The Mariners take the field for the first time in the playoff on Thursday against the Reading Express at the Sovereign Center in Reading, PA. The Express are favored to win this matchup against the Mariners, but considering the fact that the Mariners (9-5), swept the Express (11-3) this season, is it safe to say that the hometown team is familiar with the Express?
Since becoming apart of the AIFA (American Indoor Football Association) in 2008, the Mariners played the Express five times and the Express own the series, 3-2, by sweeping the Mariners in three games last year.
The Mariners will face the most explosive offensive player in the league, quarterback Rob Flowers (Kutztown), who ranked first in total offense with 3,481 total yards, led his team in rushing with 262 yards, threw 70 touchdowns and had 10 rushing touchdowns totaling 80 scores. The Express have two, 1,000 yard receivers in Carmelo Ocasio (Indiana), who led the league in receptions (102) and yards (1,204), and Jeff Willis (Langston), who had 83 catches for 1,056 yards. Sounds like an impossible foe to go against for the Mariners who rank 11th in total defense, but they know how to bring havoc upon their opponents, which made them the league leader in interceptions (42) and takeaways (52). What’s more impressive is the Mariners led the league with 14.6 average yards per interception return yards (which is tremendous for a 50-yard playing field) and had the most touchdowns off of picks (11). In transition, the Mariners know how to make things happen, especially against a pass happy team.
The game will come down to the ability of the Mariners to take advantage of the Express’ secondary. The Express finished the regular season with the second ranked scoring defense (32.6 point per game) and rushing defense (21.9 per game), but 12th against the pass. The Mariners don’t have a playmaker at quarterback at like the Express, instead Mariners’ quarterback; E.J. Nemeth (Sacred Heart) is very efficient and have three speedy, physical receivers who are smart that can spread the field – Jamaal Stokes (Alabama State), Scorpio Brown (Morehouse) and Aaron Yarbough (Virginia Military). “We as a receiver core, we play our position and we read defenses and if they decide to double somebody, our QB (Nemeth) will know somebody else is open,” said Yarbough. “He does an excellent job reading that and he will hit the open person.”
No team should be relaxed or comfortable against another team, but being familiar is not so bad. The Mariners have a brief history with the Express and in one season, they made a remarkable turnaround against them. Beside playing hard on the field, four Mariner players were starters on the Express in 2007, offensive lineman/team’s general manager Greg Justice, defensive back/wide receiver Armar Watson (Duquesne), running back (league’s leading rusher) Isaiah Grier (Rhode Island), and defensive back/wide receiver Anthony Jackson (Texas A&M Kingsville). Nemeth was the backup quarterback and Mariners’ defensive coordinator, Steve Gaunt, was the Express’ defensive coordinator at that time. If this was the key to the Mariners success this season, let’s hope for it one more time.