Sloppy Rattlers stunned by Rush in home finale
PHOENIX -- When the Spokane Shock emphatically beat the San Antonio Talons 77-30 on Friday night, the message it sent to the Chicago Rush was simple: Win and you're in.
All that was standing in Chicago's way was the league's best team, the Arizona Rattlers, a team that hadn't lost at US Airways Center all season long.
In the hysteria that accompanied the possibility of a division title, defensive end Brian Brikowski said that so long as the Rush avoided mistakes, they would be fine.
They made plenty of mistakes Saturday night, but the Rattlers made more, and the Rush essentially clinched a Central Division title with a stunning 63-42 victory over the team with the best record in the Arena Football League.
Arizona, which entered the game with a plus-33 turnover margin, turned the ball over seven times in the loss in its home finale. The Rattlers, who have already clinched their own division title, had previously not turned it over more than three times in a game this season.
"It's a testament of what our guys are capable of when they want something," coach Bob McMillen said. "They knew how big this game was for us tonight, especially with San Antonio losing last night to Spokane. They knew they could clinch the playoff berth tonight, and I've never seen our guys more focused than they were before the game, and they went out there and executed everything that we asked them to do, and they played well."
The score was tied at 28-all late in the first, but the Rush got a touchdown just before halftime and ended the game on a 35-14 run.
The Rattlers actually appeared poised to take the lead with less than a minute remaining in the half, but on third-and-goal, the Rush defense stonewalled Odie Armstrong, and on fourth down, quarterback Nick Davila bumped into his own offensive lineman. The ball took a hard bounce off the lineman's backside and was ultimately recovered by Chicago defensive back Jorrick Calvin.
From there, Rush quarterback Carson Coffman took over, finding wide receiver Reggie Gray twice over the middle, before rolling right and lobbing it to his star wideout for Gray's third touchdown reception of the first half.
With a 35-28 lead exiting the locker room, the Rush missed a field-goal attempt but held on the ensuing possession, with Semaj Moody playing a deep ball perfectly and fellow defensive back Vic Hall came up with a leaping interception to give Chicago the ball back.
The Rush then took control with a trick play. Coffman lateraled to Gray, much like a play that had resulted in a first down earlier in the game, except this time, Gray halted and lobbed a pass down the field to offensive lineman Colin Madison, who barreled into the end zone for the 42-28 advantage.
The Rush defense then came up big once again, as Rattlers wideout Maurice Purify had the ball stripped as he tried to fight for extra yardage along the sideline. Calvin came up with the fumble and took it the distance for a Chicago touchdown and a 49-28 lead.
Hall gave the Rush a little more of a cushion when he intercepted a Davila deep ball intended for Rod Winsor. As Windsor futilely looked for a pass interference flag, the ball caromed off the top of the back wall and into Hall's waiting hands.
Jared Jenkins would cap off Chicago's run of 45 unanswered points, pulling in a reception in a dead sprint toward the right boards before flipping into the stands for the touchdown.
Hall had three interceptions for the Rush, Moody added one and Calvin had two fumble recoveries to cap off an immensely successful night for the Rush secondary.
"They made a lot of mistakes tonight as a team," McMillen said. "I'm sure their coach, Kevin Guy, isn't very happy, but our defensive line put some pressure on the quarterback. We asked them to do that. We asked our defensive backs to stay close and make some plays and be playmakers out there, and that's what they did tonight."
Coffman bounced back after two first-half interceptions to finish 21 of 38 for 262 yards and five touchdowns. Gray had the three first-half touchdown snags, finishing with nine receptions for 135 yards before letting the Rush defense steal the spotlight in the second half.
"We still have a lot of work to do," McMillen said. "We struggled at times with our offense, but thank God our defense came and picked us up tonight."