Call it making a statement heading into the postseason.
The Arizona Rattlers wrapped up a 13-3 regular season by absolutely pasting the Cleveland Gladiators Sunday night at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Nick Davila threw for six touchdown passes, the defense made seven stops and scored a touchdown and a safety and the special teams also put points on the board in a 68-20 victory in front of 12,823 fans.
The game was never in doubt.
On Cleveland’s first play from scrimmage after receiving the opening kickoff, Arizona defensive end Rodney Fritz tackled Collin Taylor in the end zone for a safety. Anthony Amos then returned the ensuing kickoff 56 yards for a touchdown. The Gladiators (7-9) then turned the ball over on downs on their second possession, giving Arizona great field position at the Cleveland 11-yard line. Davila’s first pass of the game was an 11-yard touchdown to Rod Windsor — one of four times they would hook up on the night.
Arizona’s defense was relentless, forcing five turnovers and sacking Cleveland quarterbacks Arvell Nelson and Stephen Panasuk five times. Jack linebacker Dan Buckner had a defensive touchdown when he scooped up a fumble and raced 23 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter that put Arizona up 35-7.
Nelson and Panasuk combined to complete only 16-of-42 passes on the night.
“We didn’t want to leave any doubt that we want (the ArenaBowl) coming through the desert,” Rattlers head coach Kevin Guy said of his team’s fast start. “Our guys came out with a lot of energy tonight, we started fast on them and we never took our foot off the gas pedal.”
Cleveland’s 20 points were a season-low (their previous low was 41 — on three occasions). In fact, it’s the lowest point total the Gladiators have ever had in a road game and the first time they’ve been held under 30 points since a 49-21 loss at Philadelphia on July 8, 2011.
The Rattlers have Week 18 off, but will be watching the Philadelphia-Orlando game next Saturday. If Philadelphia should win, Arizona would have homefield advantage throughout the AFL Playoffs, including the ArenaBowl. Due to a scheduling conflict with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury however, the league championship game would be played at Gila River Arena in Glendale should the Rattlers advance that far.