The New Orleans VooDoo is about to discover how far it has to go before becoming one of the top franchises in the Arena Football League.
On Saturday night, the VooDoo (1-0), hosts the Cleveland Gladiators (1-0), which last season recovered from a four-win campaign in 2013 to reach ArenaBowl XXVII.
Kickoff is 7 p.m. at the Smoothie King Center.
New Orleans is aiming to start a season with two wins for the first time since its inaugural season in 2004.
The VooDoo, under first-year coach Dean Cokinos, earned a 51-50 upset against Jacksonville during last week’s season opener. Yet Saturday’s game marks a mightier challenge, albeit one which reserve defensive back Cortez Stubbs said his new team is ready to endure.
“I think we’ve accomplished a lot of great things, but there’s still work that needs to be done,” said Stubbs, whose performance last Saturday included 7½ tackles and a first-quarter interception returned 49 yards for a score.
“But I feel like we did good to say it was our defense’s season opener. We’re going to put that win behind us and focus on our other games.”
Cleveland won’t make it easy.
The Gladiators extended their regular-season winning streak to seven with last week’s 60-44 win against the Tampa Bay Storm. Quarterback Shane Austin passed for 221 yards and seven touchdowns, including two scores apiece to receivers Dominick Goodman (nine catches, 94 yards) and Collin Taylor (five catches, 52 yards).
Against Jacksonville, New Orleans’ defense catapulted the VooDoo to a three-TD lead in the first quarter before the Sharks rallied to take their first lead with 8:36 left. But the defense tightened and on offense, Carle Franklin scored from one yard with 2:45 left to secure the victory.
The VooDoo, one season after finishing 12th out of 14 AFL teams in scoring defense (allowing 56.2 points per game), enjoy one of the top secondaries in the league; a group which includes returning All-Arena defensive back Cameron McGleen, as well as newcomers Tracy Belton, Rayshaun Kizer and Jimmy Williams.
Yet the “weakest link” cliché applied last week against Jacksonville as Kizer sat out the game after being acquired, leaving secondary duties to Stubbs, also new to the VooDoo.
“I know what they (VooDoo coaching staff) expect out of us players,” said Stubbs, a third-year AFL pro who played college football at Concordia. “Yes, we signed two big names; I’m glad that they’re a part of us. They’ll just make us even more stronger, better on our end. At any point in time (though), I feel like anybody’s role can change. Anybody can step up at any time and make things happen. Once you’re out there and have a chance to make a play, make a play and do what you can.”
VooDoo receiver Carlese Franklin, a Kentwood native who played college football at McNeese State, played for Cleveland from 2012-13. Franklin is in the midst of his second stint with the VooDoo (2011-12, 2014-present).
Defensive end Michael Janac is one sack away from tying the career sack record in VooDoo history. The record — 13.5 sacks — is held by B.J. Cohen a former VooDoo player and coach, and recently-retired Marlon Favorite, a New Orleans native who played at LSU.