Force on two-game win streak as mid-season hits



Two strong outings in a row has Georgia Force coach Dean Cokinos upbeat as the team welcomes the Utah Blaze to The Arena at Gwinnett Center tonight at 8:05.

But a new week brings new challenges.

“We’ve talked about the middle third of the season being the time for us to make a move before the stretch run,” Cokinos said. “We’ve played well our last four games, really, and we’ve won three of them.

“Right now, it’s the time of year in which injuries start catching up (with the players) and guys start getting worn down. We’ve got to fight through it and see if we can get some separation.”

Another challenge the Force (5-2, second in the South Division and No. 2 overall record in the American Conference) will face is a Utah (3-3) team also fighting to stay in playoff contention.

Normally, a team from the National Conference would present something of an unknown factor, since there are only a few crossover games on the schedule.

The Blaze, however, are a team the Cokinos and the Force are somewhat familiar with.

“We actually played them a couple times last year (when the Force were the Alabama Vipers),” Cokinos said. “They’ve got pretty much the same coaches. They have a high-scoring offense. They’re a classic arena offense. And they’ve got a good pass rush. ... They’re solid on both sides.”

Offensively, the Force must deal with quarterback Tommy Grady (168 of 254, 1,890 yards, 42 TDs), who spreads his passes out to a variety of targets that includes Aaron Boone (68-774, 19 TDs), Alvance Robinson (39-494, 9 TDs), Ernest Pierce (33-335, 5 TDs) and Aaron LeSue (20-260, 8 TDs).

The Force will counter with an offense that has been clicking quite a bit over the last two wins at Milwaukee and at home against Pittsburgh.

Brett Elliott (142 of 222, 1,887 yards, 41 TDs) has thrown seven touchdown passes in each of the last two games, with many going to Maurice Purify (61-890, 18 TDs) and Larry Shipp (45-669, 12 TDs), while C.J. Johnson (39-485, 7 TDs) has been among the AFL’s all-purpose yardage leaders.

And the defense has gotten a steady pass rush from the likes of Jerry Turner and Jeff Littlejohn, plus consistent work in the secondary from Ahmad Hawkins and Tracy Belton.