Portland Thunder quarterback Darron Thomas got the situation every signal caller dreams about – a chance to lead a winning drive in the final minute. Thomas and the Thunder had 48 seconds to go 45 yards, but the Iowa Barnstormers clamped down defensively and halted Portlands drive at midfield to escape with a 40-36 road win at the Moda Center on Monday.
The Thunder made significant strides in one week after getting blasted by San Jose in the season opener. Portland was much stronger on the defensive side of the football which put the team in a position to win. But for the Thunder, it came down to missed chances, much like the final drive that produced nothing.
We had opportunities to win throughout the whole game, Thomas said. It was really on the offense.
The Thunder defense gave the offense its first gift on the games opening possession. The Barnstormers strung together a few consecutive completions to get into Portland territory and then Iowa went for the long ball. From the 24-yard line, Iowa quarterback Carson Coffman dropped back and fired a deep throw down the field. In his first Arena Football League game, rookie defensive back Varmah Sonie made a leaping interception in the end zone.
Sonies pick fired up the crowd and Portland moved the ball down the field, but the drive ended when Thomas threw an interception in the end zone. Nathan Enderle took the snaps at quarterback for the rest of the half.
Portland defensive back Dwight McLean nabbed the teams second interception of the quarter two possessions later to give the Thunder the ball at the 13-yard line. They again moved downfield effectively at first, but had to settle for a field goal.
Iowa controlled the second quarter and found the end zone twice. Portland scored its first touchdown of the game seven minutes before halftime on a 33-yard over-the-shoulder catch by Duane Brooks, but the Barnstormers still led 20-9 with a minute left in the quarter. The Thunder had a great opportunity to cut into the deficit before the half, but Enderle threw an interception in the end zone to foil that.
Its a quarterback-driven league and we threw four interceptions, Thunder coach Matthew Sauk said. They werent awesome plays by defenders, it was just terrible throws.
The Thunder came out with a renewed sense of energy in the second half as Brooks returned the opening kickoff to the Iowa 16-yard line. Thomas came back in at quarterback and threw a touchdown pass to Jeffrey Solomon, who finished with 113 yards and two scores, on the first play.
The special teams unit then gave the offense a perfect opening to take the lead as it recovered the kickoff after the ball bounced awkwardly off the post. Portland had four downs to go five yards for the touchdown, but only moved backwards and came away with nothing.
That is the drive I am most mad about, Thomas said. We had a couple plays where we were trying to get the corner, and we missed it.
Portlands defense came up big again late in the third quarter when Eric Crocker intercepted a 4th-and-goal pass off the netting. The ensuing Thunder drive ended in another interception in the end zone.
Despite all the wasted chances to that point, Portland still had an excellent shot to win. The Thunder took a 29-27 lead with just less than 10 minutes to play when Solomon caught two straight stretch passes to complete a two-play, 47-yard touchdown drive. Iowa marched down the field and flipped the advantage with a score at the six-minute mark, but the Thunder took the lead right back when Thomas hit Justin Monahan in stride for a 32-yard touchdown.
Portland held its 36-34 lead until the media timeout with one minute left. During the brief break, Iowa drew up a play for receiver Darius Reynolds who already had a pair of touchdown catches in the quarter. From the 21-yard line, Coffman lobbed it up for Reynolds who came down with it in the corner.
The Thunder took over with 48 seconds, just enough time to score. Thomas completed three straight passes to start the drive, but Iowa stopped the Thunder on four plays in a row to take over on downs with one second left.
Thomas finished with 187 yards and three touchdowns on 19-of-31 passing, but he had the two picks in the end zone. Enderle was 6-for-15 with two interceptions, a touchdown and 99 yards passing. The Thunder have a week off before traveling to Southern California to face fellow expansion team, the L.A. Kiss. Sauk said one of the teams main objectives during the bye week is to decide on a starting quarterback.