Force hope to regain momentum vs. Philadelphia after bye

SUGAR HILL -- As long as the 18-game Arena Football League season can drag on, off weeks are usually welcomed by every team.

But coming off by far its best performance of the season in a 69-41 win at defending ArenaBowl champion Jacksonville on March 24, last week's open date probably couldn't have come at a less opportune time as far as the Georgia Force and head coach Dean Cokinos are concerned.

And when the Philadelphia Soul come to The Arena at Gwinnett Center tonight at 7 p.m., the Force are hoping to keep the momentum they built over their first three games.

"We played a really good game in Jacksonville," Cokinos said following Thursday's practice at the Silverbacks Sports Center. "The third game is usually the game you really start to blossom. The bye week? We'll see. We had some momentum going. Now, it's kind of restarting again.

"I preferred to keep playing, but we'll deal with it. We had a good week (in practice). We've just got to restart now."

Tonight's restart presents an interesting matchup of two teams off to similar 2-1 starts that have each tied for the top of their division leads in the early going.

Despite a 68-62 loss to Cleveland last week, the Soul come into tonight's game leading the AFL in scoring offense, averaging 69.7 points per game, led by quarterback Dan Raudebaugh (62-88-3, 782 yards, 20 TDs) and receiver Tiger Jones (21-329, 6 TDs).

"They're a veteran team," Cokinos said of Philadelphia. "The last two (teams) we played against had a lot of rookies. This team is more experienced.They have some really talented players on both sides of the ball. So, it will be a bigger challenge."

The Force counter with a defense leading the league in scoring defense (43.3 points per game) and turnover margin (plus-8), keyed by defensive backs Tracy Belton and Marrio Norman, who rank first and are tied for second respectively in the league in interceptions.

But the biggest key for the Force tonight may lie with the consistency of its offense, which has been growing with each week.

Perhaps the most consistent leader on that offense has been receiver Larry Shipp (28-395, 11 TDs), who ranks among the AFL's top five in receptions per game, yards per game and touchdowns, and has been a sure-handed go-to player no matter if R.J. Archer (46-72-1, 556 yards, 15 TDs) or Darnell Kennedy (19-40-3, 183 yards, 3 TDs) have been under center at quarterback.

And while Shipp, like Cokinos, would have preferred to maintain momentum by playing last week, he also believes there was an upside to the week off in allowing some new players in the offense to continue to jell with the veterans, and perhaps improve the unit's consistency further.

"We're starting to get used to each other as a team," Shipp said. "We have a lot of people (back) from last year, but every year, it's a new team. So, we're starting to get more and more in-tune with each other and find our roles in the offense."