Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coach Rich Ingold always stresses the importance of a strong defense.
In 2008, the Pioneers led the league in defense allowing a stingy 37.8 points per game. They followed that performance in Week 1 holding Manchester to just 28 points, grabbing three interceptions and registering three sacks.
“Our job is trying to get the ball for our offense as much as possible so any type of turnovers we can create or havoc we can cause for the opposing offense, that’s pretty much our job,” said Pioneers defensive back Micheaux Robinson, who had two interceptions in last week’s win to take sole possession as the team’s all-time leader in picks with 16.
If that team performance is indication of what’s going to happen tonight at the Wachovia Arena when the Pioneers host the Albany Firebirds at 7:30, WBS might earn a shutout.
The Firebirds (0-1) are coming off a sloppy outing in their season opener when they committed six turnovers (2 interceptions, 4 fumbles) and dropped the ball on the turf three more times but fell on it before their opponent. Their quarterbacks, Adam Bednarik and Stephen Wasil, were pounded into the turf for six sacks by the Mahoning Valley defense.
Mahoning Valley also fumbled three times and only tallied 182 passing yards. Albany totaled 259 yards, while the Pioneers had 276 in their season-opening win.
Still, after the lackadaisical performance in the game Ingold watched between Albany and Mahoning Valley, the coach knows his team can not look past the opponent, which is an East Division rival that the Pioneers will play three times in the next four months.
“They struggled, but they have some players,” Ingold said. “The thing I worry about after (watching that game) is our players taking them lightly. It’s pro football, you don’t take anyone lightly. You could tell it was just their first game.”
Though for a second straight home game to start the season, the Pioneers should have the advantage as they have won 18 straight regular-season games at the Wachovia Arena dating back to 2006.
“Our players have to play with a much higher intense level at home because of the crowd,” Ingold added. “I can feel their energy. I’m not even playing, I’m coaching, but even I can feel the energy.”
Ingold also wants to see his team put teams away early. Last week, the Pioneers went up 17-0 early but Manchester stuck around and pulled within three points twice, despite Wilkes-Barre/Scranton forcing early turnovers and turnover on downs.
“We had many opportunities to go up three scores and we didn’t do it,” the coach admitted. “We got early turnovers but then our offense sputtered. We got to get that killer instinct.”
A killer instinct and a suffocating defense should help the Pioneers get off to a 2-0 start.
Week 2 af2 Coaches Poll
1. Spokane …369
2. Pioneers… 309
3. Tulsa …292
4. Green Bay… 278
5. Arkansas… 257
6. South Georgia… 222
7. Oklahoma City… 221
8. Quad City …197
9. Iowa …193
10. Boise …167
11. Stockton… 143
12. Tennessee Valley… 123
13. Rio Grande Valley …117
14. Bossier-Shreveport …104
15. Mahoning Valley… 93
16. Central Valley …82
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers (1-0)
vs. Albany Firebirds (0-1)
When: 7:30 p.m. today at Wachovia Arena
Radio: WILK 910-AM, 980-AM, 1300-AM, 103.1-FM with play-by-play from Rob Neyhard.
Internet: Live video streamed via af2 TV at www.niftytv.com
About the Firebirds: The team has changed its nickname after being known as the Conquest since its inception. The Firebirds lost their opener to Mahoning Valley, 44-34 last week on the road. Quarterback Adam Bednarik threw for 217 yards and three touchdowns. He was however, sacked six times and intercepted twice before leaving with an injury.
All in all, the Firebirds fumbled the ball seven times, losing four and were sacked seven times in a sloppy show.
Prediction: Pioneers 62-21