PHOENIX — With back-to-back-to-back third quarter defensive stops, the Rattlers make it back-to-back-to-back appearances in the AFL title game.
“If I was in the NFL, I’d be rich right now,” head coach Kevin Guy said with a laugh.
His Rattlers (17-3) are once again ArenaBowl-bound after defeating the Spokane Shock 65-57 in the National Conference Championship at US Airways Center Saturday.
Down two touchdowns midway through the second quarter, the Rattlers scored 37 unanswered points with quarterback Nick Davila throwing five of his eight touchdown passes.
“Well, that’s the thing about this team, when they want to put their foot on the gas pedal, they can,” Guy said.
Davila (24-of-42, 294 yards) struggled early, missing receivers and spending more time on his back than he had most of the season, getting sacked three times in the first half.
The defense responded as well.
After allowing Spokane quarterback Erik Meyer to make good on 11 of his first 12 throws, including four scores through the first two quarters, the Rattlers harassed him into four straight incompletions on one possession and an interception two series later in the third quarter.
“Defense wins championships. It’s football. Defense wins championships,” Guy said. “Our defense came up with some huge plays.”
Defensive back Jeremy Kellem had two of the bigger plays, forcing a fumble and picking off Meyer.
“We started off slow defensively, at first,” Kellem said. “(Defensive coordinator Omarr Smith) told us (at halftime) we’ve got to step up. To that point, we had not gotten a stop yet.”
The Rattlers scored after each third quarter stop.
Their next stop: The Amway Center in Orlando and ArenaBowl XXVI
The Rattlers will play the Philadelphia Soul in a rematch of last season’s championship game — won by the Rattlers, 72-54, on Saturday, August 17 at 1 p.m. EST (10 a.m. MST).
“I’m sure the Philadelphia Soul wants another piece of us,” Guy said.