– The Arizona Rattlers have had a whirlwind of a season. From week one all the way through week twenty, there’s been intrigue for the most decorated playoff team in Arena Football League history. A seven-game winning streak followed by a two-game losing streak had the Rattlers as the heavy favorites in the National Conference’s Division to second-place and hoping for a strong finish. As the last two weeks of the regular season unraveled, Arizona ending up claiming the Western Division title for the second straight year. Two heart-racing finishes in the first and second round playoff games against the San Jose SaberCats and Utah Blaze ended up with two victories and a berth in the AVITAE Arena Bowl XXV against the Philadelphia Soul (15-3 regular season record).
The Rattlers are looking to begin a new chapter of dominance, extending the tradition with a new more dynamic cast of stars. That all started tonight with the franchises third ArenaBowl victory in its 20-year existence. The 2011 season ended in heartbreak as the team fell to the Jacksonville Sharks in ArenaBowl XXIV. AFL Hall of Fame head coach/general manager Kevin Guy has led the team through the 2012 season titled by many as the “redemption tour”. But with the 2011 season behind them, and a strong team on both sides of the ball, the Rattlers set out this year to finish off the season with not only a conference championship, but also an ArenaBowl championship.
By game-time, both teams were focused on the task at hand. The Soul started the game off with possession. Quarterback Dan Raudabaugh (26-42, 285 Yds, 7 TD, 3 INT) completed two passes on the drive as the team drove into Rattlers territory. On the fifth play of the drive, Rattlers defensive lineman Cliff Dukes tipped a Raudabaugh pass into the air, his sixth tipped pass of the post season. After a few defenders bobbled the ball, Rattlers linebacker Kevin McCullough ended up with the interception.
The Rattlers started their first drive of the game at their own 22-yard line. Rattlers quarterback Nick Davila, the 2011 AFL MVP finished the night 23-30, 266 Yds, 9 TD led the National Conference Champions to the first scor of the championship contest and in position to force Philadelphia in the position of playing chase. On the sixth play of the first Rattlers drive of the game and on third and goal from the three-yard line, Davila found wide receiver Maurice Purify (9 Rec, 143 Yds, 7 TD) for the first score of ArenaBowl XXV. The Rattlers went up 7-0.
The Soul weren’t discouraged by the Rattlers early fortunes. Starting on their own five-yard line, Raudabaugh completed back-to-back 16-yard passes to wide receiver Jeff Hughley (8 Rec, 93 Yds 1 TD), one of them coming on a third and ten. A second down pass interference call on defensive back Arkeith Brown aided the Soul drive. The AFL’s leading rusher, Derrick Ross (52 Total Yds, 2 TD) of the Soul, took a first-down handoff seven yards for a Soul touchdown. A missed extra point by Fabriz Scaccia led to a 7-6 Rattlers lead.
The Rattlers explosive offense is familiar with shootouts and was plenty ready to respond on their next drive. Wide Receiver Kerry Reed (8 Rec, 80 Yds, 1 TD) had a 21-yard kickoff return which led to Arizona starting on their 14-yard line. Davila threw a 22-yard strike to Reed on the first play, setting up a first-down on the Soul’s 14-yard line. Following an incomplete pass, Davila threw a laser to Reed who barreled two yards into the end zone for another Rattlers score. The Rattlers offense was all fired up after two straight scoring drives. The momentum was definitely in their favor heading into the second quarter as they led 14-6.
Philadelphia started off the second quarter with a good kickoff return by Hughley which resulted in the team starting on their own 19. Ross started off the drive with a two-yard run. Following a long incompletion byRaudabaugh , a six-yard pass resulted in a fourth and two for the Soul. Attempting to get within a score, Raudabaugh was picked off in the end zone by Rattlers defensive back Arkeith Brown. Brown returned the pick 22 yards to the Rattlers 21 yard line.
The Rattlers only took one play to keep their head-of-steam momentum going. Davila threw a pass to where only his favorite target could make the catch. That’s just what Maurice Purify did as he hauled in his second touchdown of the night, this one a 29-yarder. The Rattlers were showing they brought their A-game and extended their first half lead to 21-6. The Rattlers defense also had something to say about this game. The Soul started their next drive on their own six. On third and five, Arkeith Brown picked off his second pass of the night and gave the team great field position. The Rattlers offense put up three points on that drive, coming off of a Chris Gould 30-yard field goal. The team took a 24-6 lead with 7:28 left in the second quarter.
If the Soul were going to stay in this game, they’d need a score on this next drive. Raudabaugh kept his composure and found Jeff Hughley wide-open for a 26-yard score. The Soul were now down 24-13. Now, they needed their defense to step up against the explosive Rattlers offense.
The Rattlers next drive began with two straight first-down completions to Kerry Reed. Following back-to-back penalties, one on the Soul and one on the Rattlers, Arizona had a first and fifteen at their own 22 yard line. A four-yard pass to Purify followed by a 12-yard pass to Reed gave the Rattlers a first-down at the Soul 12-yard line.
As the clock struck the one-minute warning in the first half, the Rattlers faced a third and one at the Soul three-yard line. A two-yard run by Odie Armstrong (14 Total yds, 1 TD) gave the team a first and goal at the one-yard line. Clock management was now a factor for both teams. Two timeouts, an encroachment penalty on the Soul, and a two-yard rushing loss by Davila brought the clock to 54 seconds. The teams got a little testy as pushing and shoving between the two teams occurred between plays. It could have been frustration on the Soul’s part, as evidence by the score.
Odie Armstrong rushed two yards to the one-yard line and the Rattlers ran the clock down to 14 seconds. The Rattlers attempted to score before the half, knowing they also had the first possession of the second half. A three-yard rushing loss by Jason Geathers set up the Rattlers for a field-goal attempt. Chris Gould was good from 20 yards and the Rattlers took a 27-13 lead into halftime.
Coming out of halftime, the Rattlers had the first crack at scoring and the Soul defense was in desperate need of a defensive stop. On the second play of the Rattlers drive, Nick Davila threw a bullet into the left flat to Maurice Purify. Purify made a quick move, added a stiff-arm and was off to the races for a 38-yard score. The Rattlers took a commanding 34-13 lead.
The Soul and Dan Raudabaugh needed to answer in order to have any kind of shot at staying in the game. A 12-yard Derrick Ross run mixed in with a few short passes set up a second and four for Philadelphia. Raudabaugh found Derrick Ross on a quick pass and Ross raced to a 31-yard touchdown. Scaccia missed his second extra-point of the night and the Soul trailed 34-19.
The Soul kickoff hit the boards at the 17 yard line, giving the Rattlers great field position. Again on the second play of the drive, Davila found Purify for their fourth touchdown hookup of the night. The 29-yard score gave the Rattlers a 41-19 lead with 7:42 left in the third quarter.
The next Soul drive started at their own 13. A wild mixture of incomplete passes, two pass interference calls on the Rattlers, and a complete pass, Raudabaugh finally found Larry Brackins (4 Rec, 33 Yds, 4 TD) for a 10-yard touchdown, bringing the score to 41-26.
A failed onside attempt by the Soul was recovered by the Rattlers at the Philly ten-yard line. Shortly afterward, Davila threw his sixth touchdown of the game on the first play, this one to wide receiver Markee White (3 Rec, 25 Yds, 1 TD). With the Rattlers now leading 48-26, Chris Gould’s next kickoff bounced off the net and was a live ball for recovery. The Rattlers Arkeith Brown recovered the ball and gave the offense a first and goal in perfect position to score again. Davila wrapped up his third quarter with another touchdown pass to Purify, their fifth of the night. After a blocked extra point, the Rattlers led 54-26. Davila finished the third quarter passing six for six with 92 yards and four touchdowns.
The Soul’s next drive started with 1:04 in the third quarter. Two plays into the drive, Dan Raudaubaugh found Emmery Sammons (6 Rec, 62 Yds, 1 TD) for a 21-yard score. A two-point conversion by Larry Brackins brought the end score of the third quarter to 54-34, in favor of the Rattlers.
On the first play of the final quarter, Davila threw his eighth touchdown of the night. Of more significance, Rattlers wide receiver set the all-time ArenaBowl record for touchdowns in a game, with six. A missed extra-point gave Arizona a 60-34 lead.
Even with the Soul scoring, the Rattlers offense just couldn’t be stopped at this point. Dan Raudabaugh, the fourth-highest rated passer in the AFL, still kept fighting. Starting at their own 12, Philadelphia went right down the field on three plays, the third being another touchdown for Larry Brackins. Emmery Sammons scored a two-point conversion but the Soul still trailed 60-42.
An onside kick recovery could get the Soul back in the game, but fate wouldn’t let that happen. The Rattlers easily recovered the onside-attempt. Kerry Reed and Jason Geathers got touches on the drive before Odie Armstrong capped the drive off with a three-yard touchdown. Following the run, coach Kevin Guy was as pumped up, if not more, than any player on the Rattlers sideline. The Rattlers now led 66-42.
Philadelphia’s next drive started with 7:57 left in the game. Dan Raudabaugh again spread the ball around between his receivers. On the fifth play of the drive, Larry Brackins caught his third touchdown of the night. It was Raudabaugh’s sixth score of the night but it was too little too late. His six touchdowns just couldn’t keep Philadelphia in the game after his early-game struggles. A failed two-point conversion made the score 66-48.
The Rattlers were definitely on their game tonight. After struggling on recovering onside kicks during the season, the Rattlers proved that wasn’t going to be the case in this game. They recovered yet another onside kick attempt by the Soul. Nick Davila set the all-time ArenaBowl record with his ninth touchdown score of the night, this one to who else but Maurice Purify. That would be Purify’s seventh touchdown of the night, and after another failed extra-point, the Rattlers led 72-48.
With barely any time left, Dan Raudabaugh led the Soul down the field with four complete passes that put them within scoring range. Larry Brackins scored his fourth touchdown of the night on a three-yard reception. After a failed two-point conversion, the Rattlers led 72-54 with :42 seconds left. The Rattlers gained possession and ran out the final seconds of the clock to end the game and claim their third ArenaBowl championship in team history.
By winning ArenaBowl XXV, the Arizona Rattlers have ended their 15 year drought without a championship. As the Foster Trophy returns to the desert, 2012 can be added alongside 1994 and 1997 as another banner-year for the Rattlers. Wide Receiver Maurice Purify, the Rattlers biggest offseason acquisition, was named the Net10 AVITAE ArenaBowl XXV MVP with nine catches for 143 yards and seven touchdowns.
Russell Athletic Offensive Player of the Game: (ARI) Nick Davila
Riddell Defensive Player of the Game: (ARI) Arkeith Brown
JLS Ironman of the Game: (ARI) Arkeith Brown
AFL Playmaker of the Game: (ARI) Maurice Purify
Cutters Catch of the Game: (ARI) Maurice 7th Touch to set the ArenaBowl Record
Spalding Highlight of the Game: (ARI) Maruice 7TD’s
National Guard MVP: (ARI) Maurice Purify