The Hitmen Outlast The Maniax

by Mike Mitchell - Hitmen Team Reporter

New York - (18 March 2001) -- They say good things come to those who wait. Well the wait is over for NY/NJ Hitmen fans. The Hitmen finally defended their home turf by beating the Memphis Maniax 16-15 in a dramatic come from behind victory at the Meadowlands Saturday Night. The Hitmen are now 3 and 4 and they now have sole possesion of The 2nd playoff spot in the east with only 3 weeks remaining in the regular season.

The playoff picture is starting to clear up for the Hitmen and they now have complete control of their playoff destiny.

Before Saturday night's game, things weren't so clear for the Hitmen. Memphis brought the XFL's #1 offense into the Meadowlands last night but nothing could prepare them for the elements of a windy and muggy Giants Stadium.

NY/NJ got off to a bad start in the outset, From their very first play at scrimmage, Wally Richardson's first pass mis-fired deep and was picked off by Jackie Kellog. The Maniax took over at the NY 30 and drove down to the NY 12. On 3rd and 7, the Hitmen made their first of many big plays, when a scrambling Jim Druckenmiller was stripped of the football by Brad Trout at The 3, The ball rolled into the endzone and was recovered by Hitmen corner, Donnie Caldwell. The Hitmen dodged a bullet in the early going and took over at the 20.

The New York offense failed to generate a first down and punted back To Memphis. NY's defense stepped up again and forced a 3 and out. A 63 yard punt return by Kirby Dar Dar was brought back after a penalty.

The first quarter went flying by with both teams trading scoreless posession. The Hitmen finally started to get things rolling by the end of the quarter. Wally Richardson began to lead the Hitmen on their first scoring drive of the day. The drive took 12 plays and NY gained 69 yards down to the Memphis 10 before having to settle for a Leo Araguz 27 yard field goal. Hitmen 3 Memphis 0

Memphis would answer the Hitmen's score immediately with a 12 play 59 yard drive led by Jim Druckenmiller and the running of Rashaan Salaam replacement, Brent Moss. Both players aided The Maniaxx drive down to the NY 5. Jim Druckenmiller hit tight end Mark Thomas in the back of the endzone for 6 points. Memphis pat attempt failed. Memphis 6 NY 3

The Hitmen on their next drive drove 73 yards to set up a potential game tying field goal. The rainy conditions forced a bad snap by long snapper, Ryan Collins. No Field goal attempt was made as holder, Charles Puleri was instantly tackled by 3 Memphis players. Instead of a tie-game, Memphis now had the momentum.

Memphis took quick advantage of The NY miscue and drove 64 yards in 6 plays. Druckenmiller threw his second scoring pass of the day to Daryl Hobbs from 6 yards out. Memphis once again failed to convert the extra point but their lead was now 12 to 3.

The Hitmen's next possesion went 3 and out. Just as the half was coming to a close,with 1:04 remaining, Memphis drove 25 yards in 7 plays to set up a 41 yard field goal by Jeff Hall who extended the Maniax lead over NY to 15-3.

The Hitmen trailed by 12 at the half and the weather as well as the game continued to be rough on NY fans. But there was a small glimmer of hope. The Maniax had made a habit in their first 6 games of blowing 1st half leads.

The 2nd half began with the Hitmen stopping Memphis on their first drive. The Hitmen offense then drove 44 yards to the Maniax 8 yard line. The Hitmen failed to punch it in the endzone. NY was forced to settle for a field goal from 25 yards out. Leo Araguz inexcusably missed the chip shot field goal.

The Hitmen defense answered yet again and forced another 3 and out from the high powered Memphis Offense. Jeff Hall's punt attempt was partially blocked and one of the best players on the field on this night, Mike Archie recovered the 13 yard shank to set up the NY offense at the Memphis 35. At this point, the Hitmen's best runner Joe Aska was inserted into the game and he began to deliver. As they say, better late then never. Aska put up 3 first downs running the ball and Wally Richardson capped off The 5 play 35 yard drive with a scoring pass to Zola Davis from 9 yards out. The Memphis lead was now 15 to 9. NY would make the extra point try when Richardson connected with Ryan Collins to close the gap to 15-10. The extra point would become very crucial by the time the game was over.

Despite 95 yards rushing from Brent Moss, Jim Druckenmiller's game soured in the second half thanks to the stingy weather and The XFL's #1 pass defense in NY. Memphis was forced to punt and Hall was once again nearly blocked. The Hitmen took over at their own 33. two big first down runs by The poorly used Joe Aska and a beautiful catch by Mike Archie put The Hitmen in Memphis territory. At The 20, NY/NJ failed to convert a first down. Out came the coldest kicker in the XFL, Leo Araguz. Araguz added to his reputation by missing yet another field goal, this time from 37 yards out. Thanks to Araguz's two missed chip shot field goals, NY was still trailing Memphis by 5 late in the 4th quarter.

The Maniax got the football at their own 27 and began to run out the clock. A pass interference penalty gave Memphis a first down and forced the Hitmen to start using timeouts. The Hitmen defense was called upon yet again to save the day for the offense and they did as they stopped Memphis on a key 3rd and 1. The Maniaxx punted at the 2 minute warning.

NY/NJ took over at their own 36. With only 2 minutes left, Wally Richardson needed to take his team go the length of the field and that's what he began to do. 1st and 10, Wally throws a 16 yard completion to Zola Davis.

Next play, a 14 yard completion to Anthony Dicosmo.

Clock ticking, 6 yard pass to Dicosmo, 2nd and 4 from the Memphis 29.

Another big first down pass by Wally to Davis.

Hitmen at Memphis 16 yard line, 2 plays later, Richardson connects with Kirby Dar Dar on a pretty screen that Kirby takes all the way down to the 1 yard line.

53 seconds left. Aska stopped at the goaline.

2nd down, Aska stuffed in the backfield, loss of 4 on the play.

Time running out, Hitmen spike the ball to stop the clock. The Hitmen get a break as Memphis is flagged for an illegal substition. The penalty gives 3rd down back to the Hitmen. The remaining thousands of Hitmen fans who braced the cold, the rain and the fog on St. Patrick's Day, were standing on their edges of their seats watching this dramatic finish.

With 9 seconds remaining, Wally Richardson rolled out and connected with Zola Davis to give the Hitmen the lead and the eventual win. The extra point was no good but the score was now NY 16 Memphis 15.

Memphis had one last hail mary attempt that was intercepted by Donnie Caldwell.

The paid attendance was 22, 609, The live attendance was 15,781 and the fans that stuck by the Hitmen till the end were rewarded for their loyalty.

Wally Richardson is now 3 and 1 as a starter for NY/NJ. he finished the game 22 of 35 for 195 yards and 2 TD's. He was clearly the games MVP. His more celebrated counterpart, Jim Druckenmiller finished the game 10 of 26 for just 89 yards! Zola Davis was also a star in this game as he caught 7 passes for 74 yards and 2 TDS.

After the game Israel Raybon, who went down with an ankle sprain in the game, stated that he was unsure of whether or not, he will return to the field soon. He did however express happiness over news that Birmingham had lost to the Outlaws. "We have it all in our hands now" Raybon stated.

Wally Richardson called his late game heroics, "His best comeback drive as a pro." Wally also recognized the importance of next weeks showdown with Orlando on TNN. "I owe this team one after letting them down when we played Orlando earlier this year."

The Hitmen were in good spirits after the game. The same could not be said of Kippy Brown and his Maniax. When asked if conditioning was a factor in his teams second half breakdowns, Brown took a defensive approach and stated "These players aren't working hard enough, ask them if they lost because they worked too much."

It's clear how important this game was for both teams. The Maniaxx's backs are against the wall and the Hitmen may be building towards something special. Only time will tell.