Firebirds back in playoff hunt

The “P” word wasn’t spoken much during the Albany Firebirds’ five-game losing streak to open the are
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The “P” word wasn’t spoken much during the Albany Firebirds’ five-game losing streak to open the arenafootball2 season, but playoffs are back in the conversation, now that the team has turned things around.

Albany, 4-6 and tied for second place in the East Division of the American Conference following last week’s 48-46 victory over the Manchester Wolves, hosts the 1-9 Mahoning Valley Thunder tonight at 7 at the Times Union Center. The game will also feature a reunion celebration of former Albany Firebirds players.

“I knew we could get in a sit­uation where we could make a push for the playoffs,” said Albany head coach Tony Bowick. “We had to find the right pieces to do it. I had all the confidence in the world that we could turn things around. All we had to do was to get them to play their game, and not worry about mistakes. Just play football, and make the right plays. We’ve got good chemistry now.”

Bowick said the Firebirds could be in even better position if they hadn’t lost their last home game to the Milwaukee Iron two weeks ago, when the Iron sacked quarterback Stephen Wasil on the final possession of the game.

“I told our guys after our last home game that we can’t let teams come in here and start a winning streak of their own,” Bowick said. “There are teams that come into our building that we’re supposed to beat. We can’t give away any momentum. We’ve got to beat the teams we are capable of beating, and we shouldn’t be waiting until the final plays of the game to do it.”

One of the players who has been behind the Firebirds’ success is wide receiver/linebacker Alvin Ray Jackson, who was named the league’s IronMan of the Week. Jackson registered 41⁄2 tackles, a fumble recovery and a pass break-up on defense, while making six catches for 71 yards on offense.

“Alvin can do so many things for us,” Bowick said. “Along with guys like Christian Wise, he has really stepped up for us on both sides of the ball. I think that award was good for him. He’s been playing so well pretty much all year. He struggled a little early, but that was because he had to get in better shape. He has to do so many things for us now. That’s why they call it the IronMan award.”

Wasil threw for 300 yards and six touchdown passes last week against Manchester to extend his streak to four straight 300-yard games. In his six starts, Wasil has a 115.82 passer rating with 1,595 yards and 33 touchdowns.

Wise was held under 100 receiving yards for just the second time this season, with 85 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Wolves, but he ranks fourth in the league in receiving yards per game (127.4) and all-purpose yards per game (193.1). Jared Jones caught a pair of TDs for Albany las week and now has five catches for 63 yards and three scores in his two games since returning to the club.

The list of returning Firebirds players includes Reggie Barlow (1996), John Chaney (1991-92), Fred Gayles (1990-96), Myron Jefferson (1991-93), Mike Delaney (1993-94, 1998), Pete Porcelli (1990-1993), Mitch Suplee (1992-96), Leroy Thompson (1996-2000) and Mark Valvo-Briggs (1993-2000), along with current coaches Chad Dukes (1996-98), Charlie Davidson (1996-97) and Bowick (1996-97).

“It will be good for the fans to see some of the guys who got it started in the early 1990s, and get a chance to catch up with the old-timers,” said Bowick. “It’s good for the organization and for the fans. It will be nice to see some familiar faces. Hopefully, we’ll get a win, and make it an even better celebration.”

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