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Thunder bolster playoff hopes with victory over VooDoo

The Portland Thunder have spent much of the season not winning the close games.

On Thursday, though, the Thunder came out on top in a nailbiter and took a step toward making the Arena Football League playoffs with a 62-56 win over the New Orleans VooDoo before an announced crowd of 7,969 at Moda Center.

“I’m hoping this kind of got us over the hump of not winning those close games,” Thunder coach Matthew Sauk said. “It’s a mentality. If everyone doesn’t have that belief, then you tend to lose more games than you win.

"It’s an attitude, it’s a belief and it’s something we’re working toward.”

Portland quarterback Kyle Rowley was 22 of 36 passing for 265 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions. He threw four TD passes to Eric Rogers (4, 2, 22 and 22 yards), two TD passes to Jeffrey Solomon (4 and 21 yards) and a 4-yard TD pass to Stanley Daniels.

“We were moving the ball,” Rowley said, of the offense. “We were efficient.”

VooDoo quarterback Adam Kennedy was 18 of 37 for 202 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. He threw three TDs to Chase Deadder (15, 10 and 9 yards), a 6-yard TD to Courtney Smith and a 37-yard TD to Quorey Payne. Kennedy also rushed for a 2-yard touchdown.

New Orleans running back Adam Kennedy scored twice on runs of 1 and 2 yards.

The Thunder got an enormous boost from their defense.

With 7:14 remaining in the first quarter, Eric Crocker picked off a pass and returned it 18 yards to give Portland a 14-0 lead.

“It was just a bad throw by the quarterback,” Crocker said. “I want to thank him (Kennedy). He made me look good.”

With the Thunder trailing 49-48 and 9:42 remaining in the fourth quarter, Crocker appeared to pick off another pass and returned it to the New Orleans 14-yard line. However, after an official review, the pass was ruled incomplete.

On the next play, though, Varmah Sonie intercepted a pass. While Sonie fumbled on the return, the Thunder got the ball on the New Orleans 22.

On the next play, Rowley connected with Rogers for a touchdown that put Portland up 55-49 with 8:12 to go.

Portland got also got a boost from its special teams.

With the VooDoo leading 56-55 and 1:22 remaining, New Orleans decided to try an onside kick. Portland's Jamar Howard caught the short kick and blasted his way into the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown that put the Thunder up 62-56.

The Thunder put themselves in a potentially bad position in the second quarter. With 10:47 remaining in the period, Rowley connected with Rogers for a 2-yard touchdown. Zach Ramirez missed the PAT, though, and when the Thunder traded touchdowns with the VooDoo, Portland was always one point behind.

Sauk did not consider going for a two-point conversion, though.

“At some point if it came down to it, we would’ve gone for two,” Sauk said. “But you don’t chase points in Arena Football because you’re scoring nonstop. You want to make sure you’re getting the points rather than losing the points.”

The Thunder led 14-7 at the end of the first quarter.

Portland went into halftime trailing 28-27.

The Thunder nearly went into the locker room ahead, but with 1.4 seconds left, backup quarterback Darron Thomas was stopped on a 2-yard keeper.

The VooDoo led 42-41 at the end of the third quarter.

The Thunder will play again on July 5, when they face the Cleveland Gladiators on the road.

Portland will return home on July 12, when they face the Los Angeles KISS in a near must-win game if the Thunder hope to make the playoffs.

“We have a one-game lead on L.A.,” Sauk said. “We play L.A. one more time. 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 Cleveland first, though. They’re our next game.”