Rattlers weather Storm, win season opener
PHOENIX — The Arizona Rattlers used a couple late defensive stops and overcame the loss of starting quarterback Verlon Reed on the game’s initial drive to top the Sioux Falls Storm, 39-33, on Sunday in front of 12,477 fans at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
Six months ago, Arizona capped a successful 2017 campaign by snapping the Storm’s streak of six-straight United Bowl titles with a 50-41 victory in South Dakota, the franchise’s sixth championship and first in their inaugural season in the Indoor Football League.
Sioux Falls seemed to have revenge on their minds in the game’s opening drive as quarterback Lorenzo Brown faked a hand-off and raced 17 yards up the sideline for a touchdown and, after a missed extra point, a 6-0 lead.
Arizona used its strong rushing attack to answer back as Reed had runs of 11 and 12 yards before running back Darrell Monroe rumbled into the end zone from three yards out to give the Rattlers a 7-6 lead.
Reed appeared to injure his shoulder and did not return, putting the onus on rookie Jeff Ziemba to lead the way.
The teams traded scores until just before halftime, when Storm defensive back Daniel Lindsey picked off Ziemba deep in Arizona territory, preserving a 27-20 lead for Sioux Falls at the break.
Rattlers head coach Kevin Guy leaned on his ground game to open the second half as Monroe ran four times for 28 yards before Ziemba found Arizona State alum Jamal Miles in the end zone on fourth down to pull the teams even.
After a high scoring first half, defense reigned in the second as the teams traded stops and field goals until late in the fourth quarter.
With a minute to play and the score tied at 30, Brown was looking to lead the Storm for a game-winning drive. But Arizona defensive lineman Joshua Gordon had other ideas, coming off the edge to sack Brown and force a fumble that Sioux Falls recovered in its own end zone for a Rattlers’ safety that gave them the lead.
Arizona recovered a couple onside kicks and emerged from the United Bowl re-match victorious.
“We challenged our defense,” Guy said. “We’ve got leaders on that side of the ball, they stepped up and made the plays we needed to make. It put us in a position to win.”
– Discipline was an issue as the teams combined for 20 penalties for 140 yards
– Arizona receiver Anthony Amos hauled in a 36-yard touchdown pass from Ziemba with one hand in the second quarter. It was Ziemba’s first professional touchdown pass. The Shepherd University product finished 5-of-13 for 78 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
– 2017 IFL rushing champion Darrell Monroe picked up where he left off with 87 rushing yards and a touchdown.
– Arizona’s defensive effort was buoyed by lineman Chris McAllister, who finished with nine tackles, 3.5 for loss.
– Sioux Falls finished 1-of-7 on 3rd down.
Arizona has a bye week before traveling to Des Moines to face the Iowa Barnstormers on March 10. Kick-off is at 6:05 p.m.