DULUTH — Tonight’s regular season home finale against the Chicago Rush figures to be one of the most eventful games of the season for the Georgia Force in many ways.
For one thing, it will be played in front of the biggest crowd at The Arena at Gwinnett Center since the team returned from a two-year hiatus this season, as all 10,600 tickets have been sold.
“We’re expecting it to be a great atmosphere,” Force receiver Larry Shipp said. “We’ve had some good crowds out here, but ... this is going to be an atmosphere to remember in the Gwinnett Center. We’re going to use it to our advantage.”
RUSH AT FORCE
• Who: Chicago (11-4) at Georgia (9-6)
• When: Today, 7:35 p.m.
• Where: Arena at Gwinnett Center
• Tickets: Sold out
In addition, the Force (9-6) could give the packed house a lot to cheer about by virtually locking down an Arena Football League playoff spot.
A victory over the Central Division-leading Rush (11-4), plus a Pittsburgh loss to West Division and National Conference-leading Arizona on Sunday, would give the Force one of the two wild card spots from the American Conference.
However, coach Dean Cokinos says his team will remain focused solely on Chicago despite the one definite milestone and the other potential milestone.
“We’re certainly excited about the opportunity to fill the building up,” Cokinos said. “We’re looking forward to the energy in the building. ... Any time you can get home field advantage with your fan base, it’s a plus.
“For us, the last five or six games, we’ve approached them as one game at a time. We’ll just play this one.”
The Force will have to play this one without their top receiver Maurice Purify, who was signed by the Omaha Nighthawks of the outdoor United Football League on Friday.
Purify had been the top target for quarterback Brett Elliott this season, hauling in 123 catches for 1,525 yards and 43 touchdowns.
That means other Force receivers like Shipp (107 rec., 1,503 yards, 24 TDs), C.J. Johnson (98-1,171, 13 TDs) and Michael Johnson (24-182, 10 TDs) will have to step up and contribute more.
And the challenge will be especially daunting against a Chicago defense that ranks second in the AFL in scoring defense at 46.3 points per game and features defensive back Vic Hall, the league’s leader in interceptions (15) and total tackles (109).
“We have a good receiver corps,” said Shipp. “Mo (Purify) was a big part of it. He came in and did exactly what he was supposed to do — make plays and try to move on up. But we have a good receiver corps backing him, so I don’t feel like we’ll missing too much. We’ll just come in and play like nobody’s missing.”
One advantage the Force — winners of four of their last five games — should have tonight is that they come into the game well rested.
With three regular-season games remaining, last week’s bye couldn’t have come at a better time for the Force, who should be energized for the stretch run.
“We had 13-straight weeks without a break,” said Cokinos, whose team posted a resounding 64-34 win at Orlando in its last outing June 25. “The way we play, it takes a toll on (the players’) bodies. So, it was a good time to get a break.
“It’s a testament to our players. We started fast. We hit a little bump in the middle of the year, and they pulled themselves out of it. But we’ve still got a long way to go.”