Philadelphia - A dominant start, then a long skid. A promise of hope, then a shock of utter dejection.
This sequence of bipolar emotions not only describes the Soul's season
through Week 15, it describes the first 59 minutes of Saturday night's
Incidentally, Philadelphia's regular season and its latest game will have mirrored endings, too - triumphant relief.
Soul quarterback Tony Graziani's four-yard touchdown throw to Charles
Pauley with seven seconds left in regulation capped an unlikely 56-53
comeback victory over the Columbus Destroyers, earning his team a
Despite both having losing records, the division
rivals entered Saturday's contest with the same simple playoff scenario
- "win and in" - meaning one team would inevitably have to wait another
week to punch its ticket to the postseason.
Until the final
seconds, it seemed Philadelphia would be the team playing the waiting
game. For almost the entire second half, Columbus led on the
scoreboard, had the momentum and caught all the breaks.
The Soul habitually committed untimely penalties, salvaging Destroyers drives that often yielded touchdowns.
The most devastating moment for the home team came in the fourth
quarter, when defensive back Eddie Moten intercepted a pass by Chris
Nagy, only to fumble it seconds later.
"With everything we've
gone through, from the injuries to the lack of plays the past two
weeks, to bad calls and bad breaks, everyone was like, 'Oh my gosh,
here we go again,'" Graziani said.
Nevertheless, despite missing
countless opportunities to retake the game, Philadelphia hung around
just enough to capitalize on the only opportunity that ultimately
With 52 seconds remaining in the game, minutes after the
botched interception, the Soul's Mike Brown snatched another Nagy pass.
This time, there was no fumble, and the Soul offense took over, down
"That was a season-turning play right there," said Graziani,
who completed 24-of-36 passes for 280 yards and seven touchdowns on the
All season long, Graziani has been the soul of his team.
When he has been injured this season, Philadelphia has not been able to
win (0-4) - let alone score (only 38.5 points per game).
Determined to capture a playoff berth that seemed so obvious after a
4-0 start and determined to negate the six-game losing skid that
followed, Graziani perfectly orchestrated the Soul's 42-yard,
"You can't say enough about Tony and leading that big drive," Soul coach Bret Munsey said.
With the stakes high, both teams' offenses started the game on fire.
The Soul took just two plays to score the game's first points, with
Graziani connecting with Offensive Player of the Game Larry Brackins
(four touchdowns, 113 yards) for a seven-yard score.
later, the Destroyers evened the contest. By quarter's end, Nagy had
thrown the only incompletion and both teams scored touchdowns on every
Idris Price carried Philadelphia's offensive momentum into
the second quarter with a one-yard touchdown run, putting his team back
on top, 21-14.
And that is where the scoring stopped until a
flurry of touchdowns with less than two minutes in the half yielded a
27-27 score entering halftime.
Columbus opened the second half with two consecutive touchdowns, opening up a 40-27 lead.
The rivals then resumed a stretch of touchdowns on every drive - a
pattern not broken until Mike Brown's interception terminated a
mind-boggling, nine-and-a-half minute offensive drive by the
The Soul have one last regular-season game this
Thursday against the Orlando Predators - the team that knocked
Philadelphia out of the playoffs last season.
While both teams
are already in the postseason, the game is not meaningless. A Soul
victory could potentially yield a playoff game at the Wachovia Center.
This article appeared in The Bulletin on June 18, 2007.