Rattlers hold on, reach conference title game

The Rattlers advanced to the National Conference championship game Saturday night by holding off the San Jose Sabercats 51-48 in the first round of the Arena Football League playoffs.

It was the Rattlers’ first win in three tries this season against the rival Sabercats, and it gives the 2011 conference champions a chance to defend their title next Saturday at home against the Utah Blaze.

After falling behind 35-31 early in the fourth quarter on an interception run back for a touchdown, the Rattlers (14-5) responded with 14 straight points to take control, with Arkeith Brown intercepting a pass and returning it 42 yards for a touchdown to make it 44-35.

The Sabercats (12-7) cut the deficit to 44-41 with a touchdown pass with 1:07 left and then recovered an onside kick, but it was ruled after a review that the ball was illegally touched prior to going 10 yards, resulting in the Rattlers taking possession. They scored 17 seconds later on Nick Davila’s sixth touchdown pass of the night to extend the margin back to 10 points.

San Jose quarterback Mark Grieb answered with his fifth touchdown pass of the game with 22 seconds left, cutting the Sabercats’ deficit to 51-48, but the Rattlers recovered the onside kick to effectively end the game.

Neither quarterback played well early, with Grieb at one point throwing 10 incompletions in 11 passes and Davila throwing four interceptions, the last of which gave the Sabercats their first and only lead of the game. It was a notable turn of events from the teams’ previous two meetings, which were won by the Sabercats 71-70 and 77-70, respectively.

Davila finished 21 of 42 for 246 yards to go along with the six scores and four picks. Grieb completed 26 of 57 passes for 263 yards and the five touchdowns but also threw two interceptions.

Rattlers wideout Maurice Purify, who caught the cliching touchdown pass in the final minute, had 10 catches for 134 yards and four TDs.