GLENDALE, Ariz. — All season long the Arizona Rattlers jumped on opponents in the first quarter and coasted to victory.
Friday night, the tables were turned.
The Philadelphia Soul punched the Rattlers in the mouth in the game’s first 15 minutes and defeated Arizona 56-42 in ArenaBowl XXIX at Gila River Arena.
Arizona won the toss and deferred to the second half, allowing Philadelphia to start quickly. Dan Raudabaugh hit Darius Reynolds on a 16-yard touchdown pass to start the scoring. The Rattlers drove down the field on their first possession, but fullback Mykel Benson was stacked up on a second-down run at the Philadelphia 1-yard line, fumbling in the process. Dwayne Hollis picked up the loose ball and raced 49 yards for a touchdown and the Soul led 14-0 before many of the 13,390 fans who attended could settle into their seats. Rattlers head coach Kevin Guy challenged the call, but referee Tom McCabe ruled that Benson did indeed fumble.
It would get worse for Arizona (15-4).
Tommy Frevert clanged the ensuing kickoff off the post away from Arizona return man Anthony Amos. Tracy Belton recovered in the end zone for a Philadelphia touchdown to make it 21-0 less than eight minutes into the ball game.
Finally, Arizona would get on the board when Nick Davila hit Maurice Purify on a 16-yard touchdown pass with 4:42 left in the first quarter. But Philadelphia answered. Raudabaugh connected with Ryan McDaniel on a 22-yard pass moments later.
The Rattlers wouldn’t really find any footing until late in the first half. Benson scored on a 1-yard touchdown run with 2.3 seconds remaining in the half to cut the Soul’s lead to 35-21. Arizona found pay dirt on their first drive of the second half when Davila found Rod Windsor on a 3-yard touchdown strike. Suddenly, a game dominated by Philadelphia was a one-score contest.
The Rattlers would come all the way back. Early in the fourth quarter, Davila and Purify hooked up again, this time on a 6-yard connection. Nich Pertuit’s extra point tied the score at 42-42.
Philadelphia again had an answer. Raudabaugh hit Sean Kauleinamoku on an 11-yard touchdown pass, but Tyre Glasper blocked Frevert’s extra point which left the door open for the Rattlers to walk through with 10:27 to go and the Soul holding a 48-42 lead.
The Rattlers couldn’t budge the door.
Arizona drove to the Philly 15-yard line but Jake Metz sacked Davila on 2nd down, jarring the ball loose and jumping on the fumble in what was the biggest play of the game. Raudabaugh hit Kauleinamoku on a 30-yard scoring strike three plays later to seal the game and hand Philadelphia their first ArenaBowl championship since 2008.
“They got the breaks,” Guy said. “In the end, we turned the ball over five times and got behind early. We come out and we fumble on the 1-yard line, whether or not that was a fumble — it was a fumble that they ran back for a touchdown. Then they get the ball off the net and we’re down 21-0.
“I thought our guys showed great character trying to get back into the game. We blocked that extra point and we had the chance to go down and take the lead and Nick gets hit in the pocket and the ball pops out.”
Davila, who was named the league’s MVP for the third time in his career Thursday, didn’t have his normal game. The left-hander from Cincinnati completed 23-of-38 for 281 yards, but tied a season-low with only four touchdown passes. His two interceptions also tied a season-high.
The game took a turn on Philadelphia’s first possession. Rattlers defensive lineman Damien Borel took a low block from Jeramie Richardson on the third play from scrimmage and injured his knee. Borel didn’t return and without him, Arizona couldn’t muster a consistent pass rush on Raudabaugh, who finished 20-of-36 for 278 yards and six touchdowns.
“I think when Borel went down on the third play of the game, it mentally affected some guys,” Guy said. “We didn’t recover after that.
“Congratulations to Philadelphia, I think they played a hard game. They had a good team — we felt like they did match up with us well.”
The Rattlers fell to 1-3 in ArenaBowls on their home field. Their only win came in 1997 against a Kurt Warner-led Iowa Barnstormers team. Since then, they’ve dropped three home championship games in a row, previously falling to the San Jose SaberCats in 2004 and the Jacksonville Sharks in 2011.
Friday marked the first time the Rattlers have ever played a home game away from “The Snake Pit” in downtown Phoenix. A scheduling conflict with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury forced the contest to be moved to the west side of the Valley. Guy didn’t think the venue had much to do with the outcome.
“For whatever reason, we just didn’t get it done,” he said.