Rattlers hold on to beat SaberCats, advance
PHOENIX – The top-seeded Arizona Rattlers got a challenge in their playoff opener Sunday night but had just enough, holding off the San Jose SaberCats for a 59-49 win at US Airways Center to advance to the National Conference championship game.
For the Rattlers (16-3), quarterback Nick Davila finished 21 for 35 for 233 yards and seven touchdowns. For the SaberCats (13-6), Russ Michna went 20 for 36 for 238 yards with five total touchdowns (four passing) and one interception.
Arizona will host the Spokane Shock in the conference championship game next Saturday with a trip to ArenaBowl XXVI in Orlando on the line.
The Rattlers opened the scoring after forcing a turnover on downs on the opening drive, as Davila found Rod Windsor in the back corner of the end zone to make it 7-0 early. The SaberCats responded quickly, as Michna connected with wideout James Roe in the back of the end zone for an 8-yard strike to even the score.
Davila and Windsor again hooked up on the following possession, this time for a 32-yard touchdown pass to put the Rattlers up 14-7 midway through the first. But the SaberCats again answered right back, as offensive lineman Rich Ranglin hauled in a screen pass and rumbled in from 6 yards out to knot things at 14 at the end of the first quarter.
Arizona again went on top at the start of the second quarter, as Davila and Windsor connected on another big play, a 36-yard scoring toss on third-and-10 to put the Rattlers back on top 21-14. But San Jose responded again, tying things at 21 when Michna connected with Huey Whittaker on a 17-yard strike midway through the second.
The back and forth continued on the next drive, as Rattlers wide receiver Tysson Poots made a tremendous 17-yard touchdown reception after a deflection and wound up in the bench after going over the boards, giving Arizona a 28-21 advantage. The Rattlers defense then stepped up, forcing a SaberCats turnover on downs, but San Jose’s defense responded in kind, forced a missed field goal by Arizona as time expired to end the half.
The SaberCats defense again came out strong in the second half, forcing a missed 22-yard attempt by Rattlers kicker Garrett Lindholm that was grabbed by defensive back Clevan Thomas and returned 49 yards for a touchdown to tie things up at 28.
After an unsuccessful onside kick attempt by San Jose, Arizona wrestled the lead back, as wide receiver Maurice Purify made an impressive catch in the back corner of the end zone to put the Rattlers on top 35-28 midway through the third quarter. The SaberCats came right back to tie it up, as Fred Williams caught a Michna pass on the left sideline and powered his way into the end zone to tie things at 35 with 5:58 to play in the third.
San Jose took its first lead on the ensuing play, with Whittaker intercepting Davila from his jack linebacker spot and returning it 22 yards for the touchdown, putting the SaberCats on top 42-35. But the Rattlers responded, tying the score yet again late in the quarter on a 2-yard touchdown pass from Davila to Poots to make it 42-all.
The SaberCats then drove deep into Rattlers territory, but a fumble near the goal line gave Arizona possession back and turned the tide. The Rattlers capitalized quickly, as fullback Odie Armstrong bulldozed his way into the end zone to give Arizona a 49-42 lead with 9:32 to play in the fourth.
On the ensuing kickoff, the ball hit the bar and bounced the Rattlers' way, with Poots recovering the loose ball at the SaberCats’ 7-yard line. Davila found Purify in the back of the end zone moments later for a 2-yard touchdown, stretching the lead to 56-42.
San Jose would not go away, though, and after a big fourth-down conversion, Michna finished off the drive with a 12-yard scramble to pull the SaberCats within seven at 56-49 with 3:27 remaining. The Rattlers recovered the ensuing onside kick, though, and while they were held to an 18-yard field goal with 0:54 to play in regulation, San Jose would get no closer.