Rattlers advance to fourth straight ArenaBowl

The Arizona Rattlers will play for their third straight ArenaBowl title Aug. 23 after beating San Jose 72-56 on Sunday.

PHOENIX — The Arizona Rattlers defeated the San Jose Sabercats 72-56 in front of 8,581 fans at the US Airways Center on Sunday night.

With the win, the Rattlers advanced to their fourth consecutive ArenaBowl appearance. Arizona will face the American Conference champion Cleveland Gladiators (17-1) in ArenaBowl XXVII at 5 p.m. Aug. 23.

Arizona quarterback Nick Davila stole the show, completing 20-of-34 passes for 276 yards with ten total touchdowns (eight passing, two rushing) and no turnovers.

The SaberCats offense started out slow, turning the ball over on downs to open the game. Arizona (15-3) quickly took advantage, as Davila found wide receiver Rod Windsor on their first offensive play from scrimmage with a 17-yard touchdown connection and an early 7-0 lead.

On the next possession, San Jose quarterback Nathan Stanley showed his composure; after an interception was nullified by a penalty, he found wide receiver Reggie Gray on his next throw for a 30-yard touchdown to tie the game at seven.

The Rattlers found the end zone on their next drive, as Davila spotted wide receiver Kerry Reed on the six-yard out pattern for the 14-7 lead. Arizona’s defense would make another big play in the first quarter, as Reed — playing linebacker — picked off Stanley and returned it to midfield. Davila once again made the SaberCats pay, as he snuck into the end zone on a one-yard keeper for a 21-7 lead.

Quarterback Russ Michna would check in on San Jose’s next possession. On the first play of the second quarter, the southpaw found Gray for a nine-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to seven. After a failed onside kick attempt, Davila once again used the short field to his advantage, finding Reed for the second time on the evening and extending the home team’s lead back to 28-14.

Michna continued to execute for the offense, finding wide receiver Dominique Curry on a beautiful lob pass for a nine-yard score. Davila continued his fantastic first half for the Rattlers, connecting with wide receiver Tysson Poots on a six-yard pitch and catch, pushing the Arizona lead to 35-21. After a big return from Gray brought the ball to the Rattlers doorstep, Michna connected with Gray on a clutch fourth down conversion to stay within seven at 35-28.

After SaberCats kicker Nich Pertuit recovered his own onside kick, Michna looked deep but was intercepted by defensive back Marquis Floyd in the end zone. The Arizona offense would execute the final minute perfectly, as Davila found offensive lineman Michael Huey on a screen pass with 4.9 seconds left for the 42-28 half time lead.

Davila continued to execute coming out of the halftime break, reaching the end zone on his second quarterback keeper of the night to put Arizona up 48-28. One play later, the San Jose offense responded, as Michna and Gray hooked up for a 32-yard completion. After a failed onside kick attempt, Arizona’s offense would settle for a 26-yard field goal by kicker Craig Ratanamorn to make the score 51-35.

On the ensuing possession, Michna was sacked on fourth down after a string of penalties to give the ball back to the Rattlers. Davila continued to pick apart the SaberCats defense, finding Windsor on a 16-yard crossing pattern to extend the Arizona lead to 58-35.

Early in the fourth quarter, San Jose fullback Odie Armstrong bulldozed his way into the end zone for the touchdown to close the gap to 58-42. After another failed SaberCats (13-5) onside kick attempt, Davila connected with Poots from one-yard out to extend the lead back to 23 points.

The SaberCats offense answered with a score, as Michna found wide receiver Jason Willis alone in the end zone to make it a two-score game at 65-49. After Curry recovered the onside kick attempt for the San Jose, a fumbled snap exchange was recovered by Arizona. Continuing to apply the pressure on the next play from scrimmage, Davila connected with Windsor on a 31-yard go route to extend the lead to 72-49. Michna would tack on a late touchdown pass to Willis, bringing the final score to 72-56 in favor of the Rattlers.

Arizona will now look to become the first team since the Detroit Drive in 1990 to three-peat as ArenaBowl champion. The Gladiators and Rattlers will rest on a bye this week before heading to the Quicken Loans Arena for ArenaBowl XXVII on Saturday, Aug. 23.