The Albany Firebirds needed two clutch plays and some help from above to win their third straight game Saturday afternoon at the Times Union Center.
Alvin Ray Jackson made a spectacular juggling catch in the end zone to tie the score, 51-51, with 4:39 left, defensive lineman Reggi Paramoure pulled down Manchester quarterback James Pinkney in the end zone for a safety and Chris Koepplin’s 37-yard field-goal attempt bounced off the overhanging speaker system as time expired to help the Firebirds rally past the Wolves, 53-51, in an arenafootball2 game.
Albany, which trailed by 24 points, 38-14, at halftime, improved to 3-5. Manchester dropped to 3-4.
Jackson, who won the JLS Iron Man Award for his fine play on both sides of the ball, had the ball bounce off his hands in the end zone, but he kept his focus and hauled in the floating ball before it hit the boards. Brian Umstead tacked on the PAT, and the Firebirds were finally even with the Wolves after a prolonged comeback.
Manchester took over on the two-yard line, and after two incomplete passes, Pinkney was sacked in the end zone by Paramoure.
The Firebirds got the free kick from Manchester and tried to run out the clock, but Manchester got the ball back on Albany’s 22-yard line with 4.4 seconds left. Koepplin’s field-goal attempt was heading directly for the crossbar until it caromed off the speaker.
“I love them speakers. I hit them all the time in practice,” said Umstead with a laugh.
Albany head coach Tony Bowick praised his entire team for the comeback effort, even though he admitted that the Firebirds didn’t have much life in the first half.
“You shouldn’t be talking to me. Go talk to everyone in that locker room. It was all them,” he said. “I had nothing to do with it. All the guys in there are the ones responsible for this. This is why you have to play right to the end of the game. Hats off to all of them. We were flat, but after a little talk at halftime, they came out ready to play. It was a great effort by all the guys. They realized that we needed to play good defense and to get some turnovers to get back into the game.
“This is a huge win for us. It keeps our playoff hopes alive. We’re still building a foundation. Hopefully, in the next couple of weeks, we can put a roof on this house.”
“We just had to step it up,” said Paramoure. “I didn’t know exactly what happened, but I knew I was close to [Pinkney], and I just got my hand on him. I don’t know if I’m the one who really got him or not. I know Rob [Wright] was there also. But it feels great to come back like this.”
Jackson knew his catch would be one of the keys to the game.
“To tell you the truth, you’ve go give our quarterback credit, because I didn’t run a great route,” said Jackson with a smile. “I got my hands on the ball, and it kind of popped up in the air. The defensive back didn’t get a chance to touch it. I just kept concentrating on the ball, and I pulled it back in. I was kind of thinking that this could be the game. It seemed like forever before the ball came back down in my hands.”
Jackson said this kind of game can make a season.
“We’re still a very young team with only a few veterans. This was the kind of game that shows we can regroup. Coach was tough on us at halftime. He let us know that we had a job to do. The guys grew up today. They went from age 22 to 32 in one game.”
Albany quarterback Stephen Wasil, who has won all three games since coming off the injured reserve list, completed 26 of 41 passes for 346 yards and seven TD passes. Jackson caught 10 passes for 170 yards and three scores. Christian Wise caught nine passes for 129 yards and two scores but had to sit out the second half with a shoulder injury.
Backup quarterback Adam Bednarik moved to wideout on several series and caught two passes for 17 yards, including a touchdown.
“Coach knows I’m versatile and that I’ll do anything to help the team,” said Bednarik, who also played on special teams. “It feels good to be part of a win.”
Pinkney completed 16 of 27 passes for 236 yards and six TD passes to lead the Wolves. Steve Savoy caught nine passes for 142 yards and five TDs.
The Firebirds are idle this week.
Manchester 19 19 6 7 — 51
Albany 7 7 22 17 — 53
M — Messing 28 pass from Pinkney (Koepplin kick).
M — Savoy 25 pass from Pinkney (kick failed).
A — Wise 40 pass from Wasil (Umstead kick).
M — Savoy 9 pass from Pinkney (kick failed).
M — Jefferson 1 run (Koepplin kick).
A — Wise 7 pass from Wasil (Umstead kick).
M — Savoy 20 pass from Pinkney (Koepplin kick).
M — Safety, Wasil tackled by Bryant McNeal in end zone.
A — Bednarik 7 pass from Wasil (Umstead kick).
A — Rodriguez 8 pass from Wasil (Bauer run).
M — Savoy 23 pass from Pinkney (kick failed).
A — Jackson 23 pass from Wasil (Umstead kick).
A — Jackson 43 pass from Wasil (Wasil run).
M — Savoy 7 pass from Pinkney (Koepplin kick).
A — Jackson 9 pass from Wasil (Umstead kick).
A — Safety, Pinkney tackled by Paramoure in end zone.
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