PHILADELPHIA — Another slow start led to the worst loss in the Atlantic City Blackjacks’ inaugural season Sunday.

They were shut out in the first quarter and never caught up in a 54-29 defeat to the Philadelphia Soul at Wells Fargo Center.

The Blackjacks (3-5) are now in fifth place in the Arena Football League standings behind Albany (7-1), Baltimore (5-3), Philadelphia (4-4) and Washington (4-4) with four regular-season games remaining. The top four teams make the playoffs.

“We didn’t execute well at all in any phase of the game,” Blackjacks coach Ron James said. “Whenever we start out slow like we did today, we struggle. We keep digging holes for ourselves, and that can’t happen. It’s on me to figure out a way to stop it.”

They also lost a key player when quarterback Randy Hippeard suffered a knee injury in the second quarter and did not return.

Warren Smith Jr., a former Lacey Township High School quarterback who now teaches and coaches at the school, threw a touchdown pass in his first series of the season and overcame some rust with a solid performance as the game progressed.

“I missed a couple of throws I’d like to have back, but I also thought we did some good things,” Smith said. “There were no butterflies or anything like that. I’ve been playing (indoor football) for seven years. I was ready to go.”

Smith made his first appearance since last season, when he was a backup for the Arena- Bowl champion Washington Valor. He threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Rashad Still on his first series and later hit LaMark Brown for a 30-yard TD.

He completed 16 of 31 passes (51.6 percent) for 150 yards with two TDs and an interception and displayed some impressive running ability.

He kept one drive alive with a 7-yard scramble for a first down, then scored on a 10-yard scamper late in the fourth quarter, juking a defender on his way to the end zone.

“I’ve always been known as a double threat (as a passer and runner), ever since high school and through college (at the University of Maine),” Smith said. “Whenever I see green grass in front of me, I’ll take it.”

Smith will likely get another opportunity to showcase his versatility.

James indicated Hippeard will undergo testing this week and may not be available for next Saturday’s game against the first-place Empire.

“Warren’s a very good quarterback. That’s why he’s on the team,” James said. “He’s always working hard, and he’s always prepared in case he has to play. He always gives us some plays that he thinks will work well for him before each game. We call it the ‘Warren Report.’”

The Blackjacks waited far too long to get rolling against the Soul, however.

The Soul jumped to a 20-0 lead on their first three possessions behind a pair of short TD runs by Adrian Ferns in the opening quarter Dan Raudabaugh’s TD pass to wide receiver B.J. Bunn.

The Blackjacks finally scored on Hippeard’s 45-yard TD heave to wide receiver Kendrick Ings with 9 minutes, 6 seconds left in the first half. However, Hippeard was hurt on the play, limped to the sideline with help from some teammates.

Hippeard, who absorbed several more big hits earlier in the game, completed 5 of 11 passes for 80 yards before the injury.

“I was really disappointed in how the game was played,” James said. “There were four or five low hits on the quarterbacks, and that shouldn’t have happened. You can say (the Soul) played dirty if you want to, but they were playing without regard for the rules, and that’s disappointing.”

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