Rattlers cruise into home finale with eye on playoffs

If the Arizona Rattlers weren’t favorites to repeat as ArenaBowl champions at the start of this season, they certainly have to be by now.

Heading into their final home game Saturday, the Rattlers own the Arena Football League’s best record (14-2), an undefeated mark at home, a third straight division title and home-field advantage throughout the upcoming playoffs.

While reaching the Aug. 17 ArenaBowl in Orlando is certainly the Rattlers’ goal, focusing on it now would be getting ahead of themselves. They’ve still got a number of steps between here and there.

Saturday’s game is the first. The visiting Chicago Rush are trying to win their own division title in the season’s final two weeks and are highly motivated amid a trying season that has seen the franchise taken over by the league and relocated to a new home arena.

Rush receiver Reggie Gray, who is tied for the league lead with 42 touchdowns and second with 1,747 receiving yards ought to test the Rattlers’ secondary, which leads the league in interceptions but ranks second to last in pass defense.

Next week, the Rattlers wrap up the regular season on the road against the Iowa Barnstormers. Then it’s on to the playoffs, which begin Aug. 4. So certainly there’s a lot to be accomplished between now and Aug. 17, but Arizona appears better equipped than any team to get there.

The Rattlers have done many things well as a team this season, but any discussion of how they have positioned themselves so well once again has to start with quarterback Nick Davila, the MVP of the team’s ArenaBowl win last year. The 28-year-old Davila has racked up 4,390 passing yards on the season, second most in the league, and throw 102 touchdowns, tied for most in the league. He’s 1,111 yards and 16 touchdowns away from eclipsing his career-best marks in those categories.

Davila has excelled despite injuries to top receivers Tysson Poots and Maurice Purify. Poots suffered multiple injuries early in the season, while Purify, the team’s top receiver last year, missed two months with a wrist injury. Both are healthy now and lining up with Rod Windsor, who leads the team with 1,345 receiving yards and 36 touchdowns, to give Davila a dangerous receiving unit.

Much credit is also due Rattlers coach Kevin Guy. Certainly he has a wealth of talent to work with, but his challenge has been keeping focused and motivated a group of players who won a title, and they’ve obviously done so while cruising through most of the schedule this year.

Now, though, the task gets even tougher.

Despite having nothing to gain but a better record over the final two regular-season games, Guy has indicated he won’t rest any of his top players, preferring to open the playoffs with momentum.

The Rattlers may be in the driver’s seat pretty comfortably right now, but they don’t appear to be taking their foot off the gas.