Continuity, new QB remain challenges as Force visit Utah

SUGAR HILL -- The constant theme Georgia Force coach Dean Cokinos has harped on throughout the 2012 Arena Football League season has been continuity -- and his team's lack of it.

The Force (7-6) will face the same issue when they travel to Salt Lake City to take on the Utah Blaze tonight for a critical stretch drive game with a 9 p.m. kickoff.

With injured starters Tracy Belton and Mario Norman already out for tonight's contest and the status of other injured contributors C.J. Johnson, Ahmad Hawkins and Mike Johnson still to be determined, the Force were also sent scrambling when starting quarterback R.J. Archer left the team after signing with the NFL's Detroit Lions on Thursday.

"That's been our M.O. all year," Cokinos said following the team's practice Thursday at Gary Pirkle Park. "You've got to be happy when a guy (like Archer) moves up to a higher level. That's what this league is all about. We've just got to fight through it."

If they are to do so, the Force will have to fight through the uncertainty behind backup quarterback Bryant Moniz, who was activated off injured reserve earlier this week after signing with the club in late May. The team also signed Tony Colston, a veteran out of Tusculum College, late Thursday to serve as his back-up tonight.

"It's not easy to just throw a guy in there who's never played," Cokinos said. "So, we've got challenges ahead of us.

"(But) this is a great opportunity for Moniz. We brought him here to play. So, this is his opportunity now.

The 6-foot, 205-pound rookie out of Hawaii has never even taken a snap of professional football, much less in Arena Football, though he brings a strong college pedigree to the Force.

He finished as No. 3 on the Warriors' all-time passing list with 10,169 yards, an average o 299.1 yards per game and 75 TDs in three seasons as a starter, including leading the nation in passing at 360 yards and total offense at 367.3 and becoming just the 11th quarterback in NCAA history to throw for more than 5,000 yards in a season as a junior.

And he is eagerly looking forward to the chance to show what he can do and help the Force stay atop the AFL's South Division standings.

"It's what you play for -- this kind of opportunity," Moniz said. "You just try to get as prepared as you can when you're a back-up and at practice. I tried to learn a lot from R.J. when he was here. Now, it's my turn and I've got to step up."

So have the rest of the Force, who cling to the division lead and the American Conference's No. 2 playoff spot, with Jacksonville, New Orleans and Tampa all lurking just a half-game back.

And doing so will be a big task against a Utah (9-5) team in a playoff fight of its own. The Blaze are tied for second in the West Division with San Jose. They are just two games behind Arizona, and its star quarterback Tommy Grady, who leads the AFL in passing average per game (344.1 ypg) and total offense (344.5 ypg) and standing sixth in passing efficiency (118.9).

"We've got a four-game season," Cokinos said. "Every (game) is important. (Utah is) a nine-win team. They've got maybe a top-three quarterback in the league. They score a lot of points. We've got to go up there and the guys we're putting on the field have got to go compete and find a way (to win)."