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Rattlers punch ticket to IFL United Bowl with rout of Nebraska

Head coach Kevin Guy (right) and members of the Arizona Rattlers pose with the Intense Conference Championship Trophy after beating the Nebraska Danger 62-36 on June 24, 2017, at Talking Stick Resort Arena. (Photo by Vince Marotta/Arizona Sports)

PHOENIX – For 24 seasons, the Arizona Rattlers pretty much had their way in the Arena Football League, winning five championships.

They’ve got a chance to add some more bling to their collection in their first Indoor Football League season.

The Rattlers (13-4) used a smothering defense and a Herculean effort from Jamal Miles in a 62-36 win over the Nebraska Danger to claim the Intense Conference Championship at Talking Stick Resort Arena Saturday night.

With the win, Kevin Guy’s team travels to Sioux Falls to battle the six-time defending league champion Storm on July 8.

The Rattlers jumped on Nebraska (9-8) early, with two Cody Sokol touchdown passes in the game’s first nine minutes.

The Danger got on the board in the second quarter when quarterback Drew Powell scored on a 1-yard keeper. But then Miles zapped any confidence Nebraska may have gained of pulling within a touchdown by returning the ensuing kickoff 46 yards for a touchdown.

It was the first of three Miles touchdowns in a 7:22 span to close the first half. His 52-yard return of a missed field goal as time expired put the Rattlers up 41-14 at the break.

Arizona has won nine straight, and is a much different team than the one that started their season in Sioux Falls with a 40-29 loss in February.

“We were young when we went up there the first time around,” Guy said. “I told everybody, basically the message was, it wasn’t how we start, it’s how we finish. We were 4-4 in the first half of the season – at one point, we were 2-3.

“We just kind of hunkered down and racked off nine in a row now.”

The Rattlers’ defense has been the difference during the win streak. They’ve held eight of their last nine foes under 40 points, with only Colorado scoring over 40 in what amounted to be a meaningless regular-season finale last week.

“The defense came to play today, took it to another notch,” linebacker Justin Shirk said. “We made big plays, shut their quarterback down. We kept everything in front and didn’t let them have any big plays.”

Shirk was instrumental in containing Powell, who managed only eight net rushing yards in the game and was picked off twice. The Rattlers bottled up Nebraska, holding them to just 139 total yards on the night, and only 22 yards on the ground.

His counterpart, Arizona’s Sokol, also threw two picks in the game, but played well overall – especially in a key stretch late in the second quarter. Arizona’s defense forced a turnover on downs leading 27-14. On the next drive, Sokol hit on all four of his passes for 34 yards and found Miles on a 14-yard touchdown strike.

Sokol completed 13-of-18 for 110 yards and four touchdowns on the night and added 33 rushing yards and another score.

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