On a cold and windy night seemingly suited more for New Englanders than for desert dwellers, the Phoenix All-Stars opened the AYF National Championships with a 28-18 win Monday in Orlando.
After waiting more than an hour to start a game scheduled for 6 p.m., both teams showed signs of the sloppy play expected in the first game of an All-Star tournament. In the end, it was Phoenix's rugged defense that had Connecticut on its heels as the temperatures plummeted into the low 40s and the wind cut through most any protective clothing.
Connecticut started quickly, taking the opening kickoff and driving from its 41 to the Phoenix 29 in 11 plays before fumbling the snap on fourth and 8.
Ryan Velez hit the middle of the line on Phoenix's first play from scrimmage, bounced outside and scampered 44 yards around right end to the Connecticut 13. Two penalties slowed the drive, though, and a Phoenix field-goal attempt was blocked.
After Phoenix forced a three-and-out, quarterback Bryce Perkins went to work. He hit Jackson Loney with a 5-yard pass, then gained 33 to the Connecticut 1 on a pass to Doc O'Connor on the last play of the quarter. He hit O'Connor on a quick slant for the touchdown on the next play. The conversion kick was blocked, and Phoenix had a 6-0 lead.
Connecticut came roaring back, driving 52 yards in just four plays. After a missed conversion, the teams were tied 6-6.
Phoenix took the lead for good on the ensuing kickoff. O'Connor took the ball at the Phoenix 14 and ran right through the middle of the coverage for an 86-yard TD. Walter Ange's conversion kick made it 14-6 at the 7:40 mark.
The score stayed that way until the second half, when Connecticut put together its only sustained drive after intermission. Following a three-and-out by Phoenix, the New Englanders went 58 yards in eight plays, all on the ground, finishing with an 11-yard TD run. Phoenix blocked the conversion kick, however, keeping a 14-12 lead.
Connecticut never seriously threatened again. It took Phoenix just three plays to score on its next possession, on a spectacular run on a screen pass to Velez. He weaved in an out of defenders, broke two tackle and took it 64 yards to the house. A conversion by Ange made it 22-12.
Perkins and O'Connor teamed up again for a score with 34 seconds left in the quarter. The pass play covered 22 yards, the conversion was no good, and Phoenix had a 28-12 lead.
Connecticut scored on a short run with 8:49 left in the game. Phoenix blocked yet another conversion to maintain a 10-point lead, 28-18.
Phoenix had a scare at the 5:57 mark when Connecticut connected on a 62-yard TD pass. The score was called back, however, because of a procedure penalty. Braden Kartchner's sack with 3:28 left gave Phoenix the ball, and the Arizonans ran out the clock to advance to Wednesday night's second round.