Rattlers clinch conference title, still seek No. 1 seed

Rattlers quarterback Nick Davila unloads a pass before he is tackled Saturday night against the Jacksonville Sharks.

Matt Hinshaw

PHOENIX — The Arizona Rattlers clinched the National Conference title with a narrow win over the Jacksonville Sharks on Saturday night.

A missed extra point by Jacksonville’s kicker Lindsey Wolfe late in the fourth quarter and a missed two-point conversion proved to be the difference in the Rattlers’ 69-67 victory in front of 11,874 fans at the Talking Stick Resort Arena.

The Rattlers (11-3) clinched the National Conference title just prior to taking the field, when the Cleveland Gladiators (7-7) lost to the Philadelphia Soul (11-3). Arizona’s win was significant, however, as it sets up a battle for the top playoff seed next weekend against the league-leading Orlando Predators (11-2).

The win also had personal significance to general manager and head coach Kevin Guy, who now has 115 wins in his AFL career, which ties him with Mike Dailey for fifth all time.

"It was a battle and we found a way to win," Guy said. "In the end we made enough plays to win it, we got that turnover early in the first half and had a lead, and then we turned the ball over and made it get back into a back and forth game. It was one stop a piece and that two point play was another stop that won us the game."

Wide Receiver Rod Windsor had a huge night offensively, hauling in six touchdown catches and 108 yards.

"Coach said all week that we had to have a game where we scored on every drive," Windsor said. "We only got stopped once today, one too many, but it was just enough to win the game."

Quarterback Nick Davila also had a big night, completing 25-of-34 passes for nine touchdowns. He also threw an interception.

The Rattlers started the game off with a 7-yard screen pass from Davila to fullback Mykel Benson for the score. The Sharks (5-8) responded with a 17-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tommy Grady to wide receiver Anthony Jones. The point after by Wolfe was missed.

Arizona scored again on their second possession from a 35-yard touchdown pass from Davila to Windsor.

On Jacksonville’s next possession, Grady fumbled the ball on a sack by defensive end Rodney Fritz. The ball was scooped up by Rattlers’ defensive end Dimetrio Tyson, which was the AFL Highlight of the Game. The quarter ended with the Rattlers leading 14-6.

The Rattlers took advantage of the extra possession early in the second with an 8-yard touchdown pass from Davila to Windsor. The Sharks returned the favor with a 20-yard touchdown pass from Grady to wide receiver Joe Hills. Davila, on Arizona’s next possession, was intercepted by defensive back Alvin Ray Jackson. The Sharks would drive the length of the field and score on a six-yard touchdown pass from Grady to wide receiver Reggie Gray.

After the one-minute warning, Jacksonville and Arizona traded punches, both scoring twice to end the half. Both of Grady’s touchdown passes were to Hills.

"That was a big situation for us and we practice those all the time," Davila said. "We wanted to get down there to get one last shot at the end zone and Rod did an excellent job of reaching out and making the play and coach has preached that the whole time I’ve been here, situation football is huge."

Both teams continued to alternate scoring throughout the second half. In the third quarter, Sharks quarterback Grady threw two touchdown passes, the first, a nine-yard pass to Gray, the other, a 13-yard pass to wide receiver Andrew Robustelli. For the Rattlers, Davila threw a five-yard touchdown pass to Windsor, and Benson ran the other one in on a two-yard score.

The fourth quarter began with a 19-yard touchdown pass from Grady to Hills. The PAT, however, was missed, which was the turning point of the game.

Davila threw two more touchdowns to Windsor. Grady threw two more touchdowns, one to Jones, the other to Hills. The two point conversion attempted by Grady flew in the stands.

The Rattlers will attempt to secure the top seed on July 18th, when they face the Predators at Talking Stick Resort Arena in the second to last game of the regular season.