SUWANEE — As maddening as a 48-43 loss to the Orlando Predators at The Arena at Gwinnett Center was in their last outing, the Georgia Force know things could be much worse heading into tonight’s game with the Milwaukee Mustangs.
For one thing, as improbable as it seemed when Brett Elliott was on the turf holding his lower left leg in the fourth quarter of last week’s loss, the Force’s starting quarterback should be under center for tonight’s 8 p.m. kickoff at the Bradley Center.
An MRI revealed no structural damage except for a contusion, and Elliott, who remains second in the Arena Football League in passing efficiency with a 121.8 rating, was able to return to practice this week.
“I think I’m going to play,” Elliott, who is 102 of 157 for 1,380 yards and 26 TDs this season, said following Thursday’s practice at Silverbacks Sports Center in Suwanee. “I had a pretty good practice (Thursday). Really, the whole thing was getting feeling back in the bottom of my foot. ... When I hit it, it went kind of numb. ... I kind of panicked. So, I’m really happy it’s not that serious.”
About the only bright spot that came out of Elliott’s injury — and last week’s loss as a whole — was that it allowed back-up quarterback Darnell Kennedy to get valuable snaps under game conditions, as well as reps in practice.
The 6-foot-1, 195-pounder out of Alabama State got off to a rocky start by mishandling his first snap, but recovered nicely, completing 3 of 5 passes with an interception for 15 yards and running for 12 more yards, including a 7-yard touchdown run that gave the Force a 43-42 lead with 1:11 remaining.
And Kennedy says the extra work has given him more confidence should he be called upon tonight or beyond.
“With the way the week (of practice) went, I actually got a chance to get more reps with the first-team (offense) and get my timing down and just get comfortable,” said Kennedy, who is 15 of 23 for 169 yards and 2 TDs on the season. “In the end, we lost (to Orlando), but it will help me to get better and execute down the stretch.”
Whether it’s Elliott or Kennedy under center, the Force (3-2) are in need of a bounce-back tonight against Milwaukee (1-4) after taking an early lead against Orlando, and letting a game they led most of the way slip away in the waning seconds.
To do that, they must deal with a Mustangs offense also looking for direction, with R.J. Archer (53 of 95, 562 yards, 5 TDs) and Eric Ward (52 of 93, 594 yards, 8 TDs) both having seen time at quarterback, with Damian Harrell (31-337, 2 TDs) and Antoine Burns (23-258, 4 TDs) as their favorite targets.
“You play to win games,” Force coach Dean Cokinos said. “(Milwaukee is) a scrappy team. It’s not fantasy football. You go in there and play your best players and play to win.
“The game is played 60 minutes. It doesn’t matter that you led game 53 minutes. If you lose the last seven minutes of the game, you’re going to lose the game. So, (last week) was a learning experience for us. Because you’re up early, it doesn’t mean you’re going to win.”
Notes: Force receiver/return specialist C.J. Johnson was named JLS Ironman of the Week by the AFL after his performance last Saturday against Orlando.
In addition to returning the opening kickoff 57 yards for a touchdown, the 5-10, 180-pounder out of Tennessee State hauled in six passes for 23 yards and a score and posted 150 all-purpose yards for the game. ... Meanwhile, the Force fell just one spot in the AFL’s coaches poll despite last week’s loss, and enter tonight’s game at No. 8. Arizona, the league’s lone remaining undefeated team at 5-0, remains No. 1, ahead of the Force’s South Division rivals Orlando and Jacksonville, while Chicago is No. 4 and Cleveland is No. 5.
San Jose, Utah, Georgia, Dallas and Iowa round out the top 10.