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Rattlers clinch homefield for first two rounds of playoffs with tight win over Jacksonville

PHOENIX — There wasn’t a lot of defense on display Saturday night at Talking Stick Resort Arena, but the Arizona Rattlers showed just enough resistance on a two-point conversion attempt with under 10 seconds to play to seal a 69-67 win over the Jacksonville Sharks.

Jacksonville quarterback Tommy Grady hit Joe Hills with a 16-yard touchdown pass with just :09 remaining, and went for two to tie the game. His pass sailed wide of his intended target and the Rattlers escaped with a two-point win, their smallest margin of victory all season.

Each team scored touchdowns on ten of their 11 possessions. The difference: Jacksonville kicker Lindsey Wolfe missed two extra points, while Arizona’s Alex Zendejas missed only one. Wolfe’s second miss came after a holding penalty nullified a successful kick after a Hills touchdown that pulled pulled the Sharks within a point at 55-54 with 11:55 left in the fourth quarter. After the penalty yardage was assessed, Wolfe hooked the next attempt wide-left.

Arizona quarterback Nick Davila was on-point all night. The lefty from Cincinnati completed 25-of-34 for 255 yards and nine touchdown passes, which tied a season-high. He and receiver Rod Windsor hooked up on six touchdown strikes, including two in the fourth quarter. Windsor had been held to just four touchdown catches in his last three games, but broke out with a season-high on Saturday. He now has 40 touchdown grabs this season, the first time he’s reached that mark since 2014, when he had 44 for the ArenaBowl champs.

Grady went step-for-step with Davila. The 6-foot-7 veteran threw 10 touchdown passes on the night, including five to Hills, who had 170 yards receiving on the night.

The Rattlers (11-3) had clinched homefield advantage throughout the first two rounds of the playoffs before kickoff when Cleveland lost to Philadelphia. But head coach Kevin Guy and his staff have bigger fish to fry; like clinching homefield advantage for the ArenaBowl. Guy said his players had no clue about the result, or at least he hopes so.

“I don’t even think (the players) knew,” Guy said. “The coaches knew, but we didn’t tell them. You know, we were trying to win the ball game. We tell them to cut off their cell phones by a certain time. If they did know, we know they had their cell phones on, so I would have fined them for it.”

The Rattlers can clinch that homefield advantage with two more wins. The first game is Monday, July 18 against the Orlando Predators, who currently own the best record in the league at 12-2. The Predators also handed the Rattlers their first loss of the season, 77-59, in Orlando back in May.

Play of the Game: After Jacksonville had scored with :08 left in the first half to tie the score at 34-34, the Rattlers took over on their own 5-yard line. Undaunted by the remaining time, Davila marched the Rattlers down the field, first hitting Windsor on a 10-yard completion. Then he found Maurice Purify for a 17-yard gain. On a first down from the Jacksonville 18-yard line and one second remaining in the half, Davila found Windsor inside the five, and the veteran receiver bulled his way into the end zone, to give Arizona a 7-point bulge heading into the locker room.

Jacksonville would receive the ball to start the second half, so the touchdown was instrumental in the win, especially considering neither defense came up with a stop after halftime.

“I thought the guys did a great job of situational football at the end of the first half,” Guy said.

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