It’s no coincidence that the Albany Firebirds turned their season around when starting quarterback Stephen Wasil returned seven weeks ago from a knee injury suffered in the season opener.
Wasil, a second-year pro from Albion College, has thrown for at least 300 yards and five touchdown passes in six consecutive weeks, and in seven starts, he has a 113.50 passer rating to go along with 2,241 passing yards, 45 scoring strikes and only eight interceptions. His 280.1 passing yards per game ranks third in the league.
Wasil will try to win his sixth game of the season when Albany (5-7) hosts Peoria (3-8) tonight at 7 at the Times Union Center. The game will be a rematch of last week’s matchup in Peoria, Ill., when the Pirates pulled out a 46-42 win. Peoria is coached by former Albany head coach Mike Hohensee, who led the Firebirds to a 27-11 record and three straight AFL playoff appearances from 1994-96.
Although Wasil had another solid game last week, he said the Albany offense wasn’t clicking on all cylinders against the Pirates.
“Offensively, we scored on the first possession. After that, for whatever reason, we were flat. Our timing was off a little bit,” said Wasil. “Our timing was affected just enough not have any rhythm with our offense. Our defense definitely did their part. They gave us opportunities to take the lead several times, but we couldn’t get it clicking. We’ve been good at getting four or five touchdown drives in a row, but we just couldn’t get it going last week.”
The Firebirds are tied for second with the Manchester Wolves in the af2’s American Conference East Division, but Albany has the tiebreaker for the playoffs.
“We thought from day one that we had the talent and the schemes to be a playoff team,” Wasil said. “We bounced back after five straight losses. Everybody has the attitude now that we control our own destiny. We don’t have to be helped. We can keep winning and earn a playoff berth by ourselves.”
Wasil’s receiving corps includes top deep threat Christian Wise, who was unavailable to the team last week; Anthony Rodriguez, who filled in for Wise and caught two first-half scores; Jared Jones, who caught a season-high eight passes for 83 yards and a touchdown against the Pirates; and two-time JLS IronMan of the Week award winner Alvin Ray Jackson, who caught 13 passes for 127 yards and a score. Jackson, who made a league-record five interceptions two weeks ago, has 67 receptions for 688 yards and 17 TDs, to go along with team-highs in tackles (43), interceptions (7) and fumble recoveries (4).
Other top defenders for Albany are defensive back Kenneth Williams, who made eight tackles and recovered two fumbles last week, and EJ Whitley, who forced a fumble against the Pirates.
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