard gain. Keeping to the ground, the Sharks meted the ball out to Vivian Alberty, Warner, Mulligan, and Mandy Oppel to get down to the Miami 6-yard line. But it was now fourth down and coach Vance went for it and Warner came through with a 6-yard touchdown run on a pitch to the left side just before the 2-minute warning. Meghann Antonucci kicked the extra point and New York led at halftime 7-0.

At the beginning of the second half the Fury kicked off to the Sharks, but they tried to pull a fast one and went with the on-side kick. The Sharks recovered the ball and had great field position with the ball resting on the Miami 49-yard line. Mixing runners, New York was able to move the ball all the way down to the Fury 5-yard line before the drive stalled. On fourth down, coach Vance sent in Antonucci to attempt a 23-yard field goal. Field goals are generally an anathema to the Sharks. In their long storied history, New York has never, ever made a field goal. So this was kind of a strange sight to see, especially in the playoffs. Antonucci was able to get a decent kick off, but the ball sailed just wide right to keep the Sharks field goaless streak alive and for Miami an opportunity to get back into the game.

Throughout most of the game, the Fury were able to move the ball on the ground but each drive eventually would be stopped by the Sharks defense. Maybe trying to get more life out of his team, the Miami braintrust tried to go to the air. It didn’t work.

Starting their first drive of the second half, Dixon went back to pass but her throw was intercepted by Oppel who would finish the day with 2 interceptions. Oppel was able to return the ball to the Fury 28-yard line. At first New York used Alberty to bash her way through for gains of 7 and 4 yards. Then Oppel came in for gains of 13 and 1 yard. New York was able to get the ball all the way down to the Fury 2-yard line before Warner was tackled for a 3-yard loss. The Sharks now had a fourth down from the Miami 5-yard line. Eschewing the field goal this time, coach Vance rolled the dice and went for the touchdown. Miami made the decision look good as they again were off-sides and instead of playing until the whistle blew, just stood around while Mulligan lobbed the ball to a wide-open Lisa Doran for a very easy touchdown. Tiffany Robinson kicked the extra point and the Sharks had doubled their lead to 14-0 with 5:04 left in the third quarter.

It looked like the game was over when Oppel picked up her second interception in the fourth quarter. But New York could not move the ball as they went to the air and twice the ball did not find the receiver. Time was running out for Miami and they knew it. After stopping the Sharks from cashing in on the interception the Fury caught a break as the fumbled the punt but the ball rolled back towards the original line of scrimmage. They were able to recover it and got the ball near the middle of the field. With their backs to the wall, they went to the air but it was another Sharks interception by Lorrie Greene that stopped the drive. She picked off the Dixon pass and rumbled to the Miami 27-yard line. Staying on the ground this time, New York could only get the ball as close to the Fury 16-yard line before Warner got tackled in the backfield for an 8-yard loss. Coach Vance again went for the rare Sharks field goal attempt from the Miami 30-yard line. Antonucci’s kick was straight but not long enough as the ball fell just short of the crossbar.

With less than 4 minutes left to go in the game, it looked like it was over for Miami’s championship bid, but they came out throwing. Dixon missed more often than not, but she was able to get a big gain by hitting receiver Nicole Pieze for 19-yards and giving the Fury the ball at the New York 34-yard line. Miami got another break as New York got hit with a pass interference penalty that gave the Fury the ball on the New York 21-yard line. Two more pass plays later and the Fury were on the board with just 76 seconds left to go in the game when Dixon hit Kentrel Hill from 6-yards out. They went for the 2-point conversion and Moore ran it in to make the score 14-8 in favor of New York.

The Miami sideline suddenly came to life as they saw they still had a chance. The Fury went with the on-side kick which was more of a hard squibbler up the field. Adrienne Smith had trouble picking up the ball but wisely chose to fall on it to keep it away from Miami hands.

With just a little bit more than a minute to go and with the ball, again the game looked like it was over. But the Sharks braintrust went for the curious move of taking a knee. Miami had two timeouts left and quickly used them. The Sharks then got hit with an off-sides penalty which stopped the clock and New York was forced to punt from their own 26-yard line with only 14 seconds left. The snap for the punt was high and punter Antonucci was able to knock it down and recover the ball before it went into the endzone but Miami now had the ball on the Sharks’ 6-yard line.

The game’s momentum had completely turned around as the Fury who were on the verge of defeat by being down 2 touchdowns only 1 minute ago were now only 6-yards away from tying the game and an extra point away from winning the game. But with things looking tight for the home town team, the Staten Island home town girl came up big. Virginia “Cha Chi” Leon jammed the receiver on the first play from scrimmage and that prevented the receiver from getting to her spot on a timing pattern pass play. Then with only 6 seconds left, Dixon handed the ball off to Moore who ran to her right. Leon shedded her blocker and it was only her that could save the Sharks playoff chances. The veteran came up big as she went low for the legs and got enough of Moore to take her down just a foot away from the goal line. And with that season saving play, time ran out and the Sharks had dodged a major bullet.

New York had just held on by the skin of their teeth to beat the Miami Fury. Things were looking good for the home team with less than 2 minutes left but the team underwent a meltdown with the help of some questionable decisions from the Sharks’ braintrust and some untimely miscues by the players. But through it all, a win is a win and the Sharks advance to the next playoff round. Oppel and Leon received defensive game balls. Oppel twice intercepting Miami passes and Leon for some clutch defensive stops including the game winning tackle. On offense quarterback Mulligan got the bame ball.

The New York Sharks will next play the Atlanta Xplosion on Saturday, July 15th in the IWFL Eastern Conference Championship game. The game will be held at Monsignor Farrell High School in Staten Island, New York. Kick-off will be at 4pm (EDT). The Xplosion advanced to the second round of the playoffs by defeating the Bay State Warriors 41-0. This game will be a re-match of last year’s conference championship game in which Atlanta came out on top by defeating New York, 3-0. But this is a whole new New York team and they hope to write a whole new different story this season. So come out and watch the two best teams in the IWFL Eastern Conference battle it out for a chance to go to the IWFL Championship Game to be held in Long Beach, California on July 29th.

If you can’t make it to the Eastern Conference Championship game, you can still follow all the action as Pat Brown and Dave Maxwell will provide the call on our flag-ship station WFNradio.com starting at 3:45pm.

1 2 3 4 Final
Miami Fury 0 0 0 0 8
New York Sharks 0 7 7 0 14

Scoring Summary
Second Quarter
NY – (02:01) Warner 6 yard run (Antonucci kick)

Third Quarter
NY – (05:04) Doran 5 yard pass from Mulligan (Robinson kick)

Fourth Quarter
MI – (01:14) Hill 6 yard pass from Dixon (Moore run)

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