Photo Credit: Ashe Post & Times

By Zane Miller

On April 1st, 2017, one of the most infamous games in the history of the National Arena League would come to fruition, with the Dayton Wolfpack traveling to face the High Country Grizzlies. This particular contest saw these two teams, both in their first year of existence, square off in their third game in franchise history. While it is true that the teams would combine to score 100 points on the night and the game did take place on April Fools’ Day, the unbridled brutality on display by one of these teams would be no laughing matter.

The Dayton Wolfpack were one of the eight founding members of the NAL for the indoor football competition’s inaugural season in 2017; however, they were by far the least stable. Contrary to what their team name would suggest, did not play their home games in the Dayton area, or anywhere in Ohio for that matter. In fact, the team never had any home games at all.

Playing out of Dayton was indeed the franchise’s original plan, as they had announced they would use the Nutter Center in Fairborn, Ohio, as their home venue. However, the lease agreement between the Wolfpack and the arena management reportedly fell through in February 2017, leaving them without a home facility with less than a month to go before the start of the season.

Obviously, the Wolfpack not having a home field threw a serious wrench into the NAL’s plans, having already announced the schedule for the 2017 season. With the likelihood of getting a new arena in place this late in the offseason being incredibly remote, the league decided the Wolfpack would only play the road game portion of their schedule, thus cancelling the five games initially slated to be in Dayton. This last-minute change caused a ripple effect throughout the rest of the NAL, as the Grizzlies, Corpus Christi Rage and Monterrey Steel each lost one game from their lineup, while the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks had two games subtracted from their schedule.

It may seem, on the surface, that there is no possible way an organization with this much behind-the-scenes turmoil could be any good on the field. After all, many of the players who had signed with the Wolfpack in the offseason were released once it was clear they would only be playing half the original number of games, basically forcing the team to rebuild itself from scratch. However, if you were to see someone making this assumption before the game, and showed them the final score just a couple hours later, they would be completely justified in that opinion as the Grizzlies demolished the Wolfpack 94-6.

The Grizzlies’ foray into the NAL went far more smoothly, as they were able to find a suitable home stadium with little to no issue, starting off their season with a 1-1 record before staying at the George M. Holmes Convocation Center for the second game of their three-game homestand.

For the Wolfpack, their exclusively away season was unsurprisingly proving to be a challenge, falling in an 0-2 hole with a pair of defeats by 41 and 37 points respectively. However, neither of these losses could prepare them for the horrors they were about to experience in Boone, North Carolina, to kick off the month of April.

After rewatching this matchup for the first time since seeing it six years ago, the most significant of the many reasons for the 88-point triumph on the Grizzlies’ end was their outstanding defensive back tandem of Jimmy Legree and Brandon Fuentes. Legree secured four interceptions, which still stands as an NAL single-game record as of this writing, with one even being returned for a touchdown. As if this wasn’t enough, Fuentes made up the largest share of the team’s eight total interceptions, grabbing three while returning two of them to the house. Also worth pointing out is that another interception was provided by wide receiver Mackenzie Williams, who was put in on defense and took full advantage of the opportunity by returning it for a touchdown as well. The Wolfpack used three different quarterbacks as James Moreland, Terez Wilkins and Tyler Mickens each spent time under center for Dayton, and each of them tossed at least interception during the game.

Not to be overlooked, the Grizzlies defensive line also played a huge role in the outcome, as they came up with 10 sacks on the night. Lineman Brandon Sutton, already claiming four sacks, picked up a forced fumble and recovered an early blocked field goal for a score. Seriously, that’s how dominant High Country’s defense was. To Dayton’s credit, they were able to avoid a shutout in the fourth quarter, with Moreland finding wideout Lajuantae Hicks for the main bright spot of the night.

Speaking of offense, the Grizzlies didn’t do as much offensively as one would expect given the final score, as five of the team’s 14 touchdowns were already accounted for by the defense. However, they did more than enough to justify their place, as quarterback Stephen Panasuk earned seven touchdown passes, four of which going to star wide receiver Malachi Jones. Fellow wide receiver Daron Clark had a multi-touchdown reception as well with two, while offensive lineman Jarius Spain got in on the action as well with an early touchdown grab. Panasuk and running back Undra Hendrix scored the team’s remaining pair of touchdowns on the ground.

After the win, Grizzlies head coach Josh Resignalo said, “We’re not trying to stop ourselves to prevent ourselves from scoring so they feel better. This is a professional game. We were trying to score 100, but we ran the ball more in the third quarter to take care of bodies.”

Following the game, the Wolfpack failed to win a game in their shortened campaign, finishing out the year with an 0-7 record. Despite this, they did not finish last in the NAL standings, as the Rage instead held the dubious distinction with an 0-9 result. High Country, meanwhile, had a more promising start to 2017, before faltering down the stretch as they lost their final four games to end up at 3-7. Neither team would be in the league for the 2018 season, with the Wolfpack officially folding shortly after season’s end, while the Grizzlies moved over to the American Arena League for that league’s inaugural campaign. However, they too would cease operations in February 2019.


Full Game:

Happy April Fools’ Day!