One of the things that makes Arena Football different from its outdoor relatives is the fact that a ball that strikes off of a rebound net is live and can either be caught by the offense or returned by the defense.
The Arizona Rattlers got a rude reminder of that rule Saturday night.
Gerald Young returned two missed field goals by Arizona’s Jeremy Shelley for touchdowns, helping the expansion Las Vegas Outlaws shock the three-time defending league champions, 70-53 at Thomas & Mack Center.
Right before halftime, a Rattlers’ drive stalled at the Outlaws’ 16-yard line and Shelley missed a 32-yard attempt that Young returned 52 yards for a touchdown that gave Las Vegas their first lead of the game, 35-34, heading into halftime.
The Outlaws (1-1) stretched their lead to 42-34 on the first drive of the third quarter on a 3-yard touchdown run by reserve quarterback Sean Brackett.
Early in the fourth quarter with the Rattlers trailing 49-47, Shelley came on to attempt a 31-yard field goal, but missed and Young returned it off the nets 54 yards for a touchdown, putting Las Vegas up 56-47.
On Arizona’s next drive, quarterback Nick Davila was picked off by Outlaws defensive back Dwight McLean at the 1-yard line, stalling another drive.
Seven plays later, Las Vegas signal caller J.J. Raterink hit offensive lineman Terrence Campbell on an 8-yard touchdown pass with 6:03 remaining that essentially iced the first win in franchise history.
Raterink completed 20-of-32 passes for 201 yards and four touchdowns. Davila connected 23-of-35 for 264 yards and six touchdown passes in the loss.
A.J. Cruz, who spent last season with the expansion L.A. KISS, was signed by the Rattlers last week to try and improve their kick return game. In his first game in an Arizona uniform, he did just that, averaging 26.7 yards per return and scoring on a 57-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
Cruz was also pressed into duty on defense and led the team with seven tackles.
The Rattlers’ struggled in all other areas of special teams. Shelley, playing in just his second AFL game, missed two field goals which turned out to be 10-point swings each time due to Arizona’s failure to contain Young on the ensuing returns.
Young also averaged 25.8 yards on traditional kick returns.
• This was the first time since 2011 that an expansion team has beaten the defending league champion. That year, the Pittsburgh Power knocked off the Spokane Shock, 51-41.
• The Rattlers played for the second straight week without receivers Rod Windsor and Kerry Reed. Defensive back Marquis Floyd also missed the game with an injury.
The Rattlers (1-1) are on the road for the second straight week as they visit the Cleveland Gladiators (2-0) at Quicken Loans Arena next Saturday night.
The game will be a rematch of last year’s ArenaBowl, in which the Rattlers cruised to a 72-32 win and a third straight league championship.