The Soul was down by two with 6 seconds left last night.
The offense had been sloppy most of the evening. The quarterback had less rhythm than a ballet dancer holding a cinder block. Still, the game was up for grabs. The only place to turn was the star receiver.
Donovan Morgan caught a 4-yard touchdown on the final play of the game as the Soul escaped with a 39-37 win over Milwaukee. The play came on a desperation flip from Ryan Vena, who overcame a sluggish start to lead the Soul to its second consecutive win.
"[Vena] couldn't see the guy that was wide open, and he freelanced," Soul coach Mike Hohensee said. "The one time it paid off for us, it won us a game."
The Soul didn't score its first offensive touchdown until less than a minute remained in the first half. The Soul's 14-10 lead at intermission was the lowest-scoring first half in team history. The scoreless first quarter was only the third time that had happened in team history.
You'd have thought Cole Hamels and Jeff Karstens were out there.
"We just weren't mentally ready," Morgan said. "We were playing Milwaukee's game and not our game. In the second half, we started playing Philadelphia Soul football."
Hohensee said he would have pulled Vena if he had a better option. Backup Brandon Kirsch, acquired in a trade in mid-May, hasn't impressed in practice.
"If you can play that poorly and still win a football game, you've got a good football team," Hohensee said. "That's what this thing is all about: our team. Not everybody is going to have a perfect game every week. He's going to have a great game, hopefully coming up here next week."
Vena didn't throw an interception on the first play of the game as he did last week. Last night, he was picked off on the second play: a pass off a lineman's helmet that was fielded by Marcus Everett. His other pick came when a ball caromed off the net behind the end zone. Live ball, you know.
"Sometimes, you get into a slump. I think that's what it was early on, to be honest with you," Vena said. "[The interceptions] will be the focus, and I take blame for that. Still, I've got to get better. The second half, I showed what I could do. We scored every time we had the ball."
After going 7-for-16 in the first half, Vena was 12-for-15 in the second, including four of his five touchdowns.
The winning score followed a two-play drive that culminated with a 43-yard touchdown by Morgan. It wasn't exactly Manning-to-Wayne beauty, sort of underthrown actually, but it got the job done.
The Soul, which avenged a last-play loss at Milwaukee in Week 4, scored 19 points in the fourth quarter - three touchdowns by Morgan and an extra point.
"A couple of the guys came to me and said, 'This is the time you need to take over,' " said Morgan, who had seven catches and a game-high 110 yards. "Honestly, I'm a very humble guy, but I felt like Kobe Bryant in the fourth quarter. I wanted to take the winning shot. I went to coach Hohensee and told him that, and he obliged me and gave me the ball."
Mike Brown, who missed last week's game with a back injury, returned to the lineup . . . Brandon Perkins scored the game's first touchdown with a fumble recovery in the end zone . . . Brent Holmes, a key member of the Soul's 2008 championship team, led Milwaukee with nine catches for 89 yards . . . Milwaukee quarterback R.J. Archer had only one touchdown pass. The Mustangs' other four TDs came on the ground, a serious AFL anomaly . . . Archer was part of the William & Mary team that lost to Villanova in the national semifinals in 2009. He threw an NCAA playoff-record 98-yard TD pass that night. Villanova went on to beat Montana in the championship game the following week. *