As a battle of current conference leaders, Friday night’s Arizona Rattlers-Philadelphia Soul matchup was advertised as a possible ArenaBowl preview.
If that’s the case, AFL fans are in for a heck of a league championship game in August.
The Rattlers’ special teams and defense keyed a five-touchdown outburst in an eight-minute stretch of the second quarter and hung on for an 80-63 win over the Soul in front of 11,067 fans at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
Philadelphia (9-3) came out very sharp, scoring the first four times it touched the ball. Chris Duvalt opened the game with a 55-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Quarterback Dan Raudabaugh then threw touchdown passes to Darius Reynolds on consecutive possessions.
On the Soul’s fourth crack, Jeramie Richardson capped another scoring drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.
Each time, Arizona answered. Nick Davila found Chase Deadder on a 35-yard touchdown pass with 8:07 remaining in the second quarter to pull Arizona (9-3) to within a point at 28-27.
That’s when we had the first service break of the match.
Arizona kicker Alex Zendejas clanked the ensuing kickoff off one of the uprights, and Dan Buckner hustled downfield to recover the ball on the bounce and took it into the end zone for a special teams touchdown and the Rattlers’ first lead of the night.
They wouldn’t trail again.
On Philadelphia’s next possession, Jeremy Kellem, playing in just his second game since rejoining the Rattlers, picked off Raudabaugh and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown. Less than two minutes later, it was Arkeith Brown’s turn. His 21-yard pick-six put the Rattlers up 47-28.
Arizona had scored 27 points in under just under six minutes, with only one touchdown coming from its offense.
Not that the offense didn’t have a good night. Davila completed 17-of-27 passes for 201 yards and seven touchdowns, three of which went to Deadder.
The 80 points were the most ever yielded by Philadelphia, a franchise that started up in 2004.
The Good: Buckner’s off-the-net recovery for a touchdown really flipped the switch for a dominant stretch. The former University of Arizona receiver also saw extensive time at the jack linebacker position and had a key interception late in the fourth quarter to kill the Soul’s final comeback attempt.
The Bad: While the secondary made key plays, they also gave up huge chunks of yardage. Raudabaugh threw for 372 yards and seven touchdowns.
The Rattlers continue to leave points on the board in the kicking game. Zendejas missed three more extra points on the night.
He Said It: “I thought the defense took the game over. Offensively, we kept our foot on the gas pedal. (Kellem) had a pick-six, (Brown) had a pick-six. We got a ball off the net, with Buckner coming recovering one and running it in for a touchdown. Everybody in our secondary tonight got a turnover. Our defensive line, I thought was great.” — Rattlers head coach Kevin Guy
Noted: The Rattlers, who split two games with Philadelphia this season, do hold the ArenaBowl tie-breaker against the Soul. Arizona hasn’t hosted an ArenaBowl since 2011, but it should be noted that in 2012 and 2013, the game was played at neutral sites.
What’s Next: The Rattlers hit the road to take on the L.A. KISS at the Honda Center in Anaheim a week from Sunday. Arizona has never lost to the KISS, and has beaten them 69-28 and 47-34 in two meetings this year.