Going into the off-season with the momentum of winning a championship can help give a team a boost of continued success. In 2018, the inaugural season of the American Arena League, a unique situation presents itself; a season starting with three teams defending a championship.
The Richmond Roughriders, previously of the Arena Pro Football league, Cape Fear Heroes from the Supreme Indoor Football league, and the Vermont Bucks, champions of the Can-Am Indoor Football League, will all compete in the AAL. Each have their trophies from their previous leagues and looking to repeat the excitement.
The Richmond Roughriders were the only team that headed into their respective championship game with a perfect record. Heading into the Arena Pro Football (APF) championship game, Richmond, 7-0, already had a previous win over their opponent, the Florida Tarpons. They defeated Florida 55-34 on May 6.
The championship game was much closer than the first time around. Richmond and Florida went back and forth. It kept the crowd on the edge of their seats. With just a minute left on the clock, Richmond’s Herb Jones made a leaping dive over the dashers to make an amazing catch and give the Roughriders the lead at 68-61. But as with all arena games, it’s not over until the clock reads zero.
The Tarpons utilized every second left on the clock and started marching for a possible game-tying score. Florida quarterback Chris Wallace went for the chance to win, but a miscalculation and stiff defense ended with Malique Johnson making a pick-six and ending the game with a Richmond win, an 8-0 record, and the Arena Pro Football championship.
The Supreme Indoor Football championship had a different tale. The Triangle Torch (6-1) were heading into the match with an unblemished league record, with their only loss coming from a non-league matchup against Richmond.
The Cape Fear Heroes (4-2) had lost two games, both to The Torch. Hosting the championship in Raleigh, NC, the Torch started out with a bang held the lead, 12-0, in the second quarter before the Heroes bounced back and took their first lead 14-12 with just seconds left before halftime.
In the second half, the lead changed three different times before Heroes’ kicker Brandon McLauren tied the game at 24 with a fourth quarter field goal. A Torch turnover at Cape Fear’s goal line lead to a four play touchdown drive to take the final lead. Cape Fear sealed the deal with another interception with just 15 seconds left on the clock to claim revenge on the Torch and the title of Supreme Indoor Football champion.
The Rochester Kings hosted the Can-Am Indoor Football league championship with an undefeated record and a long awaited shot at taking on the one-loss Vermont Bucks. The Bucks had been cruising all season by destroying their competition and, right before the playoffs, suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Boston Blaze.
This hiccup cost the Bucks home field advantage to the Kings. Rochester made short work of Buffalo in the Western Division finals. Vermont crushed the Central Penn Chargers in the Eastern Division finals.
The championship game itself was closer than both divisional games. Vermont quarterback Steffen Colon threw for three touchdowns, earning the MVP award for the game. The Bucks were crowned champions with a 61-41 final score over the Kings.
With each champion joining the American Arena League home for the 2018 season and all three looking to repeat their winning ways, the off-season has been full of personnel moves. Not only has Richmond hosted tryouts across several states, as well as making big veteran acquisitions, and also upped their coaching staff with NFL level talent. Marvin Jones (New York Jets) was recently named the team’s defensive coordinator.
Vermont is also loading up this off-season with NFL level talent. They signed Tyshon Henderson (Chicago Bears) and Darious Cummings (Tampa Bay Buccaneers).
Cape Fear has taken a quieter approach. The Heroes have signed multiple indoor/arena veterans (Justin Sullivan, Eddie Verrett, Darrius Boyce) that have backgrounds from teams with a history of winning.
The American Arena League has definitely been placed on notice by the returning champions. This upcoming season is going to be the place for drama and excitement.