For three months, Ray Jauch kept saying, "One of these days we're going to win one." It took the patience of a Zen master, but tonight the Federals' coach saw his modest prediction come true.
Washington's 18-11 victory over Arizona, before 16,656 at Sun Devil Stadium, was its first after 10 straight losses--since the Federals defeated the Michigan Panthers, 22-16, in overtime March 27 at RFK Stadium. Their 2-13 record still is the worst in the U.S. Football League, but for tonight the Federals suspended thoughts of a disastrous season.
Sandro Vitiello narrowed Arizona's fourth-quarter lead to 11-10 when he kicked a 48-yard field goal with 12:20 left. The kick was the longest of his career.
One play later, Mike Guess, the Federals' most consistent defensive player, intercepted Dan Manucci on the 32-yard line. After an offside penalty against the Federals, Craig James rushed for 19 yards and Curtis Bledsoe carried twice, putting the ball at the three.
On first down, James ran right with a pitch and scored with 9:24 left. Kim McQuilken's pass to Billy Taylor for the two-point conversion made the score 18-11.
"Winning today, that's going to help us a lot," James said. "I came into the locker room after the game and I didn't know how to feel. That's how long the season's been."
Jauch said, "In the first half I was wondering if it would be the same old story. But Mike Guess' kickoff return really ignited our players. And McQuilken played well."
McQuilken started at quarterback in place of Mike Hohensee, who suffered severely strained ligaments in his left knee in last week's game against the Denver Gold. Against the Gold, McQuilken performed well, completing 22 of 28 passes, but in the first half tonight he had some trouble.
But the first passing mistake was by Alan Risher. After having led the Wranglers to the Washington 26, Risher was intercepted by Doug Greene on the three.
One play later, however, the Federals showed their habitual inability to take advantage of a turnover. They countered with a turnover of their own, as James fumbled and Tommy Wilcox recovered on the six.
Calvin Murray ran for five yards on a pitchout and then, on second down, dived over the line from one yard out with 8:53 left in the first quarter. The Wranglers then used a two-point conversion play that they had tried unsuccessfully in their 22-21 victory over Washington nine weeks ago. Manucci threw a quick look-in pass to Harold Blue to make the score 8-0.
On the following drive, Wilcox intercepted McQuilken's pass for Joey Walters and made a spectacular 38-yard return, weaving back and forth to the Washington 19. But the Federals, led by a sack by Robert Barber, stifled the drive and a 46-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Ed Jackson.
Midway through the second quarter, Jon Kimmel intercepted McQuilken and returned the ball 13 yards to the Washington 38. Arizona drove to the Federals' one, but on fourth down, Mike Corvino and Ron Estay stopped Risher's sneak attempt.
On the next turnover the Federals provided--Taylor's fumble on the Washington 10--the Wranglers fared a bit better. On a third-down pass, Gregg Butler had a chance to intercept in the end zone, but the ball went through his hands. The mistake cost the Federals three points, as Phil Denfeld, formerly of Wake Forest and Annandale (Va.) High School, extended the Arizona lead to 11-0 with a 27-yard field goal with 1:53 left in the half.
Guess returned the second-half kickoff 55 yards, breaking tackles as he ran through a cluster on the right sideline. His run seemed to spark the moribund Federals.
After McQuilken completed passes to Mike Harris and Walters, Taylor ran for 10 yards, then scored on a six-yard run with 11:37 left in the thid quarter. Vitiello's conversion made the score 11-8. Taylor also surpassed 1,000 yards in total offense.
Before Taylor's touchdown, the Federals had scored only six points in eleven quarters with McQuilken at quarterback. Aaron Mitchell intercepted McQuilken for the third time, but again Washington's defense, and Risher's erratic passing, stalled the Wranglers.
"Our defense is starting to jell the way it should," Estay said. "The easiest thing to do would be to give up and lose the rest of the games, but we have total, all-out desire."
Late in the third quarter, Manucci replaced Risher, who had completed only five of 20 passes.