Head coach Tony Bowick got the game ball, but quarterback Stephen Wasil and wideout Johnny Butler made the largest impact.
The Albany Firebirds finally broke into the win column Saturday with a come-from-behind 50-41 victory over the Mahoning Valley Thunder before an announced crowd of 3,958 at the Times Union Center.
Wasil, the team’s original starting quarterback who missed the last four games with a lower leg injury, fired six touchdown passes, five of them to Butler, a speedster who recently came off the injured list after tearing ligaments in his right ankle.
Albany (1-5) took the lead for good on Wasil’s 30-yard TD strike to Butler with 10:54 remaining.
Mahoning Valley failed to score on its next possession when a
61-yard field-goal attempt came up woefully short and was returned by Anthony Rodriguez.
The Firebirds clinched the game when Wasil hit Alvin Ray Jackson with a delayed crossing pattern in the end zone with 2:40 left.
Lawrence Wade intercepted Thunder quarterback Blake Powers in the last minute to keep the Thunder off the board.
“This feels great. It’s unexplainable what I’m thinking right now. It’s been so long since we won,” said Bowick, who picked up his first victory as a head coach. “We just kept grinding away, trying to put the pieces together. I think we pushed guys to another level.”
Bowick was particularly proud of the way Wasil and Butler played.
“Johnny just had a great game. He’s a tough guy, and he made an impact for us,” Bowick said.
“I think the guys also got a boost with Stephen back because of his experience. We’ve got to think about one game at a time. You can’t win the second game until you win the first, but I told the guys to remember the feeling they had tonight, compared to the way they felt for the last five weeks.”
Wasil completed 26 of 40 passes for 271 yards. Butler caught nine passes for 154 yards.
“I was nervous my first couple of throws,” said Wasil. “I’ve been out for four weeks, and I needed to get a couple of hits to take that nervous feeling away. I thought there was some added pressure, because everyone was waiting for me to come back.”
Wasil said having Butler to throw to increased his confidence level.
“Once we got on the same page in practice, and I saw how fast he was, everything worked out,” he said. “It’s a huge difference finally getting a win under our belt. Nothing was given to us. We took this game.”
Butler, a 6-foot-2, 230-pound former track star at Grambling State, surprised the Thunder with his speedy moves.
“I’m glad to be part of a win,” he said. “I think they take me for granted. I don’t look like I’m that fast, but I had to step it up, because we had one of our top receivers [Christian Wise] out tonight.”
Wise was the Firebirds’ leading receiver, but he was shaken up in last week’s game, and sat out this week after Albany discovered that Butler was ready to go.
After Mahoning Valley missed a 56-yard field-goal try on its first possession, the Firebirds appeared ready to take an early lead, but Jackson fumbled after catching a pass from Wasil, and Ray Williams recovered for the Thunder. Five plays later, Powers hit Quorey Payne with an 18-yard TD pass, and the Thunder had a 7-0 lead.
Albany’s next possession was stopped on the Mahoning Valley seven-yard line, but Wade, a
defensive back from Temple, tipped a pass away at the last second to halt the Thunder’s next drive.
Albany evened the score at
7-7 on Butler’s fingertip grab of a
28-yard TD reception.
But the Thunder quickly took back the momentum on De’Tario Frederick’s 52-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Jamar Landrom intercepted
Wasil on the Firebirds’ next drive, and Powers connected with Frederick for a 35-yard TD strike to open up a 20-7 Mahoning Valley advantage.
Down, 27-15, at halftime, the Firebirds took their first lead of the game at 29-27 with 3:51 left in the third quarter. It was set up by a poor snap on Mahoning Valley’s 25-yard field-goal attempt. Albany took over on the Thunder’s 13-yard line, and Anthony Rodriguez scored on a four-yard run with 3:51 to go.
Butler’s 25-yard TD catch put Albany in front, 36-34, with 14:37 left in the final quarter, but Mahoning Valley recaptured the lead on Powers’ 43-yard bomb to Payne. Powers threw on the run, and found Payne in stride.
Albany went back on top, 43-41, on another Wasil to Butler TD, this time from 29 yards out.
Mahoning Valley 7 20 7 7 — 41
Albany 0 15 14 21 — 50
MV – Payne 18 pass from Powers (Schorejs kick).
A — Butler 28 pass from Wasil (Umstead kick).
MV — Frederick 55 kickoff return (Schorejs kick).
MV — Frederick 35 pass from Powers (kick failed).
A — Butler 10 pass from Wasil (Bednarik run).
MV — Payne 3 pass from Powers (Schorejs kick).
A — Butler 7 pass from Wasil (Umstead kick).
A — Rodriguez 5 run (Umstead kick).
MV — Schubert 29 pass from Poers (Schorejs kick).
A — Butler 25 pass from Wasil (Umstead kick).
MV — Payne 43 pass from Powers (Schorejs kick).
A — Butler 30 pass from Wasil (Umstead kick).
A — Jackson 5 pass from Wasil (Umstead kick).
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