Saturday's game was not only the first win in the AIFA for the Heroes over Canton, the game marked the return of former Marshall linebacker Michael "Kool-Aid" Owens to the Heroes line-up. Owens, who played a full season with Huntington in 2006 and 2007, came out of retirement to record 10.5 tackles, seven solo stops, a tackle for loss of minus-11 yards, a half-sack and intercepted a ball late in the fourth quarter and returned it for a 40-yard score that sealed the final score at 49-6.
"Slowly but surely, I am trying to get back into it," said Owens. "I'm excited to be back and to get the victory." Defense was a big part of the win, holding Canton to a single score after the Heroes had taken a 24-0 lead at half and 37-0 by the fourth quarter. Constant pressure on the Legends quarterback, Jamie Williamson, led to five sacks, nine tackles for loss (minus-53 yards) and only 13-of-29 passing (45 percent), with the one interception by Owens. In addition, defensive end Jusin Komondores recovered a bad snap in the end zone on the last play of the first half for a touchdown.
Getting pressure was something Keaton had stressed all week, and that was helped when Chandler "Goose" Blakely moved back to defense with Josh Pugh's return to the offensive line. Blakely had 5.5 tackles, five solo, three tackles for loss and a sack. "Coach stressed all week, if we get pressure on them, they will throw interceptions and what did we get, two on the night?" asked Owens, but Larry Thompson, who broke up three passes, had what appeared to be his seventh interception of the game but the play was wiped out by a Huntington penalty. "We just had to bring pressure and we knew that if we did, they would give it up. We did that and it came out great for us."
Owens and a few other players on the current roster, including offensive lineman Chris Barnes, defensive back Craig Chisholm and defensive line coach Kevin Bruce were part of the team the last two years that had never beaten Canton. "It was great, it was great," said Owens, who was a Sports Illustrated All-Bowl selection in 2000 for his play as the Defensive MVP in the Motor City Bowl win over Cincinnati by Marshall. "We have been looking for that time to step up, and I'm glad I came back tonight just for that one."
Barnes, who had one of the league's best defensive players on him in Dante Booker, was excited about the win and about holding the former Auburn Tiger to just a half-tackle on the evening. The offensive line of the Heroes did not give up a sack in the game. "Canton had this one coming real bad," said Barnes, another former member of the Thundering Herd. "That last regular season game (in 2007), when we lost to them in overtime had to be the most disappointing loss I've had in my football career, next to Kansas State in '06 at Marshall(when the Herd threw an interception in the waining seconds, missing a field goal chance to win the game). To come out here and beat them for 60 minutes, it felt great. I had Booker in 'man' most every play, and Coach had called me out during practice this week by saying, 'great players get discovered by playing great against great players.' I tried to, I think I did. Coming in, I was nervous, but on the first play I hit him and he hit me and he was on his back and I thought, OK."
While the defense of the Heroes was wrecking the offensive scheme of the Legends, holding Canton to just 100 yards of total offense and an average of just 2.0 yards per play, the offense overcame some early drops to put 35 of the 49 points on the board. Quarterback Darnell Kennedy continued his improvement despite just hitting 8-of-20 passing, but six of those misses were either dropped or off the hands of receivers. He passed for 117 yards and three touchdowns, three to Tario Frederick. Backup QB Haven Mosley saw action for the first game since the opener, and threw one touchdown to Jay Jackson while hitting 2-of-3 for 30 yards. Frederick, who sat out last week in a four-receiver rotation to keep those players fresh, caught seven passes for 108 yards including scoring strikes of 26, 13 and 13 yards. Jay Jackson caught just one pass for seven yards, but it was for a touchdown. Kennedy also scored on the ground by sneaking in a touchdown.
Keaton was happy with the win. "We came out this week and worked hard, but it looked a little rusty early with some dropped balls, and the timing from quarterback to receiver," said Keaton, now 52-8 the last five years coaching indoor football. "I was proud of how the troops came together and gave Huntington its first win over Canton." He was also happy with the play of Owens, a big crowd favorite. "I was happy for Kool-Aid and everything went well. The only thing we didn't have for him was an oxegen tank, he is just a little out of football shape," said a smiling Keaton, talking about Owens' 40 yard dash for a score.
Huntington will travel next Friday to Florence, South Carolina, for a game next week, scheduled to be heard on ESPN 930-AM live from the game. Broadcasts are also available after the game as a pod cast at www.wrvc.am on the internet.
CANTON 0 0 0 6 -- 6
HUNTINGTON 10 14 13 12 -- 49
7-0 HH 7:59 Tario Frederick 26-yard pass from Darnell
Kennedy (Jason Cherry kick).
10-0 HH 0:49 Cherry 19-yard field goal.
17-0 HH 5:13 Frederick 13-yard pass from Kennedy (Cherry kick).
24-0 HH 0:00 Justin Komodores fumble recovered in the end zone (Cherry kick).
31-0 HH 11:53 Kennedy 1-yard run (Cherry kick)
37-0 HH 2:00 Frederick 13-yard pass (kick failed)
37-6 CL 13:45 Victor Smith 19-yard pass from Jamie Williamson (kick failed)
43-6 HH 11:15 Jay Jackson 7-yard pass from Haven Mosley (pass failed)
49-6 HH 6:42 Michael Owens 40-yard interception return (run failed)
First downs 8 12
Rushes-yards 18-31 10-33
Passing yards 69 147
Total yards 100 180
Passes 13-29-1 10-23-0
Fumbles-lost 4-1 0-0
Penalties-yds. 6-32 2-10
Rushing -- Canton: Justin Strickle 2-17, Williamson 13-16, Jesse Wells 1-1, Damion Chambers 2-minus 3. Huntington: Charlie Rollins 6-32, Kennedy 3-1, Jermaine Blakely 1-0.
Passing -- Canton: Williamson, 13-29-1, 93 yards. Huntington: Kennedy 8-20-0, 117 yards; Mosley 2-3-0, 30 yards.
Receiving -- Canton: James Hawkins 6-41, Tim Smith 4-37, Victor Smith 1-19/TD, Jeffery Tillman 1-7, Jesse Wells 1-minus 11. Huntington: Frederick 7-108/3 TD, Octavious Day 1-23, Rollins 1-9, Jackson 1-7/TD.
Defense -- Huntington: Michael Owens 7 solo, 10.5 tkls, 1.0 tfl (-11), int (40-yd. return/TD), qbh; Odell Willis 6 solo, 6.5 tkls, pbu, 4 qbh; Chandler Blakely 5 solo, 5.5 tkls, 3 tfl (-22), qbs (-8); DeLeon Raynor 5 solo/tkl, tfl (-1); Otheese Wells 3 solo, 4.0 tkl, 2 pbu; Jermaine Blakely 2 solo, 3.0 tkl, 2 tfl (-8), 1.5 qbs (-5), qbh; Larry Thompson 2 solo, 3.0 tkl, 3 pbu; Brandon Johnson 2 solo, 2.5 tkl; Craig Chisholm 2 solo, 2.5 tkl; Justin Komondores 2 solo, 2 tfl (-11), fr (TD), 2 qbs (-11), 5 qbh; Tario Frederick 1 solo. KEY-solo/individual tackle; tkl/tackle total (1 pt. for solo, 0.5 for assist); tfl/tackle for loss; qbs/quarterback sack; int/interception; fr/fumble recovered; pbu/passes broken up; qbh/quarterback hurries.