The last time the Pioneers played in front of their home crowd was the beginning of the month.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton will finally return to the familiar turf at Wachovia Arena when it hosts Green Bay at 7:30 p.m. today, but will look like a different team.
Antwun Williams, who was signed on May 6, will get his first start of the season tonight, and coach Rich Ingold is anxious to see the receiver who recorded nearly 2,500 receiving yards in two seasons with Albany in 2007 and 2008.
Williams is also expected to share time at linebacker with fellow receiver Rich Musinski.
“He’s a great, experienced, very productive arena football player and I’m excited to get him on the field,” Ingold said. “I love what he does in practice. He’s a hard guy to match up with in the red zone because of his size.”
Ingold compared Williams to former Pioneers fan favorite and current Bossier-Shreveport Battlewing Buchie Ibeh. Both have dreadlocks and are similar in size.
Another new face to see playing time against the Blizzard is a familiar one – defensive back Chris Royal, a former Rookie of the Year with the Pioneers.
Royal is second on the Pioneers all-time interceptions list with 14, just behind fellow defensive back Micheaux Robinson.
Every Pioneers player will have a problem going up against the Blizzard (4-3) tonight.
The Green Bay defense is second in the af2 in sacks with 21, one behind the Pioneers who lead the league. The Blizzard offense has only allowed five sacks all year, while being second in the league in rushing offense. The Pioneers have given up the 10th most sacks in the league – 10 in seven games.
The Blizzard spread the offense out as four different receivers have at least three touchdowns this year. Orlando Medlock paces the run attack with 134 yards and eight scores.
“They’re not a team that’s going to hang 60 or 70 on you, but they are very efficient,” Ingold stated about his team’s opponent. “It’s going to be a physical, bloody ballgame. This is going to be a game that’s hard-hitting, rough and tough.
“This isn’t going to be a finesse game. It’s going to be two teams getting after each other physically. This is arena football at its best right here.”
On the injury front for the Pioneers, who are coming off a bye week, every impact player is healthy and used the extra week to get rest.
Musinski had a sore ankle before the bye, while offensive lineman Joe Villani’s banged up shoulder is healed. Robinson was also aching before the extra week, but is 100 percent for tonight’s matchup.
Under Ingold, the Pioneers are just 4-2 after a bye week, but they were just 1-1 last year. He hopes a more intense practice week will reverse that trend and bring more victories.
“Going into the bye, I liked the way we were playing, but in the past we’ve had a little difficulty coming off the bye,” Ingold noted. “This year, I had a different approach and worked the guys longer in practice so we can get our timing back. But it came at the right time because some guys are nicked.”
Green Bay Blizzard (4-3)
at WBS Pioneers (6-1)
When: 7:30 p.m. today, Wachovia Arena
Radio: WILK (910-AM, 980-AM, 1300-AM, 103.1-FM), with Rob Neyhard
Internet: Live video streamed via af2 TV at www.niftytv.com
About the Blizzard: Quarterbacked by Gino Guidugli, who has 1,346 yards passing and 21 touchdowns, Green Bay has been a road warrior team this year. The team is 2-0 on the road, averaging 60.5 points in those contests compared to just 44.8 at home.
Prediction: Pioneers 65-60