PHOENIX — Step one is complete.
Behind Nick Davila’s passing, Rod Windsor’s receiving and a defense that forced three turnovers, the defending ArenaBowl champion Arizona Rattlers opened the playoffs with a 59-49 victory against their arch rivals, the San Jose SaberCats, in front of an announced crowd of 7,932 at US Airways Center Sunday.
“It was a complete, total team effort tonight,” head coach Kevin Guy said. “I loved how we played tonight. I loved the energy. We had to bring our best, our ‘A’ game to win this game because they’re a great football team.”
The Rattlers (16-3) trailed only briefly in this one.
Midway through the third quarter, Davila had a pass intercepted by Huey Whittaker, who returned it 22 yards for a touchdown, giving San Jose its first lead of the game, 42-35.
Davila responded with an 18-yard strike to Tysson Poots to tie the game at 42. After the defense recovered a San Jose fumble at the Arizona two-yard line, Odie Armstrong punched it in from one-yard out to retake the lead, 49-42.
The Rattlers would not trail the rest of the game.
“Coach always talks about handling adversity and that’s what we did,” said Davila, who went 21-of-35 for 233 yards and seven touchdowns. “Defense did a good job getting a stop and then we got a ball off the bar. That’s what happens when you do the right things, good things happen.”
Windsor, making his first postseason appearance in three years, finished with a game-high 123 yards receiving on nine catches, including three touchdowns.
“It’s a big relief,” he said. “I can say that, coming in and winning my first playoff (game). It’s a big relief off my shoulders.”
The victory meant for the second straight year, the Rattlers had ended the SaberCats’ season.
“It feels fantastic, to be honest,” Davila said. “San Jose is such a great team. They whooped our butts on national TV (72-42, June 22). We wanted to come back and change it and take it to them. This was a great game to be a part of and now it’s on to the next one.”
The Rattlers advance to the National Conference Championship, where they will host the Spokane Shock on Saturday, August 10.