A slow start to the season prompted the Mariners to overhaul their roster, and while the team showed some progress last night, it did not have enough firepower to stay with the undefeated Mississippi Mudcats in an American Indoor Football Association game at 1st Mariner Arena.
Earlier in the week, the Mariners traded starting quarterback Dixie Wooten to the Carolina Speed and inserted Mike Orihel as the starter. The team also signed former Canadian Football League player Eugene Goodman at running back, and Marques Ogden, who served as an offensive line coach, put on the pads to take a spot vacated by injured center Nick Romeo.
Despite the changes, the Mariners (1-4) lost, 63-47, to the Mudcats. The Mariners are still looking for their first win at home, but coach Chris Simpson is beginning to see improvement with his expansion team.
"We have made a ton of progress. Mississippi is the best team we played this year," Simpson said. "Our offense is starting to click a lot more. We still have to get some continuity. We made a few mistakes that hurt us. We have to be more aggressive in our defensive play."
Mississippi quarterback Tommy Jones completed 17 of 22 passes for 271 yards, with six touchdowns and two interceptions. Orihel threw for 230 yards and completed 22 of 39 passes with seven touchdowns and no interceptions.
The Mariners had 19 first downs, compared to 16 for the Mudcats. Mississippi, however, scored on all five of its trips in the red zone.
"I think we came out of our shells today," Orihel said. "I'd like for us to play more of a complete game offensively and defensively. Those seven touchdowns could have been 10."
Mississippi (4-0) wasted little time attacking Baltimore's secondary in the first quarter, and a 39-yard pass from Jones to Josh Smith put the Mudcats at the Mariners' 1-yard line. Rico McDonald took the ensuing handoff and dived in for the score with 5:16 left in the opening quarter.
The Mariners answered on the next possession with a six-play, 30-yard drive ending with a 5-yard touchdown pass from Orihel to Rafael Copper. The Mudcats then began to pull away in the second quarter on two touchdown passes from Jones to Maurice Avery from 37 yards and 6 yards. Avery finished with five catches for 119 yards.
The Mariners scored their second touchdown of the game on a 12-yard pass from Orihel to Richard Johnson and trailed 28-15 at halftime.
Mississippi, however, continued to distance itself in the second half. The Mudcats scored two touchdowns in the third quarter and four in the fourth. Orihel threw five touchdown passes in the second half, but it was not nearly enough to erase the deficit.