PHOENIX — After a one-year absence, the Arizona Rattlers are back in the ArenaBowl.
Nick Davila threw seven touchdown passes and Arizona’s relentless defense came up with seven turnovers and nine total stops in an 82-41 win over the Cleveland Gladiators in the National Conference Championship Game at Talking Stick Resort Arena Saturday night.
The Rattlers (15-3) sputtered a bit on their first possession of the night, but did manage to grab a lead they’d never relinquish. Fullback Mykel Benson plunged into the end zone on a 1-yard run, capping an uneven eight-play, 36-yard drive to take a 7-0 lead.
Arizona’s defense then forced a turnover on downs on Cleveland’s (8-10) first possession. Davila hit Anthony Amos on a 5-yard touchdown strike on the next play, and the rout was on.
In all, Rattlers quarterbacks would throw nine touchdown passes on the night, with backup Shane Boyd coming on in relief to deliver the last two. Amos, Rod Windsor and Maurice Purify each had three touchdown catches.
“We’ve done something special here in the desert,” head coach Kevin Guy told CBS Sports Network during the game’s waning moments. “To be able to bring it back home and have a chance to play here in a couple of weeks for a championship — I love our fans, Rattler Nation is the best.”
While the Rattlers will be the home team for the ArenaBowl on Aug. 26, they won’t be very familiar with the setting. Scheduling conflicts have forced the AFL to move the game to Gila River Arena, the home of the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes, in Glendale. The Rattlers did have a practice in that facility last week while team officials were conducting a field and logistics check in the building.
Arizona will play the winner of the Jacksonville-Philadelphia American Conference Championship Game, which takes place Sunday. They do have ArenaBowl experience against both teams. Jacksonville beat Arizona in ArenaBowl XXIV in Phoenix in 2011, winning the game on an Aaron Garcia touchdown pass on the final play. The Rattlers then defeated Philadelphia in the next two championship games in 2012 and 2013, both at neutral sites. Arizona won 72-54 in 2012, which was played in New Orleans, and turned around and triumphed in the 2013 rematch, 48-39, the next year in Orlando.
The ArenaBowl will be played Friday, Aug. 26 and will kickoff at 4:00 p.m. to accomodate a national television audience on ESPN.