The Scorpion stings his nemesis, double-dipping Josh Roberts in finals of Rack Race stop #12.

Josh Roberts and Johnny Archer

When Johnny Archer set himself to the task of getting (literally) ‘back in the game,’ he had a goal of becoming eligible for selection to the USA’s 2024 Mosconi Cup team. For Archer, chasing Mosconi Cup points in qualifying events around the globe was never an option. Those points (in general) are how three of the team’s five members are selected, while Matchroom Sports, in coordination with the USA captain are allowed a degree of discretion in selecting the other two. Archer and a host of other competitors of his caliber, for whom globe-trotting was not possible, are looking to make enough noise competing with the ‘globe trotters’ here in the US of A to attract the attention of the Mosconi Cup decision makers and earn one of the two discretionary picks.

Archer took a major step in the right direction this past weekend (July 6-7) when he came from the loss side and double-dipped Josh Roberts in the finals of Stop #12 of the 2nd Annual Rack Race, run out of two Rack & Grill locations. This past weekend’s $1,000-added stop drew 44 entrants to Rack & Grill II in Augusta, GA (a sort-of ‘home room’ for Archer) and marked the fourth time that Archer and Roberts had met in the finals of a Rack Race event, over the past two years. That fact fed into Archer’s initial reaction to the win, as did the 4 a.m. time frame in which the two matches of the double-elimination final were held.

“I knew that the (long) day was going to hurt me,” he said later. “I guess it was just when I did it, the adverse condition of it happening at 4:30 in the morning, and to be honest, it was more of a relief than anything. And I thought at the time, ‘Not the best win in my life, but that was pretty good.”

“Roberts had used me as a punching bag those last two times,” he added. “I had to beat him twice in that final and he hadn’t lost one of the Rack Race events the last seven times out. And you know, (the win) sunk in a little later. The next day, I was thinking ‘That was pretty cool.”

The path back to noticeable relevance hasn’t been easy for The Scorpion, as evidenced by his initial inability to recall his last tournament win, which, according to our records, happened four years ago. He won the Cajun Coast 9-Ball Open in February, 2020 (downing Shane McMinn in the finals) and in September of that year, played and won a head-to-head tournament over Earl Strickland in a benefit event for Tommy Kennedy, who’d suffered a concussion (and complications) after competing in a Florida event. It was a ‘legends’ matchup (race to 30) that came within a game of double hill (30-28) and as the match went on, played host to over 2,000 ‘stream’ viewers.

At the time of that event, Archer couldn’t recall the last time he’d played Strickland either. It’s not a memory problem, it’s more about the sheer volume of available data and an easily recognizable inability to recall specific tournaments in a career that goes back to the days when Archer was a teenager. His first recorded cash payout in our database predates AZBilliards itself and occurred when he placed 7th in Barry Behrmann’s 1987 US Open 9-Ball Tournament at the age of 19.

Now, 37 years later, Archer’s path to the winners’ circle of Rack Race Stop #12 got sidetracked early. In races to 6, he opened with a victory over Ed Wachs (3) and shut out Matt Walling. William Sheppard then battled him to double hill before closing it out and sending Archer on a seven-match, loss-side trek that he could well have done without.

In the meantime, Roberts and Jason Stemen set out on a collision course toward the hot seat match. A pair of 6-2 wins over Hope Buffkin and Calvin Le, put Roberts into a double-hill match against Ian Burns that almost sidetracked his winners’ side aspirations for advancement. Roberts survived that battle to face the competitor who’d defeated Archer double hill, William Sheppard. Apparently, Roberts wanted no part of any double-hill battle and shut Sheppard out to draw and defeat Stevie Moore 6-1 in one of the winners’ side semifinals. Stemen, looking for his first (recorded) cash payout anywhere, ran into some early trouble as well, getting caught up in a double-hill fight against Jimmy Lee, right out of the gate. Stemen survived and advanced to give up only five racks in his next 23 games to Ronnie Hughes (1), Shane Buffkin (1) and in his winners’ side semifinal, Darrell Williams (3). 

Stemen put up a fight against Roberts, chalking up four against him, before Roberts closed it out 6-4 to claim the hot seat. Stemen jumped out of the proverbial frying pan into a semifinal fire with a Scorpion in it, itching for a shot at the man Stemen had just played.

By the time Stevie Moore arrived on the loss side to take him on, Archer (no stranger to the territory) had chalked up four victories, giving up only four racks in 24 games. He’d most recently eliminated Todd Blackwell and Timmy Prince, giving up a single rack to each of them to draw Moore. Williams drew Jnan Cabahug, who’d lost a third-round, double-hill match to Todd Blackwell and like Archer, won four straight on the loss side. Cabahug gave up just one more rack than Archer had in his four matches and eliminated Sheppard (sparing Archer that opportunity) and Barry Mashburn, both 5-2, to draw Williams.

Cabahug extended his loss-side trip by a single match, downing Williams 5-3 and advancing to the quarterfinals. Archer leapfrogged over Moore, who forfeited, to join him. As a person looking for his first recorded payout anywhere (as far as we know), Cabahug likely surprised Archer a bit in those quarterfinals. He put up a double-hill fight before Archer prevailed, advancing to the semifinals against Stemen. 

It was now past 2 o’clock in the morning. A time of day that Archer would later acknowledge as being an issue with him these days.

“It’s not near as easy as it used to be to just show up and play well,” he said. “The stamina is the toughest thing for me.”

That said, it wouldn’t have been advisable to bet against him in the three matches that followed, chasing dawn on the Rack Race and Josh Roberts in the finals. He gave up just a single rack to Stemen in the semifinals and did what he would later describe as “muscling up” to finish his quest for the event title.

They raced to 6 in the opening set of the true double-elimination final and Roberts almost made it a double-hill match. The Scorpion wriggled out in front by a pair to win the set 6-4 and stung Roberts in the reduced-to-5 second set, allowing him only a single rack to claim his first Rack Race title and first major win in four years.

Being a professional for as long as he has been, Archer doesn’t tend to dwell on the losses, nor, for that matter, does he get overly excited about the wins. It’s always about moving on to the next one and with final selections for the Mosconi Cup team about five months away, Archer knows he has work to do.

“This was something to build off of,” he said. “This is what I know how to do and have done for so long. There are a lot of ups and downs and of course, you want the ups more than the downs, but it ain’t going to come easy, like it used to. I’ve got to put some work in and pick my spots.”

“The main thing I need to do is get to some of the qualifying events, which I haven’t done yet,” he added. “I’ve been looking for them actually. I’m planning on getting up to Turning Stone (XXXIX 9-Ball Open, Aug. 29-Sept. 1) and looking ahead to the US Open and the International Open.”

Finding them, of course, is the easy part. Playing and competing well enough to run his credentials-flag up a pole and see who at Matchroom Sports might salute is a different thing altogether. He knows that there are aspects of his game that could use some work.

“My consistency is the hardest thing right now,” he said. “There have been some good ‘flashes’ over the past few months, but it’s still the main thing. Getting to play more, getting out there under (pro-event, pro-player) conditions, would be a big help.”

“Position play,” he responded when asked what he might consider to be the ‘weak link’ in the chain of his comeback. “Control of the cue ball. I’ve been horrible, definitely not up to the standards I’m used to, so that’s something physical I have to work on.” 

Then, too, there are just a few ‘life’ things that he needs to get used to as well. Archer’s life over the past few years or so has revolved more around his family and his relationship with his daughter. In addition to the reality of needing to be away from that family more, is the necessity of reacquiring a number of ‘road habits.’ Being out there, travelling to locations and staying ‘wherever,’ mostly on his own.

“It’s difficult,” he said, “but it’s what we do. That’s the way life is.”

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