For the fourth straight season, the Arizona Rattlers find themselves hosting the National Conference Championship Game at US Airways Center.
For the first time in that span, they’re facing their most bitter rival for the right to advance to ArenaBowl 27.
The Rattlers (16-3) entertain the San Jose SaberCats (14-5) Sunday afternoon at “the Snake Pit,” and let’s just say the emotions are going to be running high.
“Our two organizations don’t care for each other,” head coach Kevin Guy told Doug and Wolf Friday on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “I’ve worked for both organizations, so I’ve been on both sides and I know the mentality. It’s not just going to be a physical game, it’s going to be a violent game on Sunday.”
This will be the fourth meeting between the teams this season. The Rattlers took the first meeting in San Jose 57-51 on April 12 then followed that with a 51-42 home win May 31.
The last meeting, in San Jose June 27, was dominated by the SaberCats. The Rattlers self destructed in a 62-33 defeat that snapped an 18-game winning streak that dated back to the 2013 season.
That defeat also started a four-game stretch during which the Rattlers lost three times. That shaky record doesn’t have Guy concerned heading into Sunday’s game.
“Not at all. I think it gets us right where we want to be, and that’s dialed in,” he said. “We understand we’ve been vulnerable lately. We lost three out of our last four games going down the backstretch after starting 14-0, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.
“I think it’s human nature that once we locked up homefield advantage for the playoffs, I think some of the guys thought we’re not playing for anything but pride. But now the playoffs are here; we’ve got something to play for again.”
The Rattlers are attempting to become just the second franchise in Arena Football League history to win three straight ArenaBowls, joining the defunct Detroit Drive, who accomplished the feat in the league’s early stages from 1988 to 1990. A win Sunday would propel them to ArenaBowl 27 against the winner of the Orlando-Cleveland American Conference Championship Game.
So how can the Rattlers accomplish this?
“It starts with the line of scrimmage, the big boys,” Guy said. “The last time we played them, they bullied us up at their place.
“We’ve got to win the matchup up front with our nose guard and our plugger linebacker coming up the middle, we’ve got to make the quarterback uncomfortable. Then on offense, our center and our fullback — they’ve got a very good nose and plug, too — we’ve got to do a good job with our midline protection. It starts there.”
Kickoff is scheduled for 5:00 p.m. Sunday afternoon.