Phoenix, AZ – With the rivalry already intact, the first round matchup between the Arizona Rattlers and San Jose SaberCats is the first stop on the way to Arena Bowl XXV. The history behind this storied rivalry can go back decades, but this season the SaberCats had won both contests in the regular season by a combined total of 8 points. Even though the Rattlers are the Western Division champions in 2012, the two teams have always put on a show when they meet, no matter the situation. With a trip to the conference final on the line, the Rattlers and SaberCats were sure to lay everything on the line for this game. The
Rattlers 20th anniversary season finished with a second consecutive Western Division title and they would want nothing more than to end it with a third ArenaBowl title in franchise history.
With the game’s opening possession, the SaberCats moved down the field rather easily until the Rattlers defense began to rattle QB Mark Grieb (26-57, 263 YDS, 5 TD, 2 INT). Anttaj Hawthorne, Marcus Pittman, and Virgil Gray all had a say in the SaberCats ending the initial drive inside the 10-yard line with a turnover on downs. The Rattler offense now had a chance to take control of the game. Quarterback Nick Davila (21-42, 246 YDS, 6 TD, 4 INT) led the team down the field and capped a six-play drive with a seven-yard touchdown pass to WR Chris Carter (2 REC, 23 YDS, 1 TD). The ensuing drive by the SaberCats started at their own five-yard line. After four incomplete passes by Grieb, the Rattlers took possession of the ball at the SaberCat 5-yard line. As soon as the Rattlers got the ball, they gave it away. A pass intended for RB Odie Armstrong (2 ATT, 4 YDS) deflected off his hands and was picked off by Andre Jones in the end zone. But, Rattlers DB Virgil Gray was not Ok with that; he intercepted a pass intended for WR Fred Williams (10 REC, 90 YDS, 2 TD), and gave the Rattlers possession on their 17-yard line. The Rattlers offense then drove 19 yards and ended their drive with a five-yard touchdown pass to Maurice Purify (10 REC, 134 YDS, 4 TD), putting the team up 14-0.
Grieb and the SaberCats started off their next drive at their own 20-yard line, and in desperate need of a score. After two incompletions, Grieb hooked up with WR Huey Whittaker (9 REC, 87 YDS, 3 TD) for a 30-yard touchdown, bringing the score to 14-7. The Rattlers offense started the ensuing drive on their own five-yard line. Davila slowly led the team down the field until Whittaker picked off a fourth down pass on the San Jose six-yard line. While Whittaker was making noise on both sides of the ball, the Rattler defense was once again proving stout. The next SaberCat drive ended with the Rattler defense forcing them into a turnover on downs for a third time, but the back and forth was far from over. Davila took over once gain, and looked to put some more points on the board, but SaberCats DB Tanner Varner would jump the route and intercept Davila’s pass. The SaberCats turned a four-play drive into seven points by way of a second hookup between Grieb and Whittaker. Knotted up at 14 apiece, the SaberCats attempted an onside kick but, it was recovered by the Rattlers at the eight-yard line. Davila found WR Jason Geathers (2 REC, 29 YDS, 1 TD) in the end zone on the first play of the drive, giving the Rattlers a 21-14 lead. The SaberCats took possession of the ball and drove down the field until facing another fourth down at the Rattlers 5 yard line. The Rattlers defense forced an incompletion and a fourth fourth-down, and took over on downs once again. The Rattlers offense took over and attempted to put up a score before halftime. A pass to their own 20-yard line was completed to Maurice Purify but a flag wiped out the play and the Rattlers took a 21-14 lead into halftime.
Davila and the Rattlers offense got the ball to open up the second half. Already with a seven-point lead, they needed to make a statement, and they did just that when Davila tossed an 18 yard score to Maurice Purify, giving the team a 28-14 lead. A 38-yard kickoff return by Fred Williams put the SaberCats in great field position. On the fifth play of a short SaberCat drive, Grieb found Whittaker for their third score of the night. That brought the SaberCats within seven points at 28-21. When the Rattlers got the ball back, Davila once again led the team right down the field. It was almost abruptly interrupted by an interception return for a touchdown by the SaberCats, but an illegal defensive formation penalty was called on the play and the Rattlers were back in business. Three plays later, the team had Chris Gould attempt a field goal. That kick went wide right, and the SaberCats regained possession at their own 10-yard line. Mark Grieb was relentlessly pressured by the Rattlers defense on four straight plays, forcing the SaberCats into their turnover on downs.
The Rattlers offense began their drive at the SaberCats 10-yard line and heading into the fourth quarter, maintained their 28-21 lead. The drive didn’t gain any steam, but the team settled for a 25-yard field goal by Chris Gould. The Rattlers led 31-21 with 14:28 left in the game. The ensuing 21-yard kickoff return by Fred Williams was aided by a facemask penalty on the Rattlers, bringing the SaberCats ball to their own 24. In prime position to get within one score, the SaberCats drove down to the Rattler 2-yard line before getting a rushing touchdown by Huey Whittaker, his fourth overall touchdown of the night. With the score now 31-28, the Rattlers offense started out on their own 6-yard line. One play after an offensive pass interference call was declined by the SaberCats, a pass deflected off of Chris Carter’s hands and into the arms of SaberCats defender Andre Jones, who took it back for a pick-six. The SaberCats took their first lead of the night at 35-31. The Rattlers offense wasn’t going to let that lead last long. Two plays and 45 yards later, Davila found Purify for their third touchdown of the night, this time a 29-yarder. The Rattlers led 37-35 after a missed extra point.
The SaberCats took over after another good kickoff return by Fred Williams. Starting on their 23-yard line, the SaberCats were looking for another score to regain the lead, but what happened five plays later was just what the Rattlers needed. Arkeith Brown intercepted Grieb’s pass and returned it 42 yards for a Rattlers touchdown. The Rattlers now led 44-35 with 4:57 left in the game. With the SaberCats getting the ball back, they would need a good drive to get within one score. Mark Grieb led the SaberCats down the field and capped the drive off with a 14-yard score to Fred Williams. A failed two-point conversion made the score 44-41. The SaberCats recovered an onside kick and gained possession down by three, but after an official review, it was determined the ball was illegally touched by the SaberCats, giving the Rattlers the ball at the 9-yard line with 1:06 left in the game. Davila found Purify for their fourth touchdown connection of the evening, giving the Rattlers a 51-41 lead. Fred Williams again had a great kickoff return, this time 34 yards. The SaberCats drive started with :50 left in the game, and got off to a rocky start with an Anttaj Hawthorne sack. Three plays later, Grieb found Williams for a 14-yard touchdown. The SaberCats were now within three at 51-48 with :22 left in the game. The Rattlers recovered an onside kick with :21 left. The Rattlers ran out the clock, in front of 7,545 fans and earned a spot in their second consecutive National Conference Championship. They will face off against the Utah Blaze, Saturday, August 4th at 7pm inside the Snake Pit, as they fight to reach the ArenaBowl in back-to-back years.
Russell Athletic Offensive Player of the Game – (Ari) Maurice Purify
Riddell Defensive Player of the Game – Arizona Defense
JLS Ironman of the Game – (SJS) Fred Williams
AFL Playmaker of the Game – (Ari) Virgil Gray
Cutters Catch of the Game – (SJS) Huey Whittaker
Spalding Highlight of the Game – (Ari) Arkeith Brown, 4th quarter, 42-yard interception return for a touchdown
National Guard MVP – (Ari) – Maurice Purify