Rattlers earn 300th franchise win in shootout fashion over Cedar Rapids
On a night where the Arizona Rattlers were attempting to achieve the franchise’s 300th victory, head coach Kevin Guy’s squad channeled their Arena Football League predecessors with an 84-83 come-from-behind win over the Cedar Rapids Titans in front of a season-high 16,742 fans at Talking Stick Resort Arena Saturday night.
The game was a track meet from the start.
On the first play from scrimmage, Cedar Rapids running back Raphael Lawson-Gayle took a handoff and weaved his way 44 yards through the Arizona defense for a touchdown.
On the ensuing kickoff, Rattlers kick returner Dezmon Epps picked up a couple blocks and raced 51 yards to the end zone to tie the score.
The teams traded scores until early in the second quarter when Arizona running back Darrell Monroe caught a pass, broke free over the middle and dove for the end zone, but was up-ended by Titans lineman Darren Wilson, coughing up the ball at the 3-yard line.
Three plays later, Cedar Rapids receiver Marquel Wade took a sweep and found pay dirt from one yard out to give his team a 31-21 advantage.
Things continued to go poorly for the Rattlers in the final minute of the half.
While dropping back to pass, Arizona (7-1) quarterback Jeff Ziemba was stripped of the ball. Titans’ safety James Calhoun scooped it up and scored to give Cedar Rapids (1-7) a commanding 45-28 lead at the half.
Epps gave his team a boost to start the third quarter, returning the second half kickoff to the Titans’ 6-yard line. On the next play, Monroe found the end zone for the fourth time to pull the Rattlers within two scores.
Neither team could register a stop until midway through the period when Arizona defensive back Arkeith Brown recovered an onside kick which lead to another Monroe score to pull the home team within striking distance.
But a Ziemba interception, a failed onside kick and a fluke two-point conversion after a blocked PAT had the Rattlers on the wrong side of an 18-point deficit at the start of the fourth quarter.
Even with some fans heading for the exits, Arizona continued to fight and started to wear down the Titans on both sides of the ball.
After pulling to within four points in the final minutes on the strength of three more Monroe scores, Cedar Rapids had the ball deep in Rattlers’ territory, looking to put the game away. On fourth down, Titans quarterback Jake Medlock’s pass to the end zone fell incomplete and Arizona took over on downs with just over a minute to play.
Ziemba proceeded to lead a text book drive, taking advantage of Cedar Rapids miscues, deep into Titans territory. With time running out and the Rattlers down to their final chance, Monroe followed his blocks, shucked off a would-be tackle and cruised into the end zone for his record 11th rushing touchdown to give Arizona its first lead with just a few seconds on the clock.
The Rattlers’ kick coverage squashed Cedar Rapids’ hopes of a walk-off win as Arizona claimed its 300th win as a franchise in dramatic fashion.
“I can only coach my team.” Guy said. “I’m sure they were going, ‘We want to win it here, and we’re tired of losing.’ I’m not going to second-guess what they did. But overall we finished. We preach finishing 60 minutes.”
Congratulations to Rattler Nation. The most wins all time in the country. Pretty Special. Thank you to all the former owners, coaches, players, staff, and sponsors. The people make the organization and the fans make it the best. Congrats! pic.twitter.com/Ch72CZaDaR
— Kevin Guy (@CoachKGuy) April 29, 2018
• Monroe finished with 140 rushing yards on 29 carries to go along with his team-leading seven receptions for 65 yards. The Arizona Western alum’s 11 rushing touchdowns shattered the old league record of seven and gives him 21 on the season, despite only playing in six of the team’s eight games.
• Medlock (12-of-13, 260 yards, 6 TDs) did not throw his first incompletion until the four-minute mark of the final period on Arizona’s 4th & goal defensive stand before their game-winning drive.
• The 83 points surrendered by the Rattlers was the most in franchise history. The previous high (81) was in 2003 while the franchise was still a member of the Arena Football League; a game which Arizona also won by a single point over Grand Rapids.
• Both teams finished with 349 yards of total offense. The Rattlers had 13 more minutes of possession and 16 more first downs. They also finished with 321 total kickoff yards.
The Rattlers won’t have to wait long to face the Titans again. The two teams will meet in Cedar Rapids on Saturday, May 5 at 5:00 pm. All Rattlers road games can be seen live on YouTube.