In front of a packed house at the Wachovia Center Saturday night, the Soul managed to advance to within one game of packing an overnight bag for New Orleans - the site of ArenaBowl XXII.

But the 16,102 on hand can attest that the win was definitely by the hair of their chinny chin-chin.

Soul quarterback Matt D'Orazio found wideout Larry Brackins on a 28-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown in the closing seconds of the divisional playoff game against New York.

The play prompted the use of the Arena Football League's new instant-replay system. It was argued that Brackins' knee was down before he broke the goal-line plane.

However, due to inconclusive evidence, Brackins' TD as time expired stood, giving the Soul a 49-48 edge and the team's first conference championship as it awaits the winner of tonight's playoff tilt between Georgia and Cleveland.

"That [replay] is something new in this league, and after looking at the play on the JumboTron, I knew it was going to be a tough call," Soul coach Bret Munsey said. "There was no real goal-line angle and if they would have overturned the touchdown it would have been really tough to prove."

New York - coming off a wild-card upset of division-leading Dallas - gave the Soul (14-3) a rough ride for the majority of the contest, specifically in the first half. Behind quarterback Aaron Garcia (34-for-45, 337 yards) and wide receiver Kevin Swayne (five touchdowns), the Dragons (9-9) took a 25-23 lead into the break after Steve Azar's 46-yard field goal.

"I stressed all week that they were going to be a different team," Munsey said. "They have good personnel all-around on that team, but we are a good team, too. We just didn't do a good job of playing well on all three phases and we kept letting them back in the game."

The Soul shut out the Dragons in third quarter and led for most of the second half until New York rallied for 23 fourth-quarter points. D'Orazio (20-for-32, 258 yards, six TDs) found receiver Chris Jackson for four scores and Brackins for a pair - the last arguably being the most controversial of his career.

"Larry Brackins just ran a nice little dig route and got the touchdown," D'Orazio said. "It was meant for [receiver] Brent Holmes initially, but Larry's the second guy."

D'Orazio also felt that the bye week definitely caused a bit of sluggishness, resulting in a fight to the finish.

"I don't know what it was, we were just off a bit," D'Orazio said. "The good news is that we won. We have a team here with a lot of character and at this point in the season it's not about looks. It's about who plays in the next game."

And while D'Orazio has brought the Soul to the brink of an ArenaBowl XXII berth, he is the team's backup. Starting QB Tony Graziani has had a solid week of practice and with another week to get back to full strength following a knee injury and a concussion, the coaching staff is mulling his return to the starting lineup.

"We're going to evaluate it and come up with a decision," Munsey said. "Tony has had a good week of practice, so for us it really is a question of if he is mentally ready. Then again, you have Matt who leads all quarterbacks in the AFL and is in the running for [the AFL's] quarterback of the year. It's a tough call, but it's really a question of what will be the best fit for us as a team." *