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Force win, but hoping to fix flaws after opener

DULUTH -- By many standards, the Georgia Force's 2012 season opener against the Cleveland Gladiators was far from ideal.

With four turnovers and one other empty possession on downs on offense, late struggles on defense and four missed extra points, there is plenty for the Force to work on.

But none of those problems were totally unexpected.

More importantly, none of them overrode the bottom line -- a 41-39 Force victory Monday at the Arena at Gwinnett Center before 6,573 fans, larger than any crowd during its inaugural season last year following the franchise's relocation from Huntsville, Ala.

"It's a W," Force coach Dean Cokinos said. "So at the end of the year, it doesn't matter how we got it. It goes in the win column.

Indeed, the Force (1-0) jumped out to an early lead in the Arena Football League's South Division -- at least until defending Arena Bowl champion Jacksonville and New Orleans make their season debuts this weekend.

But Cokinos and players alike agree there's plenty to clean up before they take the field again, and there isn't a lot of time to do it with the Force beginning a two-game road trip Friday night at Tampa Bay.

There are corrections to be made in all areas of the game.

Offensively, the main area of concern is based on consistency, especially from quarterbacks Darnell Kennedy and R.J. Archer.

"Like any other team, the defense is ahead of the offense at the beginning," said Kennedy, who completed 16 of 29 passes with two interceptions for 163 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for 40 yards on six carries.

"We came out with a good game plan. Whether it was jitters of just being in real (game) action for a while, we just came out flat."

That doesn't mean the offense didn't have its moments.

Larry Shipp was steady as the Force's leading receiver, grabbing seven passes for 124 yards and three touchdowns.

And while Kennedy and especially Archer -- who hooked up with Shipp for a 45-yard scoring strike on his first pass in a Georgia uniform but misfired on his next six passes, including an interception on a pass batted at the line -- struggled at time Kennedy rallied the team for two fourth-quarter touchdowns that led to the win.

While the Force defense was solid by creating five Cleveland (0-1) turnovers, including a pair of interceptions from Tracy Belton, another pick by Marrio Norman and scores off returns of Matt Marcorelle's fumble recovery and Jeremy Grier's interception, there were also problems late, with Cleveland scoring on four of its final five possessions to briefly take the lead and pull close at the end.

There were also some hiccups on special teams, where 2011 AFL Kicker of the Year Carlos Martinez uncharacteristically missed four extra points, though he did boot a 21-yard field goal late in the first half that proved to be key.

But as Cokinos points out, all of the Force's flaws that were exposed Monday are things that can be fixed, especially with a core of veterans who have been through the AFL wars before.

"The vets pulled us through (Monday)," Cokinos said. "With Shipp, Belton, (defensive lineman Jeff) Littlejohn, (defensive lineman Jerry) Turner, (offensive lineman) Ray Norell -- all those guys really carried us. They know how we play. Nobody ever panicked. We always felt like we were in control."