GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM|
Islanders quarterback Darnell Arceneaux had a slow start in last weekend's loss to the Bakersfield Blitz.
division rivals in
They split two games with the Wichita Stealth this season, including a game interrupted by a brawl
The Hawaiian Islanders and Wichita Stealth battled for division supremacy for much of the arenafootball2 season. Tomorrow they'll fight for survival.
The National Conference West Division rivals meet in a first-round playoff game with the memory of their last game, which included a second-quarter brawl, still hanging in the Blaisdell Arena air.
Who: Wichita Stealth vs. Hawaiian Islanders
When: Tomorrow, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Neal Blaisdell Arena
Radio: KUMU2 1500-AM
Tickets: Suite level $22.50, lower level $15, upper level adult $10, upper level children (ages 4-17) $7. Convenience fee will be applied.
af 2 Playoff Schedule
All times HST
Wichita (8-7-1) at Hawaii (10-6), 7:30 p.m.
Bakersfield (8-7-1) at Arkansas (9-7), 3 p.m.
Mohegan (10-6) at Cape Fear (10-6), 1:30 p.m.
Florida (10-6) at Macon (10-6), 1:30 p.m.
Lower remaining seed at Quad City (14-2), time TBA
Higher remaining seed at Tulsa (13-3), time TBA.
Lower remaining seed at Tennessee Valley (14-2)
Higher remaining seed at Albany (13-3)
Conference final, at higher remaining seed.
American Conference final, at higher remaining seed.
At higher seeded team.
"We've got bad blood between the two of us and knowing this could possibly be our last game, both teams are going to come out firing," Islanders defensive specialist Eddie Klaneski said.
After two spirited meetings this season, the Islanders (10-6), the West Division champion, and the Stealth (8-7-1) play for the third time with the winner advancing to next week's National Conference semifinals.
If the Islanders win, they'll play at second-seeded Tulsa on Aug. 9. If Wichita prevails, the Stealth will take on top-seeded Quad City next week.
The losers will pack up their gear for the final time this season.
"The intensity is going to be as high as ever," said Islanders receiver/linebacker Isaac White. "You win you stay in. You lose, you rest until next season."
"Regular season and playoffs are two totally different seasons. In the regular season you have 16 set games; in the playoffs you lose one and you're out."
The Islanders' previous two meetings with the Stealth this season provided testimony of the slender difference between success and failure in arena football.
A breakdown in the Islanders' kick coverage with three seconds left in the game led to a 36-29 Wichita win on May 3. Thirteen days later, a late score sent the Islanders to an emotionally charged 61-55 victory.
The second meeting was interrupted by a brawl that resulted in the ejection of two players from both teams. The squads were sent to the locker rooms to cool off before returning to the field, where the Islanders eventually pulled out the win.
Islanders coach Cal Lee said he doesn't expect hard feelings from the fight to carry over to tomorrow's rematch, but he does foresee a high-intensity battle.
"(The players) are going to be excited, and they should be," Lee said. "Football is a very emotional game, you want that emotion. But you want to make sure that emotion is channeled into the game."
Both teams enter the playoffs having lost three of their last four regular-season games. Wichita fell to sixth in the conference with a 61-59 loss to Cincinnati at home. The Islanders were routed by Bakersfield 75-61 on Sunday.
Wichita returns to Honolulu a different team in a couple of aspects. Days after the loss to Hawaii in May, Stealth coach Bob Cortese stepped down and was replaced by volunteer assistant Sean Ponder. Then the Stealth lost their leading scorer, receiver Michael Dritlein, and leading tackler, Lee Vaughn, to knee injuries in back-to-back games in June.
Wichita quarterback Anthony Buich passed for 3,454 yards and 64 touchdowns in the regular season. Since Dritlein's injury, Shomari Buchanan has emerged as the Stealth's most dangerous scoring threat with 18 receiving touchdowns.
The Islanders, already assured of hosting a first-round game, used Sunday's regular-season finale to rest some of their injured starters.
Klaneski missed his first game of the season to give his aching shoulder time to heal, but he expects to be back in action tomorrow. Receiver/defensive back Anthony Arceneaux suffered a bruised hip in practice last week and also sat out the Bakersfield game, as did lineman Taulia Lave (knee). All are scheduled to return this week.
The absence of two starters in the secondary helped open the way for Bakersfield to score nine touchdowns through the air Sunday.
"When you take one or two guys out that cohesiveness they have among them playing together all these weeks isn't there," Lee said. "All it takes is a little bit of hesitation on any one of these backs and you've got six points going the other way."
The Islanders' quarterback situation is in question following the Bakersfield game. Starter Darnell Arceneaux struggled early, completing one of his first nine passes and throwing two interceptions. He recovered to throw for two touchdowns in the second quarter. In a planned move, Mike Tillis played the second half and completed 10 of 18 throws for 148 yards and four touchdowns.
Lee said the coaches could wait until today's practice to make a decision on who will start tomorrow night.
"I don't think we need to rush it," Lee said.