May 16, 2014, SAN JOSE, CA (ISN) – The San Jose SaberCats (5-3) host the Portland Thunder (2-6) in “NET10 Wireless Arena Football on ESPN” action this Saturday, May 17 on ESPN2.
Ari Wolfe, Anthony Herron and Steve Papin will be on the call from the SAP Center. Kickoff is set for 10:00 p.m. ET.
San Jose should be well rested coming off of a bye in Week 9, while Portland will be looking to get back on track after falling to the undefeated Arizona Rattlers, 61-32, last week. The SaberCats can sweep the three-game series against the Thunder with a win this week. The two teams met in Portland’s inaugural game on March 17. In its AFL debut, Portland struggled on offense, throwing for only 161 yards through the air and San Jose came away with a 64-34 win. After a quarterback change and with some experience under their belt, the Thunder came back stronger in their second effort against the SaberCats in Week 6. With less than five minutes remaining in the game and trailing by only six points, the Thunder drove the ball into the red zone, but the San Jose defense forced a turnover on downs and proceeded to run out the clock, clinching a 38-32 win on the road.
Thunder quarterback Danny Southwick set new single-season passing highs of 48 attempts and 331 yards in Week 9. The key to his success this weekend will lie in the hands of the receiving trifecta of Eric Rogers, Duane Brooks and Douglas McNeil. Rogers hauled in a single-game franchise record 13 passes for 152 yards and four touchdowns last week, earning himself Russell Athletic Offensive Player of the Week honors. McNeil led the Thunder with six catches for 108 yards and two touchdowns in their previous matchup with San Jose on April 18. Brooks has taken his dual-threat role to special teams as well, accounting for a League-leading 876 kickoff return yards so far in 2014. Portland will have to increase their offensive efficiency in the red zone against San Jose as they currently post the League’s lowest mark, converting on 58.3 percent of attempts.
At the other end of the spectrum, the San Jose SaberCats boast the League’s top red-zone offense converting at a 91.3 percent rate. Their offensive strength can be attributed to veteran quarterback Russ Michna, who completed 14-of-24 passes for 149 yards and five touchdowns in Week 8. The southpaw quarterback has found success through the air against the Thunder in the two previous meetings this season, throwing for 416 yards and eight touchdowns with only two interceptions. He has gotten help from wide receiver Jason Willis, who led the ‘Cats with seven catches for 105 yards and two touchdowns two weeks ago. Also looking to continue his breakout season is receiver Rod Harper, who has hauled in 17 passes for 173 yards and three touchdowns in two games against the Thunder this year.
The Thunder will rely on defensive end Donte Paige-Moss to put pressure on Michna. Paige-Moss leads all AFL rookies with seven sacks this season, with his first career sack coming in Week 1 against San Jose. The Portland secondary has posted a combined 13 interceptions on the season, thanks to active defenders like Bryce Peila and Eric Crocker. Peila, a rookie Jack linebacker, has collected a takeaway in all but one game played this season. Crocker, a defensive back who has not made it easy for San Jose in 2014, will look to continue his outstanding defense against the SaberCats after recording 3.5 tackles, an interception and a pass breakup in the two previous games in the series.
San Jose’s defense is anchored by veteran defensive back Clevan Thomas. The Arena Football Hall of Fame Selection accounted for 5.5 tackles, one tackle for loss, a fumble recovery and an interception in his last matchup with the Thunder. Fellow defensive back Ken Fontenette has also protected the backline of the San Jose defense, as he has contributed 45 tackles and 13 pass breakups on the season.