DULUTH — Turnovers and special teams are often two big keys in arena football.
Both were the difference in the Georgia Force’s game with the New Orleans VooDoo on Friday.
The host Force created four from the visitors and turned them into 24 points, vaulting the hosts to a 58-47 victory before 4,009 fans Friday night at The Arena at Gwinnett Center.
Just how important were turnovers for the Force (8-6)?
Two interceptions by Tracy Belton, one by Ahmad Hawkins and a fumble recovery by Jerry Turner allowed Georgia to win despite accumulating only 179 yards of total offense, and helped the Force keep pressure on Pittsburgh and Cleveland in the race for one of the American Conference’s wild card playoff spots, with the latter two scheduled to play later this weekend.
“Energy always picks up after turnovers,” said Belton, nabbed his team-best seventh and eighth interceptions of the year Friday. “Every turnover counts. That’s arena football.”
Special teams were also big for the Force (8-6), who got 189 return yards from C.J. Johnson, including a 56-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the second quarter, and a blocked field goal by Jeff Littlejohn.
The offense also had its moments as Brett Elliott (19-33-1, 179 yards) threw for six touchdowns, four of which went to to Maurice Purify (11-106).
Still, turnovers made the biggest impact, and perhaps the biggest turnover of the game came on the first play from scrimmage in the second half after the Force had taken a scant 24-20 advantage into intermission.
Ahmad Hawkins stepped in front of a D. Bryant pass at the New Orleans 4-yard line and strolled untouched into the end zone.
The interception briefly tied Hawkins with Belton for the team lead with seven on the season, and gave to give the Force breathing room with a 31-20 lead just 36 seconds into the third quarter.
“It seemed to good to be true because I read it so fast,” Hawkins said of his interception.
“I just had faith in what the scheme was and what God put me in position to do.
“When you get a pick six and a defensive score, it’s a game changer.”
After an exchange of scores, Belton came up with his second interception of the game on the next VooDoo possession — an acrobatic, one-handed diving grab in the end zone that set up Elliott’s third TD pass to Purify of the night, a 16-yard strike to pushed the Georgia lead to 44-27 with 4:40 left in the third quarter.
New Orleans (2-11) got a late turnover of its own on Dayron Brutley fumble recover that set up Bryant’s 2-yard scoring strike to Skyler Green that pulled the VooDoo as close as 45-40 with 7:55 to play.
But the Force quickly answered with five-play, 40-yard drive, capped by the final hook-up between Elliott and Purify of the night, a 10-yard scoring strike that made the score 52-40 with 4:09 to play and effectively put the game away.