AFL Blackjacks

Can the Blackjacks double down?

Just when its season appeared over, Atlantic City’s Arena Football League entry produced a resounding, emphatic road victory over the Washington Valor last week. The 70-41 thrashing saw Atlantic City produce the most points of any team this entire season.

That sets up a meaningful game this Saturday, as the Blackjacks host the Philadelphia Soul at 7 p.m. in Boardwalk Hall. Their roller-coaster ride, which spanned a three-game losing streak before this victory, includes two home games to finish the season. Victory in both of them could enable the Blackjacks to snare the league’s final playoff berth. Atlantic City is 3-1 at home this year.

“You need every win now, the results of each game are magnified,” Blackjacks Coach Ron James says. “There is no margin for error. We have to keep winning.”

They may have the tools to do it. The Blackjacks are suddenly explosive, combining with Albany for a league-high 124-point game, despite losing 63-61, and then trouncing Washington. Seventy points was a big statement about the team’s offensive capabilities.

Can Atlantic City produce the firepower again?

“Facing the Soul for the third time this season is a big challenge,” James says. “They are playing very well at this point of the season and we are going to need a total team effort to win this weekend.”

Atlantic City enabled a “this weekend” with its performance last weekend. It improved to 4-6 and defeated the team directly above it in the standings. Washington stands one game ahead of Atlantic City for the final playoff spot with two games left to play. The Blackjacks have a bye week following this game and conclude the regular season Sunday, July 21, against Baltimore.

Atlantic City has some favorable playoff tie-breaking scenarios against both Baltimore and Washington for a playoff spot, but must defeat Philadelphia to make that relevant. The Soul captured two previous games against Atlantic City, dealing the team a season-worst 54-29 setback in mid-June.

But this is a new Blackjacks team.

Quarterback Warren Smith was on fire last week, throwing for 209 yards, five passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns. Antwane Grant was the Offensive Player of the Game as he racked up 107 receiving yards and four receiving touchdowns.

For Atlantic City, it was a consistent effort, with 35 points in each half.

The Blackjacks came up big on crucial plays, with Smith and Grant combining on a big fourth-down touchdown play in the fourth quarter. Atlantic City scored 21 points in the second and final quarters, looking like a team that will be dangerous to play if it reaches the post-season.

Atlantic City now has an interest in the playoff picture. The regular season concludes on July 21, and playoffs begin on July 27.

The postseason will follow the same format as the 2018 postseason, with the top four teams qualifying for the playoffs. There will be a pair of home-and-home series between the opponents in the first round of the playoffs. The two teams with the highest aggregate score following these games will advance to ArenaBowl XXXII, to be played in the second weekend of August. The ArenaBowl game is played as a traditional single-event game, with the winner being crowned the World Champions of Arena Football.

Against Philadelphia, Atlantic City faces another hot team, which holds a three-game win streak and has already captured a post-season berth.

The Soul come off a convincing victory against Albany last week and one could view that team’s motivation either as being land-locked for second, which it probably is, or motivated to shine in this, the league’s only game this week. Four teams have byes.

For Atlantic City, meanwhile, the motivation is clear: win to stay in.

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