Quarterback Mike Rhodes put on a one-man clinic on how to score touchdowns, giving the Washington Commandos all they needed to stomp the Albany Firebirds and gain their first victory, 50-19, last night in front of 3,127 at Patriot Center.
Rhodes threw two touchdowns passes, caught one and ran for three scores as the Commandos (1-3) avenged an opening-game, 16-12 loss to the Firebirds (2-2).
"We didn't play any harder tonight," Washington Coach Mike Hohensee said, "we just played smarter. We deserved this four games ago."
Crowd-favorite Charlie Brown, the ex-Washington Redskin who missed 1 1/2 games with a deep thigh bruise, made his first real impact as a Commando, catching four passes for 51 yards and a touchdown.
The Commandos entered as the Arena Football League's lowest-scoring team, but broke out of their slump with a vengeance.
The Commandos, especially Rhodes, dominated the first half. After Albany's Gary Gussman, the league's leading kicker, opened the scoring with a 19-yard field goal, Rhodes went to work. And to the crowd's delight, he started looking for Brown right away.
Two of Washington's first three plays from scrimmage were passes to Brown. But it was Chris Armstrong who Rhodes found open in the end zone minutes later, giving the Commandos a 6-3 lead. Former University of Maryland kicker Dan Plocki missed the extra-point try.
Rhodes needed every inch of his towering frame on the Commandos' next score, a trick play. After pitching to running back Jeff Blankenship, Rhodes faded to the left and outfought Garland Rivers for Blankenship's pass. Plocki again missed the conversion attempt. He connected on two of seven last night, leaving him four of 23 this season. (The goalposts are half as wide as the NFL's.)
Rhodes's first rushing touchdown, a one-yard sneak over center with 37 seconds left in the half, was set up by a couple of dazzling catch-and-runs by former University of Maryland star Alvin Blount, who had four receptions for 67 yards in the half. The last one took the Commandos to the 1-yard line where, on the next play, Rhodes went over to give the Commandos an 18-3 lead.
"I think our line played a great game," he said. "Every time we got inside the 4, we were able to just bowl them over."
The start of the second half was delayed 15 minutes when a storm knocked out several of the Patriot Center's lights. Even when the referees decided to play, the 50-yard field was only half-lit and the 25-second game clock wasn't working.
On the second play, Brown scored -- on a 27-yard toss from Rhodes -- for the first time since the first game. Plocki again missed the kick.
"We've been playing all our games to not lose," said Brown. "But tonight we played to win."
Another of the league's quirks came into play midway through the third quarter, when Armstrong took the ball, after Gussman missed a field-goal attempt, off the huge nets that line the back of the end zone, and outmaneuvered the Firebirds for a 55-yard touchdown return. The crowd cheered loudly when Plocki hit the extra-point try.
Later in the quarter Rhodes ran in from the 2 and the 1.
Said Hohensee: Mike "comes early, stays late, watches films. If all our guys did that, nobody would be able to beat us."