Mike Siani...

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Here is what Mike Siani is up to....

No question, Fayetteville is that good


Brett Friedlander

Since mid-May, one nagging question has hung over the Fayetteville Guard like a late-afternoon thunderhead waiting to erupt.

Is this team really that good?

Even as the Guard rolled through an assortment of overmatched opponents and replacement teams to eight straight wins, there was still plenty of reason to doubt its legitimacy because of the fiasco that is the National Indoor Football League.

Well, doubt no more.

Sunday afternoon at the Crown Coliseum, the Guard answered the question once and for all.

Yes, it is that good.

After its 44-18 thrashing of Lakeland — the only team that beat Fayetteville in 14 regular-season games — the Guard might just be good enough to become the first local team in 50 years to win a professional sports championship.

What makes its performance Sunday all the more impressive is that coach Mike Siani and his team even spotted the opposition a 12-0 lead after one period.

Talk about being friendly hosts. Or maybe it’s just been so long since the Guard played a team capable of challenging it that it took the players 15 minutes to remember what it’s like.

Either way, it was never seriously challenged again once Jesse Parker picked off a Lakeland pass in the end zone and Shawn Withy-Allen converted it into a touchdown in the final 25 seconds of the opening half.

From that point on, the Guard outscored Lakeland 24-6 to roll into an Atlantic Conference final showdown next week with River City (14-1). It will be the first road game the Guard has played since a 62-44 victory at Charleston on May 4.

But considering the balance, resiliency and talent Fayetteville showed Sunday, the venue might be nothing more an extraneous detail.

“Here, on the road — it doesn’t matter,” lineman Jon Hall said from the quiet of the postgame locker room. “This team is like a family and when you’re surrounded by family, you’re always at home.”

Loud crowd

Just to make sure that there are as many familiar faces as possible in St. Louis next Saturday, the Guard is planning to bring a busload of fans with them.

They’re going to have to bring a lot of rock-filled milk jugs with them to match the noise created by Sunday’s crowd of 3,129.

Withy-Allen said home-field advantage played a major role in reversing the result of the Guard’s first meeting with the Thunderbolts in Lakeland.

Then again, given the lingering hurt that one and only loss still carried, Withy-Allen and his teammates would probably have been just as motivated had the game been played in a parking lot surrounded by nothing more than a bunch of empty cars.

Blemish erased

If it’s true that the best revenge is success, then the Guard did more than just win a football game Sunday.

“This erases the one blemish on our record,” Withy-Allen said. “We’ve been talking about this since the bus ride home (from Lakeland on April 29).”

And just because the Guard has righted its one perceived wrong — then toasted it with champagne afterward — don’t think that it is at all satisfied. As Siani suggested, the best might still be yet to come.

“This is a very good team,” said the coach, who as a member of the 1977 Super Bowl champion Oakland Raiders, should know a little about the subject. “The best thing is that I can see them getting better each week.”

No questions asked.
 
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