Rattlers blow out Gladiators to wrap regular season
PHOENIX — The Arizona Rattlers wrapped up the regular season with a decisive 68-20 win over the Cleveland Gladiators on Sunday night, keeping the Rattlers perfect at home in the regular season for the second time in three seasons.
The Rattlers jumped on the Gladiators early, with Arizona’s offense, defense, and special teams all contributing to the scoreboard before Cleveland got their first points. The Rattlers rode the momentum the rest of the way to victory.
"We wanted to start fast," Rattlers coach Kevin Guy said. "We scored the first play of the game with a safety and then came right back out, took the kickoff and ran it back for a touchdown. We never took the foot off the gas pedal. I was really pleased with how we came out with energy. I thought Rattler Nation was strong tonight, the crowd was awesome."
The win puts the Rattlers in position to host ArenaBowl XXIX, if the Orlando Predators (12-3) lose at any time between now and the championship game. Orlando will play its regular-season finale this week against the Philadelphia Soul (12-3).
Arizona’s next game will be the conference semifinals, Aug. 6 against the Portland Steel (2-13).
Against the Gladiators, the Rattlers played at another level defensively, allowing just three scores. In total, Arizona (13-3) forced three fumbles, one interception and had five sacks.
"I thought our defensive line was awesome. The defense was outstanding. I think we had about eight or nine stops," said Guy. "I thought Glasper had an outstanding game. He’s a physical presence in the middle and the whole defensive line is working well together."
Linebacker Tyre Glasper played like a man on a mission, recording two sacks and was in Cleveland’s backfield through most the game.
"I saw a familiar feeling, looking at him before the game," said Davila. "He’s my brother. I know his pain and he went out there and played his heart out for his coach."
The Rattlers’ offense also had a big night. Quarterback Nick Davila completed 20 of 25 passes for six touchdowns and one interception. Five of those touchdowns went to wide receiver Rod Windsor.
"Windsor had five touchdowns," Guy said. "It’s playoff time. When I start getting text messages from Rod, I know he’s ready to go. I’ve been texting him lately and he’s had his suggestions. I don’t always listen to him, but I know he’s in the right mindset."
"I’ve been playing for a while, so when it’s playoff time," Windsor said. "You prepare a little different for the game, so that’s what I’ve been doing, taking every little step to get ready for the game."
"We’ve been playing our best football the last few weeks," Guy said. "We wanted to send a message and not leave any doubt that the ArenaBowl will come through the desert."
The Rattlers kicked off to start the game, but on the first play from scrimmage, defensive end Rodney Fritz tackled Cleveland’s wide receiver Taylor Collins in their own end zone for a safety. Then, on the ensuing kickoff, wide receiver Anthony Amos returned the kickoff to add six more. The extra point was good. The Rattlers defense then forced a four-and-out, and on the next play, Davila threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Rod Windsor and with just a minute and a half into the game, the Rattlers led 15-0.
Cleveland (7-9) finally found the back of the end zone with a 16-yard touchdown pass from Nelson to wide receiver Larry Beavers. Arizona responded with a 2-yard touchdown pass from Davila to Windsor, and the first quarter ended with the Rattlers leading 22-7.
The Rattlers continued to dominate in the second. Arizona’s defensive back KJ Morton forced a fumble on Cleveland wide receiver Devin Wilson which was recovered by defensive back Jeremy Kellem. The Rattlers would score two plays later from a 28-yard touchdown pass from Davila to Windsor. On the Gladiators next drive, Nelson was sacked by Fritz, who forced another fumble, which was scooped up by wide receiver / linebacker Dan Buckner and carried in for the score.
Cleveland would get their only other touchdown of the half from a 15-yard touchdown pass from Nelson to wide receiver Collin Taylor. The Rattlers would again respond; with six seconds left, Davila threw a four-yard touchdown pass to Windsor. The half ended with the Rattlers leading 42-14.
The third quarter was all Rattlers. Davila threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Maurice Purify. After another four-and-out by Cleveland, Davila threw another touchdown pass to Purify, this time a five-yard pitch and catch. After three quarters, the Rattlers led 55-14.
The final quarter featured quarterback Shane Boyd for the Rattlers. He threw two touchdowns, one to fullback Mykel Benson, the other to Windsor. Cleveland scored their only points in the fourth from a 17-yard pass from backup quarterback Stephen Panasuk to Taylor for six. The final score was 61-20, Rattlers.