Last year, the Arizona Rattlers failed in their bid to win a sixth Arena Football League championship, dropping a heartbreaking 56-42 decision to the underdog Philadelphia Soul in Glendale.
The Rattlers turned the ball over five times in the game, and despite a valiant comeback, succumbed to the upset.
Arizona will have a chance to make up for that loss, sort of, Saturday when the Rattlers visit the Sioux Falls Storm looking to claim their first United Bowl championship, which would give them a title in their inaugural Indoor Football League season.
The game kicks off at 3:05 p.m., and it pits arguably the best team in AFL history against a Storm squad that has won the last six IFL titles.
And beat the Rattlers 40-29 in the first game of the season.
A guest of Doug and Wolf on 98.7 FM, Arizona’s Sports Station, Rattlers coach Kevin Guy said he walked out of that game, in which his team led for much of the way, with three thoughts.
“I felt like athletically, we could match up with them and we just needed to learn the nuances of the game,” the coach said. “The second thought was we may have just lost the home field advantage for the championship game because Sioux Falls just went 15-1 the year before.
“And my third thought was, ‘Hey, we’ll see these guys up here in Sioux Falls again at the end of the season.'”
Guy was right, as his team reeled off wins over 12 of its next 14 games to claim the Intense Conference title before dismantling the Nebraska Danger 62-36 to get to this point.
The Rattlers are quarterbacked by Cody Sokol, who threw for 1,462 yards and 35 touchdowns with nine interceptions, and unlike in the past, the running game is actually a thing.
In Arizona’s win over Nebraska, Ketrich Harmon carried the ball 11 times for 60 yards and a score, with the Rattlers having more net rushing yards (137) than passing yards (110).
In short, the IFL is not the AFL, and these are not your father’s Rattlers, and Guy noted how, among other differences, the new league does not feature nets (so kickoffs are similar to outdoor football) and two players can go in motion on offense.
“You can move your guys around and try to put them at a disadvantage,” he said. “Defensively, because the linebackers are moved farther back, there’s a lot less restrictions and you see a lot more outdoor concepts in the coverages with like Tampa 2 and Cover-3 and some of those coverages that you didn’t get to run.”
It’s not the NFL, but it’s closer to that style of football than what the Rattlers did before.
It’s part of why they needed a bit of time to adjust to their new league, with the game itself proving to be more of a challenge than their opponents.
But once Guy and his coaches got the hang of it all, the Rattlers went on to dominate in familiar fashion.
The Rattlers finished second in total offense while actually leading the league in rushing yards, and their 48.9 points per game was the second best average in the game, behind only the Wichita Falls Nighthawks’ 52.
A successful transition to a new league and now, on the cusp of winning a title, would seem to put Guy in the conversation to be the IFL’s coach of the year.
He laughed off the idea.
“To be honest with you, I want another championship,” the two-time AFL Coach of the Year said. “I’ve always said give those kind of trophies out to the younger coaches that are up and coming.”
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