The ASA Avengers ended their 2016 campaign piling up the stats and points and began the 2017 season in similar fashion, as they hammered the New Jersey Warriors, 49-0, on a rain-soaked turf at famed Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, New York.
It was a daunting task to follow up last season's torrid pace by the Avengers when they averaged an astounding 75 points per game in their final two contests, but at the start of the contest with the Warriors, it sure looked like ASA was poised to match or succeed that total.
ASA (1-0) jumped out to an early 22-0 lead in the first quarter on the strength of some timely miscues by New Jersey and precise passing from freshman quarterback Stone Labanowitz. The Avengers capitalized early when the Warriors' punter couldn't handle the high snap and muffed the ball in the end zone. The drenched ball was eventually recovered by freshman running back Alex Brink.
The route was soon on for the Avengers, as Labanowitz (9-of-11 for 215 yards, three touchdowns and one interception) steered two more touchdown drives. He tossed two of his three scores on ASA's next two drives – a nine-yarder to freshman wideout Edward Morgan (three catches for 36 yards) and a 10-yard score to sophomore receiver Andre Ridley.
It was an impressive throwing performance by Labanowitz, who had to deal with a heavy and slick football that was doused on the entire game.
"It was brutal out there," Labanowitz recounted. "It poured from the start of the second quarter to the final whistle."
The rest of the conference is on notice that if torrential rain – and aggressive defenses – can't slow down Labanowitz and co., it could be a long season for opposing defenses.
The Stuart, Florida native said they were prepared for everything that came their way.
"To be honest, I feel like I speak for the entire offense when I say this, but I feel like we got right into everything because we've been so well prepared throughout camp and practice," Labanowitz said. "Oz [head coach Joe Osovet] and the coaches have put us in game time situations day in and day out and have given us worst case scenarios, so we are prepared for anything the game can bring us -- for instance the rain."
Labanowitz was certainly prepared and didn't even lose his cool when the Warriors were flagged for three roughing the passer penalties with late and unnecessary hits on the Avengers' quarterback. Those tactics never deterred the signal caller. In fact, it awakened an already feisty giant, as Osovet pushed the accelerator and poured it on early and often.
The quarterback has synced nicely with his new teammates and gave them and the offensive gameplan props for making his life so much easier.
"It's so much fun playing in his offense, because there is so much you can do on any given play. There are so many outlets to go to on every play, which I know is a pain to stop on defense. And personally I love to spread the ball around and get everybody a piece of the cake," he reasoned. "I love when my guys are happy. I feel like that's my job. We have so many weapons I can use … [and] this might just be the best offensive line I'll play behind in my entire career. The talent and potential these guys have is just remarkable."
He added the relationships he's developing off the field is what helped the offense gel on it, Saturday night.
"It helps how close I already am to the big boys, relationship wise," he said. "And we have so many perimeter guys that we want to get the ball to in space and that are scary for defenses to prepare for. I think we can put up some crazy numbers this season, and I'm excited."
The excitement reached its peak when Labanowitz and Riley made the Warriors pay with a quick-strike touchdown when they connected on a sensational 88-yard touchdown on ASA's first drive of the second quarter. Backed to their own two-yard line to start the drive, the duo hooked up on the drive's fifth play as Riley (four catches, game-high 148 yards, two scores, and a 37-yards-per-catch average) took a slant, broke a tackle, weaved in and out of traffic, and raced the remaining 50 yards untouched for the highlight-reel touchdown.
Labanowitz broke down what he saw, pre-snap.
"Oz gives me the opportunity to check [audible] to what side I'm going to throw to," Labanowitz noted. "I read the safety, pre-snap, that he was going to be rotating away from the left side, so I set the running back [in motion] to my throwing [right] side to get a good play fake, help hold the linebackers, and stuck the slant to Andre Ridley, and he did the rest -- took it all the way."
That gave ASA a cushy 29-0 lead to start the quarter and that would be all the stellar defense would need. It's going to be a fantastic season for an Avengers squad that entered play ranked 10th in the JCGridiron.com preseason "Dirty 30" National Junior College rankings, if all the defense needs is a couple of touchdowns, because the way they stifled the Warriors showed just how dominant that side of the ball can be.
Led by sophomore defensive lineman Jaicorious Johnson (13 tackles – nine solo – 2.5 sacks, and four tackles for losses), sophomore defensive backs Malachi Timberlake (11 tackles – eight solo), Isaiah Flemming (eight tackles – six solo), and Kendricks Gladney (nine tackles – seven solo – a pass breakup, and a sack), and freshman defensive lineman Marcus Bowman (nine tackles – six solo – three tackles for losses, and a sack), the Avengers' defense looks impenetrable.
Overall, the defense had seven sacks, 14 tackles for losses, and two fumble recoveries – not to mention a stellar goaline stand against a desperate Warriors team.
The ASA Avengers are still a work in progress – a scary notion for everyone else, and which could spell doom for the rest of the teams on their schedule once the click on all facets of the game.