Vipers secure playoff berth with victory
By Skip Vaughn
Special to The Daily
HUNTSVILLE — The Tennessee Valley Vipers got just what they needed Saturday night in their final home game of the season.
They beat the Mahoning Valley Thunder 58-39 before an announced crowd of 3,952 at the Von Braun Center. Coupled with Rio Grande’s 73-68 win over Lubbock, the Vipers earned a playoff berth in arenafootball2.
“Football is a game of inches,” Vipers coach Milt Theodosatos said. “And today we got a lot of those good inches.”
Vipers quarterback Chris Gunn completed 8-of-14 passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns. He also had seven carries for 53 yards and one touchdown.
“I think the defense was definitely a key,” Gunn said. “They kept giving us good field position and some good stops. So hats off to the defense.”
Brandon Isaiah had nine carries for 30 yards and three touchdowns for Tennessee Valley (7-8).
“We stuck together,” Isaiah said. “We’ve been fighting together this whole year. Everybody came out tonight and just did their part.”
Carlos Campbell made two interceptions and also made a net recovery in the end zone for a touchdown.
“I went down just doing my job,” Campbell said of his scoring play. “Hustled to the ball.”
Tennessee Valley struck first on Gunn’s 7-yard touchdown pass to Joel Babb. Steven Lee kicked the extra point for a 7-0 lead at 13:15.
After a defensive stop, Gunn scampered 10 yards for another touchdown. John Cousins ran in the 2-point conversion for a 15-0 lead at 4:04.
Mahoning Valley (6-9) answered with quarterback Mike Schneider’s 39-yard touchdown pass to Chris Johnson at 1:01. Derek Schorejs kicked the extra point, cutting the Vipers lead to 15-7 at the end of the first quarter.
Isaiah’s 7-yard touchdown burst up the middle put the Vipers up 21-7 at 3:33 in the second quarter. Gunn connected with Travis Blanchard on a 10-yard touchdown pass with 23 seconds left. John Bradley took a shovel pass and rumbled in for two points and a 29-7 halftime lead.
The Vipers padded their advantage on the first play of the third quarter when Lee’s kickoff hit the net and was recovered in the end zone by Campbell for a touchdown. Cousins added a two-point run for a 37-7 lead.
Vipers reserve quarterback Tony Colston entered the game and threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Blanchard on his very first play. Lee kicked the lead to 44-7.
The Thunder’s Brian Majors caught a 6-yard touchdown pass from Schneider to cut the deficit to 44-13. After a defensive stop, Schneider threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Kenneth Johnson. The Vipers led 44-19 entering the fourth quarter.
Mahoning Valley took advantage of a Vipers turnover and scored on Tim Murphy’s 1-yard touchdown run.
Isaiah’s 4-yard run and Lee’s kick pushed the Tennessee Valley lead to 51-25. After a defensive stop, Isaiah added a 1-yard touchdown run.
The Thunder’s Kenneth Johnson caught a 10-yard scoring pass from Schneider with 26 seconds left. Mike Andrews made a 1-yard fumble recovery to make it 58-39.
The Vipers will travel next Saturday to face the Louisville Fire in their last game of the season.
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