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Rattlers advance to National Conference Championship with tight win over Portland

Beating one opponent three times in the same football season is very difficult.

Try doing it four times.

The Arizona Rattlers did just that Sunday, defeating the Portland Thunder 52-48 in a National Conference Semifinal in front of 6,753 fans at US Airways Center — and it wasn’t easy.

Fullback Alex Singleton scored on a 4-yard touchdown run with :29 remaining to give the Rattlers the lead and Marquis Floyd intercepted a Kyle Rowley pass at the goal line with just :05 left to preserve the win and send Arizona to the National Conference Final for the fourth straight season.

Portland, who finished their first season in the league with a 5-13 record, took the lead with under a minute to play when Rowley hooked up with Jeffrey Solomon on a 14-yard touchdown pass that silenced the crowd.

Arizona (16-3) built a 15-point lead — their biggest of the game — when quarterback Nick Davila found Rod Windsor on a 6-yard touchdown strike with 11:48 remaining in the third quarter. But Portland hung tough — Rowley found Douglas McNeil on a 5-yard scoring strike just 5:43 later to cut the Rattlers’ advantage to eight points.

On the next possession, Davila threw a rare interception that Darron Thomas, the former Oregon quarterback, returned 23 yards for a touchdown and the Thunder were within one point at the end of the third quarter.

The teams would trade touchdowns on their next possessions. Leading 42-41, Arizona stalled near midfield and had to settle for a 41-yard field goal from Craig Ratanamorn that stretched the perilous lead to four points.

Arizona won the first meeting between the teams in Portland by 29 points. The second meeting, also on the road, was an 11-point victory. Two weeks ago, the Rattlers won their regular season home finale over the Thunder by 10 points, 65-55.

What’s Next: The Rattlers will host the San Jose SaberCats next Sunday with a trip to ArenaBowl 27 on the line. Arizona won two of the three meetings between the teams this year, but San Jose won the last one, pounding the Rattlers 62-33 on June 27. The final score wasn’t indicative of how one-sided that game was as San Jose led 55-7 heading into the fourth quarter.

This will be the third straight year and eighth time overall that the two teams have met in the playoffs. Kickoff is scheduled for 5:00 Sunday afternoon with the winner advancing to take on the winner of the Cleveland-Orlando American Conference championship game on Aug. 23.

Player of the Game: Rod Windsor, WR, Arizona – The Rattlers were playing without one of their top offensive threats in Maurice Purify (1,235 yards, 30 touchdowns), but Windsor picked up the slack. The Western New Mexico product had nine catches for 113 yards and four touchdowns in the win.

Unsung hero: Craig Ratanamorn, K, Arizona – Ratanamorn was perfect on extra points, hitting all seven of his attempts and his 41-yard field goal with just 6:05 left loomed large in the outcome.

Stat of the game: The two teams combined to draw 30 yellow flags for 196 penalty yards in the sloppy contest.