The Los Angeles Cobras’ first Arena Football season is over.
In a hard-hitting, penalty-filled game, the Cobras lost their first-round playoff match to the Chicago Bruisers, 29-16, Saturday before as crowd of 8,119 at the Rosemont Horizon in suburban Chicago.
After defeating and tying the Bruisers the last two weeks of the regular season, the Cobras self-destructed against the first-place Bruisers. The Cobras had 4 penalties for 48 yards with 3 costly turnovers; Chicago was penalized 5 times for only 18 yards.
“We had too many turnovers and too many penalties in crucial situations,” Cobra Coach Ray Willsey said. “You don’t win a playoff game when you jump offsides and throw interceptions.”
After taking a 3-0 lead on an opening-drive 18-yard field goal by Nick Mike-Mayer, the Cobras were virtually shut down by the Bruiser defense.
In allowing only 16 points, the Bruisers held the Cobras to their second-lowest scoring output of the season. With the victory, the Bruisers won the right to play host to next Saturday’s Arena Bowl against the Detroit Drive.
The Bruisers held Cobra quarterback Matt Stevens to 20 completions in 39 attempts for 211 yards with 2 interceptions.
During the regular season, Stevens, the league’s top-rated passer, had considerable success against the Bruiser defense. In nine quarters, Stevens was 44 of 79 for 520 yards with 9 touchdowns.
However, Saturday night, the Bruisers allegedly used a zone defense. Although the Cobras consistently moved the ball deep into Chicago territory, the tough Bruiser defenders limited Stevens to one touchdown pass, a 2-yard toss to Gary Mullen.
Stevens claimed that Chicago played a zone, illegal in Arena Football.
“Their zone defense was better than ever,” Stevens said. “They played an illegal zone defense once we were near their end zone, and the refs just allowed them to play it.
“I couldn’t get the ball through, with them playing zone all of the time. We had to try and run it in, and we’re not a running team.”
With their passing game stymied, the Cobra rushing game did not fare much better. Their leading rusher was backup fullback Richard Prather, who gained 3 yards in 2 carries.
While the Cobras were having little success on the ground--7 yards rushing--the Bruisers rushed for 84.
The Bruiser ground attack was led by fullback Billy Stone with two touchdowns.
Stone, who was Arena Football’s “ironman of the year” last season, had a 1-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and a twisting 13-yard run in the second that gave Chicago a 20-6 lead.
Stone also received some rushing support from Osia Lewis, who gained 31 yards in 12 carries, and quarterback Ben Bennett, who ran for 34 yards in 8 carries.
Bennett, who finished second in the league to Stevens in passing, had a productive night. The Chicago quarterback completed 13 of 23 passes for 143 yards and 2 touchdown passes.
Bennett connected with 5-foot 6-inch flanker Reggie Smith on a 20-yard touchdown play early in the first quarter to give Chicago a 7-3 lead. Smith beat Cobra defensive specialist Derrick Donald on a post corner pattern.
Bennett’s second touchdown came early in the fourth quarter to clinch the win. He hit former Raider replacement receiver Carl Aikens with a 25-yard pass, making the score 29-16.
Smith and Aikens also were effective for the Bruisers. Smith had 137 total yards--4 catches for 56 yards and 4 returns for 81. Aikens had 4 catches for 54 yards and grabbed one interception on defense.
Said Willsey: “We did not play well at all. All of the credit should go to the Bruisers. They outplayed us in every phase of the game.”
The Cobras received fine performances from Mullen, who caught 7 passes for 78 yards and 1 touchdown, and Joe Kelly, who caught 5 passes for 53 yards.
The Cobras finished 5-7-1.