How do teams stop Albany Metro Mallers’ QB CJ Tarver? The short, simple answer to that is…very few teams do.
Despite not having accurate passing in his season opener, Tarver’s dynamic athletic moves on both sides of the ball were key as he piled up 5 TDs (2 rush, 2 passing, 1 defense) leading the Mallers to a 47-22 win over the Lehigh Valley Storm at Salisbury High School in Allentown, PA on Saturday night and spoiling the debut of new Storm head coach Darrin McDowell in the process.
Albany wasted no time taking a 7-0 lead as DeWayne Gordon opened the scoring with a 7 yard TD run, on his way to a very productive afternoon (9-128, TD).
The Storm got off to a promising response as new QB Zach Zulli connected with Davelle Byrd with a 49 yard pass. However, their opening drive stalled and Albany responded with Tarver scoring from 4 yards out thanks to some very nifty atheleticism.
Overall, CJ was 6-16 passing for 105 yds., 2 TDs and one interception, plus ran 7 times for 99 yards, scoring twice.
Zulli was able to make amends on the next Storm drive with thanks to a great pass to Yusef Reddick, who had a very good receiving game (8 rec., 131 yds.). Zach connected on his first Storm TD pass of his career to Tom Kolodzieski from 4 yards out, then ran in the 2-point conversion to make the game 14-8 at quarter time.
After the Mallers were stopped by the Storm deep in their own territory, Zulli could not take advantage of the good field position as he threw an interception to Dwayne Murdock. Tarver cashed in the mistake with a 13 yard TD pass to Jason Quinn, and that increased the Albany lead to 21-8.
The turning point of the game occurred just before the end of the first half, as Zulli tried to close the deficit going into the locker room.
The Storm gambled by going for it on 4th and 20 from the Mallers 40 but the call completely backfired as Zulli threw a pass after crossing the line of scrimmage (illegal forward pass). Even worse, Tarver intercepted the ball and ran it back 72 yards into the end zone and gave Albany a commanding 27-8 lead going into the locker room (the extra point was blocked).
During the second half, every time the Storm seemed to get some life, the Mallers had a response. Case in point: the Storm’s Mike Cousar blocked a Kelly Palmer punt early in the 2nd half and returned it 32 yards for a score to make it 27-16 after Zulli connected with Byrd for a 2-point conversion. The Albany response? Tymeer Mallory scored from 25 yards out on a “wildcat option” setup to give the Mallers a 34-16 lead.
But the Storm would not quit. Zulli found Kolodzieski from 6 yards out for his 2nd TD catch of the game (overall 4-35, 2TDs), but missed the conversion to close the gap to 34-22.
Overall, it was a shaky opening for Zulli, as he finished his Storm debut going 19-39, 277 yds., 2 TDs and 2 interceptions, plus was sacked 4 times.
On the final play of the 3rd quarter, cornerback Stephen Lewis came up with a key interception off of Tarver. However, the Storm could take advantage of it. Albany responded with yet another dazzling TD run by Tarver, this time from 36 yards out, to make the game 40-22 with the extra point failing. Quinn’s 2nd TD catch of the game, a 15 yard strike from Tarver, closed the scoring for the Mallers which was set up by a 67 yard run by Gordon.
This was the Storm’s first loss at home since June 29, 2013 when they lost 28-17 to the Lancaster Lightning.
The mistakes, however, were glaring for the season opener: Zulli was sacked 4 times and his two interceptions resulted in 13 Albany points. The Storm were only 1 for 6 on 4th down conversions, and 10 total penalties doomed Lehigh Valley against the same team that defeated them 51-27 last August in Albany.
Next up for the Storm is a road game on Saturday, July 18th at 730pm at Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, DC against a very good Capital City Seahawks team. The Seahawks are coming off a tough 15-12 loss last week to the Central Penn Piranha, so one of these teams will be guaranteed to have a disparaging 0-2 start.