Injuries, San Jose too much for Kats

Monday, June 18, 2001 at 1:00am

Sometimes it's necessary to look at the cold, hard facts of a situation: Saturday night in San Jose the injury situation for the Nashville Kats finally caught up with them.

The Kats, usually known for their ability to be strong in the fourth quarter, gave up a franchise-record 30 fourth quarter points and failed on a two-point conversion attempt in overtime in a 58-57 loss to the Western Division-leading SaberCats (6-3). The Kats, 6-4, have lost two games in a row for the first time since losing back-to-back games to the Tampa Bay Storm during the 1999 season.

"I'm telling you right now that all of the injuries have taken a toll on us," said Kats coach Pat Sperduto. "We can't overcome situations like we were in Saturday night. That has been the case for us in our last two games. We've shown in both of those games that we are a very good football team but we just aren't healthy enough to do everything we need to do.

"We have more guys playing at 70 or 80 percent than I can remember, but we have no choice but to play them. Injuries are a part of the game and we have to overcome them."

Sperduto pointed to wide receiver-defensive back Jarrick Hillery who came into the game dealing with an ankle problem and a shoulder injury. Hillery sat out practice the entire week and the lack of practice time showed.

"Jarrick Hillery never blows coverages ... he has never done anything wrong like that and he makes three mental errors," Sperduto said. "And he can't make tackles because his shoulder is hurting."

A two-point conversion attempt in overtime, which would have given the Kats the victory, failed when wide receiver-linebacker Cory Fleming - making his first game appearance since breaking his ankle in preseason - was unable to beat his defender on a slant pattern.

"If Cory Fleming is healthy, he gets the pass on the two-point conversion and we win the game," Sperduto said. "If Cory makes that play the game is over."

Sperduto made a last-minute decision to play offensive specialist Tyronne Jones who was battling the effects of a hamstring sprain. Scott Thomas, coming back from a torn meniscus, was dressed as well during warm-ups, but Jones got the nod.

"Tyronne played very well," said Sperduto in reference to four touchdown catches by Jones who had eight receptions for 116 yards. "We watched how he moved in warm-ups and decided to let him play."

The Kats are still in the hunt for a playoff berth, but they may have played themselves out of position to be one of the top four teams in terms of records that would have earned a first round bye. For veterans like wide receiver-linebacker Darryl Hammond, the loss to the SaberCats may have been the toughest of the season.

"I don't think I've ever felt that way after a loss," said Hammond. "I don't think I've ever had such a feeling of disbelief. I just stood on the field for about two minutes. It is just one of those things that eats at you."

Defensive specialist Adrian Lunsford pointed to the fourth quarter fade-out by the Kats, and the all-time franchise record 424 yards passing allowed, as the keys to the loss.

"We gave them the game by not putting them away when we had them down," Lunsford said. "You have to have the killer instinct and finish the job. We didn't do that.

"We had several breakdowns in our coverages. The keys to winning in this league are scoring and then stopping the other team from scoring. Anytime you stop doing both of those like we did late in the game you are setting up the other team for a comeback."

The Kats will practice without pads this week in an effort to keep any more players from joining the injury list. Hammond is playing with a broken thumb and there is a chance that lineman William Gaines may have a broken toe.

"All I'm trying to do as a head coach is make sure we stay on the same page as a team," Sperduto said. "We have to continue to work hard. If a player isn't able to do everything physically then he has to be able to do everything mentally. From a physical standpoint we are pretty tied up, but from a mental standpoint we have been tied up too. We had some key penalties at some tough times."

The Kats are at home Friday night at 7:30 to face the Buffalo Destroyers who are coming off a loss Sunday afternoon. The Kats haven't lost three games in a row since 1999 (the back-to-back losses to Tampa followed by a loss to Iowa). That also marked the only time the team has lost three in a row in franchise history.

"Buffalo is fighting for a division championship," Sperduto said. "They dropped a close game at home and they are going to come in here needing a victory.

"We thought our schedule might be a blessing to prepare us for postseason since we were playing so many playoff teams, but with what we are going through physically it is becoming a curse."

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