In an Arena Football League version of Survivor, James Brown of the Nashville Kats was the last quarterback standing.
Brown, who came into Saturday night's game with the Los Angeles Avengers after starter Andy Kelly was unable to take snaps successfully, led the Kats to a 40-27 victory over the Avengers. Nashville raised its record to 9-4 heading into the regular season finale Friday night against the Southern Division-leading Tampa Bay Storm. The Avengers fell to 5-7 and lost wide receiver-linebacker Chris Jackson, a former Tennessee Titan, for the rest of the season with a broken ankle.
The Kats defense also knocked starting quarterback Todd Marinovich out of the game after forcing him to throw four interceptions in the first half. Both Cliff Green and Cory Fleming returned interceptions for touchdowns. His second-half replacement, Tony Graziani, a former Atlanta Falcons backup, was forced to leave the field after being thrown to the turf with a little over a minute left in the game. Graziani injured his knee and shoulder. Los Angeles quarterback Erik Wilhelm had been waived last week after becoming upset over being dropped to the No. 3 quarterback position.
"Both teams were going at it toe-to-toe," said Kats coach Pat Sperduto. "Our guys were getting after their quarterback and their guys were getting after ours. We knocked down both of their quarterbacks, definitely a good sign for us."
Losing Kelly so quickly was something offensive coordinator Marty Lowe knew could happen. It meant he had to scramble to reduce the playbook to fit Brown's knowledge of the offense in only his second year with the team.
"We prepared James last week just like he was going to be starting," Lowe said. "It's the same way we prepare him every week. We get a little more cautious with him in the game. I chew my gum a little bit faster."
Lowe, a former quarterback, likes what he sees from Brown. He isn't nervous because he doesn't think Brown can play the game. He just wishes Brown had more experience.
"That's his job ... to be ready to go when we need him to be ready to go," Lowe said. "The challenge is to have him step in and see if he can lead this team, and I like challenges.
"I coach him like I do Andy. I know James can handle it. It's just a matter of putting him in the right situations to be successful."
Brown completed nine of 18 pass attempts for 96 yards and two touchdowns against the Avengers.
"I talked to James all during the practice sessions last week," Lowe said. "We just tried to get it down to where all he had to do was make accurate throws and play football."
One of the surprise stars of the game was rookie offensive specialist Scott Thomas who earned player of the game honors for his seven catches for 79 yards and a touchdown.
"Scott did exactly what we asked him to do," Sperduto said. "He played a solid fundamental game and made big plays when he had to."
Lowe has seen improvement from Thomas throughout the year as he has worked to earn playing time at a position deep in both talent and injuries. Thomas filled the void left by Tyronne Jones, who sat out for the second week with a groin injury.
"Scott is probably not as good at releasing off the line as Tyronne is because I have had longer to work with Tyronne," Lowe said. "Scott is very strong in his upper body. He just needs to understand how to control his body in certain situations. That's something we worked on before and after practice last week."
The Avengers were forced to finish the game with wide receiver-defensive back Shannon Culver at quarterback. He connected on his first play with a touchdown pass.
The Kats hopes fell on Brown after Kelly, who dislocated the index finger on his throwing hand against Oklahoma two weeks ago, was pulled by Sperduto.
"Andy couldn't take a clean snap," Sperduto said. "He played two series and dropped two snaps. That was all for him."
Lineman James Baron, who grabbed a touchdown pass from Brown, and also fumbled another reception, stressed that the loss of Kelly forced the defensive line to step up even stronger.
"We came with full force against L.A.," Baron said. "When Andy went to the sidelines we had to make a few adjustments. We had to get after the ball a little bit more and we put the onus on the linemen.
"We were just trying to get after the quarterback. It didn't matter who it was. They could have put Peyton Manning out there and we would have gotten after him. We didn't play as well as we would have liked on defense against Oklahoma. This will help us get geared up for Tampa Bay."
Game time for the Kats meeting with the Storm is 7:30 at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. The Kats can finish no worse than 9-5, which would equal last year's regular-season record.