PHOENIX — Normally, an Arizona Rattlers’ victory is fueled by the offense.
But that wasn’t the case Saturday night. The Arizona defense stopped the Portland Thunder on four of their first five possessions as the Rattlers pushed their record to 3-1 with a 65-47 win at US Airways Center.
On Portland’s first possession, quarterback Kyle Rowley hit Duane Brooks over the middle, but Rattlers’ defensive back Marquis Floyd forced a fumble that was recovered by teammate Jeremy Kellem in the end zone.
Ten plays later, Arizona quarterback Nick Davila hit Markee White on a 3-yard touchdown pass to give the Rattlers a lead they’d never relinquish.
The offense actually started slowly for the Rattlers, but ended up scoring touchdowns on 10 of 11 possessions. Davila finished the game 31-of-44 for 319 yards and nine touchdown passes — eight of which went to either Rod Windsor or Kerry Reed.
The dynamic receiving duo followed up a strong performance last week in Cleveland by combining fro 24 catches for 262 yards.
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the offense. Davila was intercepted by Bryce Peila in the second quarter, and Portland had a first-and-goal at the Arizona 1-yard line with a chance to tie the game at 13-13. But the defense held, stuffing Rowley on two quarterback keepers and forcing two incomplete passes.
“I thought defensively, our guys played well tonight,” head coach Kevin Guy said. “We got some good pressure on (Rowley) and I thought we did a good job of pressing up their receivers and playing aggressive.”
Kellem was responsible for three turnovers, with two fumble recoveries and an interception late in the first half that was followed by a winding, 34-yard return.
“It was a fun return,” Kellem said with a smile. “I got tired. It took like 20 minutes actual time for me to recover — I needed that halftime break.”
The Rattlers turned Kellem’s pick into points in quick fashion. On the third play of the possession, Davila hit Reed, who made a spectacular one-handed catch in the back of the end zone, to put Arizona up 26-6.
The Thunder (2-2) never got closer than 12 points the rest of the way.
• The Rattlers had to shuffle their kicker position on Saturday. After waiving rookie Jeremy Shelley earlier in the week, the club signed veteran Fabricio Scaccia. But Scaccia suffered an injury and Guy reached out to former University of Arizona kicker Alex Zendejas, who signed Saturday. It happened so close to game time that Zendejas didn’t even have his last name on the back of his jersey.
Zendejas struggled, missing four extra points on the night. Incidentally, he’s probably best known for having two extra points blocked in the 2010 Territorial Cup game, won by Arizona State in overtime, 30-29 in Tucson.
Several Sun Devil fans chanted “A-S-U” before Zendejas would line up for an extra point attempt.
“I know we put Zendejas in a tough situation just signing him today, but we’ve got to rectify that position and we’ve got to find a guy,” Guy said.
The Rattlers hit the road to take on the L.A. KISS (0-4) next Saturday at the Honda Center in Anaheim.