(Anaheim) – Donovan Morgan caught a bullet over the middle from quarterback JJ Raterink in stride and raced 24 yards for a touchdown with 56 seconds left in the game to ice a 44-34 win for the LA KISS over Portland Saturday night in the home opener before 12,045 fans at the Honda Center. The play surprised the Thunder as it appeared the KISS was going to simply run out the clock. But instead Morgan found a seam and Raterink found him for the game clincher. Raterink threw four touchdown passes on the night – all to Morgan.
The KISS scored on their first drive when Raterink connected with Morgan on a four-yard pass to grab the 7-0 lead. The KISS defense got into the act on the ensuing possession when Romeo Pellum picked off Portland’s Darron Thomas and took it 41 yards to the house and before the smoke had cleared from the pre game pyrotechnics it was 14-0 KISS.
Duane Brooks scored on a three-yard run for the Thunder early in the second quarter and Justin Monahan hauled in a 15-yard touchdown pass from Danny Southwick, who replaced Thomas, with 2:46 left in the second quarter. The extra point missed and the KISS held on to a 14-13 lead.
Just before halftime Raterink and Morgan hooked up again on a 15-yard touchdown pass and the KISS took a 21-13 advantage into the break.
After Steel Panther rocked the halftime show, the Thunder came out rocking in the third quarter as they got close on its first series as Southwick fired a four-yard strike to Monahan to cut the KISS lead to 21-20.
The KISS defense planted and after an extended drive, Raterink kept it this time for a one-yard sneak early in the fourth quarter. The drive was kept alive by a critical pass interference penalty called on the Thunder.
Portland rallied on the following possession. Southwick rifled a shot to Jeffrey Solomon in the corner of the end zone. Solomon crashed into the wall but held on for a 15-yard score. Portland down seven, then attempted an onside kick but the KISS recovered.
The KISS was unable to get in the end zone despite the short field but Kenny Spencer booted a 30-yard field goal to give LA a ten point margin. That seemed to be enough but a long kick off return set up a ten yard TD strike from Southwick to Douglas McNeil III and suddenly the Thunder was down by just three at 37-34 with over three minutes remaining.
The KISS worked the clock down to the 1:00 mark and looked they were preparing to eat up the rest of the clock by pounding the ball. Instead Raterink and Morgan stunned the Thunder with the huge play.
Andre Jones picked off Southwick at the goal line with four seconds left to end it.
“JJ (Raterink) played as well as he has all season and when you have a receiver like Donovan Morgan you can expect to win games and even compete for a championship,” said KISS Coach Bob McMillen. “We’re in pretty good shape right now at 2-1 but we need to keep getting better and improving each week. I thought we regressed against Orlando two weeks ago (a loss) but we played well tonight.”
Defensively the KISS came up with big plays including the pick six by Pellum and a record six sacks overall by Beau Bell. The KISS set a league record with 11 sacks in one game.
“We would like to hold a team to zero points. That’s our goal,” Bell said when asked if the defense was happy with allowing 34 points. “But overall we played well on defense.”
The Thunder fell to 0-3 on the year with the defeat.
Football wasn’t the only thing the fans were treated to. There was a concert by rock band Steel Panther before the game and at halftime complete with smoke and plenty of pyrotechnics. Also at various times, there were scantily clad girls dancing in cages being lowered from the ceiling and BMX bikers performing stunts in the middle of the field. KISS lead singer Paul Stanley was seated in the front row and he and Gene Simmons spoke to the crowd before the game.
“Paul and Gene have done a great job with the entertainment and bringing a football team to the LA/Orange County area,” said McMillen.
Despite all of the pomp and circumstance, the KISS got the job done on the field.
What did Bell think of all the entertainment? “The BMX riders…that was tight,” he said.