JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A mere chip shot away from where the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party is held annually, the Augusta Stallions wrote the first chapter of their inaugural arenafootball2 season.
There would be no Belue-to-Scotts or Steve Spurriers.
A late Stallions rally fell a few pages short of a perfect beginning as Augusta dropped its season opener to the Jacksonville Tomcats 37-35 in front of a sell-out crowd of 8,259 fans at Veterans Memorial Stadium on Friday night.
"First of all, give God all the glory for this loss," Augusta quarterback Aaron Sparrow said. "It was a learning experience for us."
Trailing by nine late in the game, Augusta (0-1) assembled an eight-play drive. After being sacked on third-and-2, Sparrow hit Chris Siegfried in the middle of the end zone on a 17-yard pass play with 17 seconds left in the game. Kraig Baker added the extra point to bring the Stallions within two.
However, Baker's onside kick was recovered by Jacksonville's David Thomas, and the Tomcats ran out the clock.
"Now we have a chance to see how we can get better," Stallions head coach Mike Neu said. "So encouraging to me was the effort of our guys. We trailed in that second half and we just kept fighting and fighting and fighting. And on that bench, not one guy ever said we were out of it."
Augusta won the coin toss and elected to go on offense first. The move paid off as Sparrow directed a six-play, 45-yard drive that led to the Stallions' first lead. Sparrow completed a 26-yard touchdown pass to R.J. Anderson that put Augusta up 7-0.
Robb Harris halted Jacksonville's first drive with an interception of the Tomcats' Matt Vogler in
the end zone. Baker added a 30yard field goal late in the first quarter. Things looked good for the Stallions until Vogler connected with Michael Vaughn for three touchdown passes in the second quarter as the Tomcats took a 21-20 lead.
After both teams traded safeties, Jacksonville was forced to kick to Augusta with 57 seconds left in the half. Jim Tarle's kick bounced off the net and was recovered by Jacksonville's Aaron Terry on the Augusta 6. Three plays later, Darnell Jamison squeezed into the end zone from the 2 to give the Tomcats a 30-22 lead with :07 left in the first half.
Trailing by eight in the fourth quarter, Augusta finally got its offense going. Sparrow connected on pair of passes and the Stallions stormed down to the Tomcats 6. Sparrow then hit Matt Kinsinger in the end zone to pull Augusta within two.
Neu elected to go for two and tie the game. However, Jason Lawson was stuffed at the goal line.
Jacksonville stomped on Augusta's heart four minutes later. Vogler completed his fourth touchdown pass of the game, this time a 15-yarder to Bobby Williams. Tarle added the extra point, and Jacksonville took a 37-28 lead with 1:48 remaining.
"We came into Jacksonville's house and lost by two, and they were heavily favored," Anderson said. "They're supposed to be the No. 1 team in the league right now. For us to come out and play 'em tough gives us a good starting point."
Reach Chris Gay at (706) 868-1222.