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Thunder want another storm


Former Duck Darron Thomas is leading rusher, scores 7 TDs

by: COURTESY OF PORTLAND THUNDER - Jamar Howard takes an onside kick by the New Orleans VooDoo to the end zone for the winning touchdown at Moda Center last week as the Portland Thunder win the Arena Football League game 62-56.When the Portland Thunder defeated the New Orleans VooDoo 62-56 last Thursday, it was the first time Thunder coach Matthew Sauk’s wife, Michele, and three children — Aysha, Trinity and Xavier — had gotten to see him win a game at the helm in Portland.

“It’s my first win with my family,” Sauk said. “Every other game my family had shown up to we lost, so it was kind of depressing to see them.”

With the win, Portland (4-10) jumped one game ahead of the Los Angeles Kiss (3-11) in the Arena Football League battle for the fourth of four playoff spots in the National Conference.

The Thunder have four games remaining — and will play the Kiss at home on July 12, at 7 p.m. at the Moda Center.

“As long as we beat L.A., and we win a couple other games, we should be fine,” Thunder receiver Eric Rogers says.

Says Sauk: “We still have to win two out of the next four in order to make the playoffs, and we have a good chance of doing it. We’ve got to focus on the (13-1) Cleveland Gladiators first, though. They’re our next game (July 5 at Cleveland, 3 p.m. PT).”

The Thunder offense is relying on quarterback Kyle Rowley, who is making his mark on the team as a fiery competitor.

Several times during the game against the VooDoo, Rowley, generously listed at 6-0, 195 pounds, was in the faces of New Orleans defensive players.

“I might look like I’m trying to get in some scraps, but I want us to have the attitude that we’re not going to back down from anyone,” Rowley says. “That doesn’t mean I want us to play stupid. I want us to dominate between the whistles.

“I try to lead by example. I try not to be too vocal. I can say something when I need to, though.”

Rowley’s backup, former

Oregon Ducks star Darron Thomas, has accepted his role on the team as a rarely used passer and the go-to running quarterback in red-zone situations.

Thomas has rushed for a team-leading 70 yards and seven touchdowns this AFL season.

“It’s frustrating not to be out there more often,” Thomas says. “But as long as I’m scoring touchdowns ... I’m happy. Coach is putting me in good situations. He’s putting me in the red zone, and he’s letting me score. I can’t be mad.”

Thomas began this season with the Thunder after being out of football since he led the Ducks to the 2012 Rose Bowl. He is happy to get back to the gridiron.

“It’s been a good thing,” Thomas says. “I’m happy to be back in the saddle, playing around.”

Thomas is finding he has taken a lot more knocks as an Arena quarterback than he did in former Oregon coach Chip Kelly’s offense.

“I’m banged up,” Thomas says. “In this game, the quarterbacks get hit all the time. I’ve got to get healthy.”

While Thomas is content to play his role this season, he says that next season will be a different story.

“Coach believes in me now,” Thomas says. “I’m dominating in practice. He knows that next year there’s going to be a big wakeup call for everyone. I can only play the role he gives me this year, which is coming in and scoring touchdowns.”

Defense has been a big reason for the Thunder’s moments of success and ability to stay close most of the time, even in defeat.

The Thunder, who are drawing an average home crowd of nearly 8,000 fans, are fourth in the league in interceptions with 23. Portland defensive back Eric Crocker says that comes from the DBs being so close together off the field.

“We love each other,” Crocker says. “We get along. We’re always at each other’s apartments playing video games. That helps us with the never-give-up attitude.”