BUFORD — As much as indoor football is supposed to be an offensive game, it was the defense that played every bit as much a role for the Atlanta Havoc in their American Arena League debut against the Florida Tarpons.
The Havoc held the visitors to just three scores, including shutting down the Tarpons entirely in the second half, led by three sacks from defensive lineman Donte Rumph.
Meanwhile, quarterback Lee Chapple threw five touchdown passes and ran for another as Atlanta rolled to a 48-21 victory before a crowd of about 2,500 fans in its debut Saturday night at Buford City Arena.
“There were a lot of guys to stand out,” Havoc head coach Gerald “Boo” Mitchell said. “The defensive line was really good. All of the secondary had a good night. … We’re already starting to jell.”
The defense made its mark early in the game when Laronji Vason had a big tackle for loss to set up Rumph’s first sack of Tarpons quarterback Chris Wallace on fourth and goal from the 8-yard line to give the Havoc a critical defensive stop on the game’s first possession.
“We just came together (as a unit) a week ago,” said Rumph, a former standout at Kentucky. “But the team’s chemistry is real good. We did a great job as a defensive line. They really made my job easier by making (Wallace) step up in the pocket most of the night.”
It didn’t take long for the Havoc to take advantage offensively, with Chapple hooking up with Thyrell Lewis on a 28-yard TD pass to give Atlanta a 6-0 lead following a blocked extra point with 8:28 left in the first quarter.
Florida answered when Wallace found Anthony Searcy from 3 yards out to briefly give the Tarpons a 7-6 lead with 2:55 left in the opening frame.
But Chapple, a former Greater Atlanta Christian standout, put Atlanta back on top for good at 13-7 when he connected on the first of two scoring strikes on the night to Malachi Jones, this one from 20 yards out, on the first play of the second quarter.
Then with the lead at 20-14, Chapple gave Atlanta breathing room at 27-14 with a 26-yard TD pass to North Gwinnett grad Ryan McDaniel with 6:57 left in the first half.
The Havoc really took control with another big play by the defense on Florida’s next possession.
Marcheaux Robinson picked off Wallace at his own 2-yard line, slid along the right sideboards and snaked his way through the Tarpons offense for a 48-yard pick six, widening the Havoc lead to 35-14 with 1:46 left in the half.
Florida tightened the gap to 35-21 by halftime, but a Rumph sack on the last play made sure the lead would head into intermission at 14 points with another sack.
Atlanta all but put the game away with its first possession of the second half.
Facing fourth and 20, Chapple managed to find Jones in the flat, and the Central Gwinnett grad turned the catch and run into a 32-yard gain to pick up the first down at the Florida 6.
Two plays and two penalties later, Chapple faked a handoff and took off on a bootleg to walk into the end zone for 2-yard TD run to cap a drive that ate 6:32 off the clock and ballooned the Havoc lead to 42-21 with 8:28 left in the third quarter.