BALTIMORE, MD — The Washington Valor defeated the Baltimore Brigade, 69-55, to win ArenaBowl XXXI Saturday night at Royal Farms Arena, clinching the first championship in franchise history. Valor quarterback Arvell Nelson scored eight total touchdowns, including an ArenaBowl-record five rushing touchdowns, to earn the game’s Most Valuable Player award.
“I’m so proud of this group of guys,” Valor Interim Head Coach Benji McDowell said after the game. “We fought the entire game. It was a championship performance from start to finish against a great Baltimore team.”
Valor wideout Doug McNeil III caught eight passes for 95 yards and three receiving touchdowns and added a kickoff return touchdown on his way to being named Offensive Player of the Game. Valor defensive back Svante Davenport was named Defensive Player of the game after tallying two interceptions and a fumble recovery.
Washington opened the game with a six-minute, 47-yard drive that ended with a goal line rushing touchdown by Nelson – his first of five on the night. Baltimore answered quickly as quarterback Randy Hippeard found wideout Brandon Collins for an 18-yard touchdown on the Brigade’s second play from scrimmage. Washington turned the ball over on downs on the following possession after a touchdown was called back for an illegal forward pass. Washington wasted no time taking back possession as Davenport intercepted a Hippeard pass off the net in the end zone, setting Nelson up with his second rushing touchdown of the game, putting the Valor up 14-7. Hippeard found Collins for a second touchdown, this one 37 yards, to tie the game at 14. Nelson’s third rushing touchdown of the night put the Valor up a touchdown and wideout Chris Duvalt’s onside kick recovery and return on the subsequent kickoff put Washington up, 28-14 with just under a minute left in the first half. On the ensuing kickoff, Baltimore recovered the onside kick, setting themselves up for another two-play touchdown drive, cutting the Washington lead to 28-20. With just six seconds left in the first half, Nelson tied an ArenaBowl record with his fourth rushing touchdown of the game, putting the Valor up, 35-20.
After a Hippeard interception on Baltimore’s first drive of the second half, Washington extended their lead to 42-20 when Nelson found McNeil III for an 11-yard touchdown pass down the sideline – his first of four consecutive touchdowns for the Valor. On the ensuing kickoff, wideout Brandon Thompkins returned the ball to the Valor 10-yard line before fumbling into the end zone, only to be recovered by Brigaded defensive back Michael Knight for a Baltimore touchdown. The back-and-forth final three minutes of the third quarter featured a pair of touchdowns from Nelson to McNeil III and a 57-yard kickoff return touchdown by Thompkins. Washington led entering the fourth quarter, 56-34. On Baltimore’s first drive of the fourth quarter, Hippeard scrambled out of the pocket and found Thompkins in the corner of the end zone to bring the Brigade back within two possessions. McNeil III gathered Baltimore’s onside kick attempt and returned it for a seven-yard touchdown, putting Washington back up 22. Consecutive Baltimore touchdowns – a two-yard Rory Nixon rush and another Collins pass from Hippeard – cut the lead down to eight points with just under three minutes to go. Baltimore was unable to slow the Valor offense on the following drive as Nelson scored his ArenaBowl-record fifth rushing touchdown, putting Washington up 69-55 and clinching the ArenaBowl XXXI title.
MVP: WAS QB Arvell Nelson – 23/33 passing, 223 passing yards, three passing touchdowns, ArenaBowl-record 15 rushing attempts, 42 rushing yards and an ArenaBowl-record five rushing touchdowns
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME: WAS WR Doug McNeil III – eight receptions, 95 receiving yards and four total touchdowns
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME: WAS DB Svante Davenport – 2.5 total tackles, two interceptions and one fumble recovery
VALOR HEAD COACH BENJI MCDOWELL
On where this moment ranks in his lifetime achievements:
“In my sports career? This is up there. I think it comes second to last night. We had a meeting where we talked about why these guys are here and what they believe in and I honestly think we won the championship last night. With that moment right there. We had a long season, but that moment right there brought us together. You see these guys talking about why they’re playing, why they’re giving it their all. And it touched me.”
On the Baltimore Brigade
“I take my hat off to [Brigade Head Coach Omarr Smith]. He’s a good dude. I don’t want to take anything away from him because those guys believed and they fought until the last play. There was confetti on the field, they still fought. That right there alone is amazing.”
VALOR QUARTERBACK ARVELL NELSON
On where this moment ranks in his lifetime achievements:
“I mean for me, this is the highest. In any sport at any level, to win the championship is the highest praise so I would say this is the highest.”
On the honor of winning ArenaBowl MVP:
“I want to give credit to my team. My team, they rallied around me. I’m the quarterback, the leader, the general, so I’m in the spotlight. But those guys really won this game for us. They blocked their butts off, caught the ball, made plays, the defense made stops, so I mean it’s special to have won MVP, but I want to give all credit to them.”
BRIGADE HEAD COACH OMARR SMITH
On tonight’s performance against Washington Valor:
“First off we have to take the loss, I give credit to Washington. They played their tail off. Today’s game was somewhat of a microcosm of our season so to speak. We did not take care of little things. We did not execute.”
On decision to try multiple onside kicks throughout tonight’s game:
“When you get down two or three possessions, you have to try to steal possessions, so we had to try to kick some onside kicks. We kicked a couple too deep. Washington did a good job recovering them. We recovered one, got some momentum but we did not execute offensively and that ended up hurting us. I am really proud of how our team played this season, I am proud of our guys. We did not win today, we did not do what it took to win today.”
On Arvell Nelson’s performance:
“It was self-inflicted wounds, we did not execute the game plan we know how dangerous Arvell Nelson is. We did not execute to keep him in the pocket, he made plays with his legs and extended plays. When he does that, they play very well.”
On Randy Hippeard’s performance:
“Randy is a competitor, he fought tooth and nail all the way to the end and I am proud about that. He made some difficult throws under duress… we didn’t make enough plays and that is a collective, from me all the way down. We didn’t do what we needed to do to win this game.”