Rattlers riding high as they open ArenaBowl title defense

PHOENIX — With the regular season in the rear view mirror, the back-to-back-to-back Arena Football League champion Arizona Rattlers set their sights on the ultimate goal, a fourth straight ArenaBowl title.

The Rattlers first must get through the Spokane Shock in Saturday night’s conference semifinals at US Airways Center and on FOX Sports Arizona Plus.

The Rattlers and Shock played three times this season and the Rattlers won two by an average of 14.5 points. Arizona’s only home loss in the all-time series was back in 2010.

The Rattlers (14-4) come into the playoffs off of one of their best performances of the season against the Portland Thunder last week. Quarterback Nick Davila threw five touchdowns and completed nearly 70 percent of his passes. Fullback Mykel Benson also had a strong showing, averaging 4.2 yards per rush and adding a touchdown on the ground.

The Rattlers defensive line was relentless. Portland quarterback Kyle Rowley was sacked three times, once by Tyre Glasper, which ended up being a safety, and twice by Michael McAdoo. Rowley was also hurried three times, and threw a pick to defensive back Jeremy Kellem, who led the AFL with 14 interceptions.

The Rattlers also had a big night on special teams. Kicker Alex Zendejas filled in for the injured Fabrizio Scaccia, and was a perfect 9-9 on point after attempts. Arkeith Brown returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the first quarter. McAdoo also showed up on special teams when he blocked a Portland extra-point attempt and returned it for two points.

Spokane (7-11) is coming off of a big win in Las Vegas. The Shock were tied with the Outlaws with less than a minute to go in the half but earned a safety when defensive end James Ruffin sacked Outlaw quarterback Sean Brackett. On Spokane’s next play, quarterback Arvell Nelson threw a 35-yard pass to wide receiver Jabin Sambrano for a touchdown. On the ensuing kickoff, linebacker Kevin McCullough recovered a fumble at the 1 and returned it for another touchdown. After a wild end to the half, the Shock led the Outlaws by 16. Spokane held on to win 51-34.

After starting the season 3-8, the Shock won three of their last four games.