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Avengers open with a victory

Times Staff Writer

Defense wins games, even in the pinball-like-scoring world of arena football.

The Avengers blew the dust off that musty adage Friday night as they were blowing out the New Orleans Voodoo, 59-42, in the Arena Football League’s season opener at Staples Center.

The league may be based on a whoever-has-the-ball-last philosophy, and Avengers quarterback Sonny Cumbie demonstrated that pedal-to-the-metal style with seven touchdown passes. But it was what happened when the Avengers didn’t have the ball that mattered most.

A close game became a rout in the second half when the Avengers defense flexed its collective muscles. They intercepted three passes and limited the Voodoo to nine points and 103 total yards -- 40 on the game’s last play -- after halftime.

That allowed Cumbie and the Avengers time to debug the offense and rally from a 33-28 halftime deficit to open with an easy victory.

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The Avengers intercepted passes on three consecutive possessions by the Voodoo, one each by Damen Wheeler, Terrell Maze and Eddie Canonico. Wheeler also returned a fumble for a touchdown in the first half.

The three second-half turnovers led to 17 points, which turned a 42-36 game into a rout.

Cumbie finished with 268 passing yards, with three touchdown passes to Timon Marshall and two each to LaShaun Ward and Jarrett Hicks. Yet Cumbie was shaky at the start. He had only 13 passes intercepted in 16 games last season, but had two passes picked off in the first half and another in the second half Friday.

The Voodoo’s Wendall Williams returned the opening kickoff 54 yards for a 6-0 lead that was increased to 13-0 after Calvin Spears intercepted a pass from Cumbie on the Avengers’ first play.

The Avengers spent much of the first half in pursuit. They finally took the lead when defensive back Wheeler stripped Williams of the ball and returned the fumble 15 yards for a touchdown for a 28-23 lead with 4:41 left in the half.

But the lead was short-lived. Steve Bellisari and B.J. Barre connected on a 15-yard touchdown pass on the Voodoos’ next possession and Jonathan Ruffin’s 23-yard field goal gave the Voodoo a 33-28 lead on the last play of the half.

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chris.foster@latimes.com


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