Teams stand on the field during the national anthem prior to the Washington Wolfpack’s inaugural home opener against Billings on Sunday, May 5, 2024, a Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Teams stand on the field during the national anthem prior to the Washington Wolfpack’s inaugural home opener against Billings on Sunday, May 5, 2024, a Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

No howls yet: Arena football returns, but Wolfpack fall

In the first indoor football game in Everett since 2012, Washington loses 49-12 to Billings.

EVERETT — As the Washington Wolfpack walked off the turf after their first home Arena Football League game, they tried not to dwell on the 49-12 score.

“This is about more than football,” said Wolfpack Head Coach JR Wells, whose team fell to 0-2 after Sunday’s loss to Billings at Angel of the Winds Arena. “It’s about the community. Yeah, the score didn’t go the way we wanted it to, but we’ll get back to the drawing board and be ready to rock and roll next week.”

Billings quarterback Isaac Harker threw a 38-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the game, one of four TD passes he threw as Billings improved to 2-0.

After losing the franchise’s inaugural game 47-40 to the Oregon Blackbears on April 27, the Wolfpack struggled to finish drives on Sunday in front of approximately 1,400 fans.

Though Everett has been home to indoor football in the past, the arena announcers made an effort to explain some of the differences between the AFL and typical outdoor football to the attendees through the game. The players are up to speed, but indicated they are still adjusting to the nuances along with the fans.

The field is 50 yards long — half the size of an NFL field — which often leads to high scores. The field is bordered by a wall, and players often crash into the wall and sometimes end up in the laps of fans. Some fans appeared delighted to learn that they get to keep the ball when it ends up in their hands.

“There’s a lot of die-hard fans that don’t even really know us, ” said JR Nelson, who led Washington with six receptions for 102 yards. “It was a great atmosphere — really fun.”

The Wolfpack kept things close early. Nelson made a 25-yard leaping catch that put him over the wall, pulling Washington within 14-12.

But shortly after Billings fullback Jayson Jayson Jackson barrelled into the end zone with 13 minutes, 54 seconds remaining in the half, and it was all Outlaws after that.

Already ahead 27-12 as the second half began, Billings kicker Bailey Giffen likely taught a few newer fans another distinction between the NFL and AFL. He kicked off to the Wolfpack, avoided the low-hanging scoreboard, and put it through the uprights. Known as a “deuce,” it tacked on two more points for Billings and forced Washington to begin the drive at it’s own 5.

A few plays later, Washington’s Xavier Crawford caught a screen pass, but the ball was stripped and returned for a touchdown by the Outlaws.

“We had small, minor mistakes,” said Crawford, who also played defensive back. “We’ve just got to capitalize next time. It sucks that we didn’t come out with the win, but we’ll learn from the growing pains.”

The Wolfpack were missing injured defensive backs Austin Joyner and Caleb Brown — Brown also plays receiver. Wells said both players may be available for next Sunday’s home game against West Texas.

Wells indicated that the team had chances at a different outcome, and changes will be considered at all positions based on what the coaches see on film.

“When I look out there and see that guys are wide open, we know the plays are working,” Wells said. “We’ve just got to distribute the ball better, and get the ball to the open man so they can make a play.”

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