Destroyers Destroyers still winless after heartbreaking loss

Destroyers head coach Matthew Sauk talks to the media after his team’s loss to the Washington Valor.


The Columbus Destroyers are still on the schneid.

The Arena Football League’s only remaining winless team stayed that way (0-5) after watching a 14-point lead evaporate into a devastating 29-27 loss against the Washington Valor (3-2) in Nationwide Arena on Saturday afternoon.

Columbus head coach Matthew Sauk likened it to a basketball game and said he saw it coming near the end.

“It’s like basketball when, a three-pointer, they get four in a row,” he said. “It was like, ‘oh, here we go again’ instead of ‘hey, let’s bounce back, we got this, don’t worry about it, it happened, we’ll move forward.’ That was the main difference.”

With just over a minute remaining in the game and clinging to a 27-21 lead, the Destroyers thwarted a four-down effort by the Valor from their 4 yard line and only had to fend off Washington’s pesky come back for 27 more seconds.

Yet they still found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Starting at their own 1, Columbus quarterback Grant Russell was called for intentional grounding in the end zone as Washington’s defensive line bull rushed in to nearly get a sack, shortening Columbus’ lead to 27-23. That was one play after the Destroyers nearly gave the ball back to the Valor on first down when Russell fumbled on a simple dive play but luckily recovered.

But Columbus’ luck would run out when Washington’s momentum continued gaining strength with only 16 seconds remaining. Starting at their own 13, Valor QB Arvell Nelson completed three straight passes to three different receivers including the game-winner to wide receiver Doug McNeil III with only one tick left on the clock to give them the improbable win.

Sauk said he tried thinking of creative ways to close out the win but neither worked.

“I did the two things you can do, either you can run or you can pass and we failed on both of them. I don’t know what else I can do. I can’t magically make us do something when we’re not doing it. That’s the frustrating part.”

After the first 30 minutes, though, it looked like Columbus was finally going to notch a W on their belt.

They started off hot behind the arm of Russell as the Newark, Ohio native and former Ohio Dominican standout stood out in the first half going a perfect 12-of-12 through the air for 101 yards and three touchdown passes. At that point, it was all Destroyers as they trotted into the locker room with a 21-7 halftime lead.

However, things got weird to start the second half when he ripped a pass into Alvinra Jackson’s waiting arms for another score.

The only problem was that Jackson is a defensive back for the Valor and less than a minute into the 3rd quarter, the Destroyers’ lead dwindled to 21-14.

“When you start (out) the second half and you throw an interception for a touchdown, it absolutely deflates any momentum you had,” Sauk said.

On the next possession, Washington’s defense continued their stingy ways after the Destroyers got down to the Valor’s 8 yard line. A five-yard sack and two incomplete passes later, all Columbus could muster was a 24-yard Craig Peterson field goal.

Washington continued to make things interesting when less than four minutes later Nelson found McNeil in the back of the end zone to close the gap to 24-21.

From there, Columbus tried their best to stave off Washington’s momentum by playing ball control but could only manage another Peterson field goal and with 6:32 to play in the game, the Destroyers were now clinging to that 27-21 lead.

And much like the oddity of how the second half began, it ramped up to sheer insanity as both teams began to stumble all over themselves for the remainder.

Columbus allowed Washington to get all the way down to their 7 after letting Nelson scramble for a seven-yard gain and a first down on 4th & 7 followed up by a 27-yard pitch-and-catch from Nelson to receiver Josh Reese.

But the Valor stumbled back after McNeil dropped two straight sure-fire TD catches on first and second down. Then after Destroyers DB Varmah Sonie got his finger tips on another sure-fire TD pass to McNeil, Nelson overthrew Reese on 4th & goal only to get new life after Sonie was hit with a face mask penalty to give the Valor first & goal from the Columbus 4.

However, four straight runs by Nelson were stoned and with a mere 27 seconds left, the Destroyers continued to hold their six point lead and it looked like their first win was in the bag.

But that’s when fate stepped in and the Valor came back for the win.

“It’s the mental mistakes that we got to get over that I’m getting sick of at this point,” Sauk said.

Russell finished the game 20-of-27 for 173 yards, three touchdowns and the one interception.

Rookie receiver Julian Lowe led the Destroyers in his first game after being reactivated from injured reserve with seven catches for 56 yards. Fabian Guerra led the team with two TD’s on five catches for 47 yards.

Nelson led both QB’s with 214 yards on 18-of-35 passing and two touchdowns with one pick.

Reese led all receivers with 76 yards on four catches and Jared Dangerfield led the Valor with six catches for 56 yards. McNeil led the team with two TD’s on three catches for 22 yards.

The Destroyers’ next game is Saturday, June 1 at the Philadelphia Soul (2-2) with the kickoff slated for 7 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN 3 or the ESPN app.

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