WENATCHEE — The inaugural season of the Wenatchee Valley Skyhawks came to an end on Sunday with a 28-27 first round playoff loss to the visiting Reno Express. The crazy part of this game is the Skyhawks have several chances to take the lead in the final minute, but just fell short.
First half turnovers put the Skyhawk in chase mode in the second half. Things started off slowly, especially for an arena football game. WV went four-and-out on their first possession. Reno drove down to the WV one-yard line on their first possession, only to be turned back by the Skyhawk defense.
Wenatchee Valley drove down to the Reno 15-yard line and tried a 30-yard field goal by kicker Dan Kleckner. He missed the kick, the first of several crucial misses on the night.
After the missed kick, the Express took over at their own 5-yard line. Two plays later, a Skyhawk sack produced the game’s first score, a safety. WV led 2-0 with 1:19 to go in the first quarter.
After receiving the kickoff after the safety, the Skyhawks took over at their 20-yard line. After a penalty and sack, Jarvis Alston passed 48-yards to DaVonte Solomon for the score. WV led 9-0 with the extra point.
Reno wasted little time coming back as quarterback DeAndrea Churchill raced 30-yards for the score. With the two-point conversion, the Express took the lead 9-8.
The Skyhawks came back with a 7-play, 25-yard drive. Solomon scored on a 5-yard run. WV led 15-8 with the missed extra point. The Express came back with another one-play drive, as Churchill passed 30-yards to Greg Turner for the score.
Reno was playing without a kicker, so they went for the 2-point conversion again and missed. WV still led 15-14 with 3:11 left in the half. The Skyhawks fumbled on their next possession, giving Reno the ball on the Skyhawk 15-yard line.
The Express drive was stymied by an EJ Armstrong interception with 39 seconds left in the half. Unfortunately, the Skyhawks fumbled again. Reno scored again in one-play as Churchill passed 35-yards to Turner for the score.
With the 2-point conversion, the Express led 22-15 at the half.
“We had our opportunities. I really think the difference in the game was the first half turnovers,” said Wenatchee Head Coach Keith Evans. “We definitely beat ourselves by not securing the football.”
Reno took the second half kickoff 25-yards in four plays for the touchdown, a Churchill 5-yard run. That gave the Express a 28-15 lead with the missed conversion.
Next Skyhawk possession, Alston was intercepted. Again, the defense stepped up and forced Reno to give the ball up on downs. Wenatchee Valley took over at their on 23 yard line. Two plays later, Alston ran 2-yards for the score.
The Skyhawks cut the lead to 28-21 with the missed extra point. The defense stepped up again, forcing Reno to give the ball up on downs with 9:48 left in the game. WV took over at the own 20-yard line.
After a couple Alston runs, he connected with Wesley Gray for the 19-yard touchdown. Sadly, the Skyhawks could not tie the score due to the missed extra point. WV still trailed 28-27 with 6:16 to go in the game.
The Skyhawk defense stepped up again, forcing Reno give it up on downs. Remember, there is no punting under Indoor Football League rules. Wenatchee Valley took over on their own 20-yard line with less than a minute to go.
Runs by Alston and running back Jordan Laurico set WV up on the Reno 10-yard line. Kleckner came in to try the 20-yard field goal to win the game with 23 seconds remaining. He missed the kick, but amazingly, roughing the kicker was called.
The Skyhawks tried to throw for the TD a couple times with the clock winding down. With 6 seconds left, Kleckner tried a 25-yard field goal to give the Skyhawks the win.
His kick was blocked. The ensuing scramble for the ball saw Alston grab it, pass to another player, who passed back to him. Alston then ran for the score, but there were flags all over the field and no time on the clock.
After it was all sorted out, the Skyhawks were given the ball for one final try for the win, this time a 40-yard field goal. The kick was wide as the Express came out with the win.
Evans lamented their multiple chances to tie or win the game.
“That was a killer,” Evans said. “Possession in this game is what it is all about. If you’re not going to secure ball, it will come back to get you.”
WV rushed 14 times for 79 yards. Reno rushed 11 times for 86 yards. Alston was 8-for-15 for 140 yards, 3 touchdowns and 1 interception. Churchill passed 7-for-14 for 84 yards and two touchdowns.
Both teams had five penalties for 40 yards. WV had 6 first downs, Reno 5.
Wenatchee Valley falls to 6-7 on the season while Reno improves to 7-6. The Express now move on to play at 12-0 Idaho for the American West Football Conference championhip.
“It was good run, but this not how we planned on ending the season, with a loss in a playoff game here at home. We had some defensive breakdowns too. We had guys running right by. Just unacceptable,” Evans said.
The WV coach is planning to come back next year, bigger, stronger, faster.
“We have to shore some things up, defensively and offensively,” Evans said.