Rattlers defeat Danger, punch ticket to United Bowl
2016 still weighs heavily on the minds of Arizona Rattlers’ players, coaches and fans. Arguably, Arizona’s best team in their 27-year history, the Rattlers finished the regular season with a 13-3 record and were playing in their fourth Arena Bowl in five years.
However, a scheduling conflict moved the championship game from downtown Phoenix to Gila River Arena in Glendale. Arizona did not handle the move well, started the game poorly and never recovered, falling 56-42 to the Philadelphia Soul in what turned out to be the franchise’s final game in the Arena Football League.
The Rattlers got a measure of redemption in their second-ever contest on the west side Saturday night as they rolled over the Nebraska Danger, 62-45, to claim the Intense Conference championship in front of 13,579 fans.
Arizona started strong on the game’s opening drive. On third down, Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong was flushed to his left and picked off by Dillion Winfrey. A few plays later, Rattlers’ running back Jabre Lolley found the end zone from three yards out to give his team a 7-0 lead.
Nebraska was forced into a field goal attempt on their next drive, but Armstrong bobbled the snap and was pressured into an errant throw that was intercepted by Devontae Merriweather.
On the next play, Arizona quarterback Drew Powell took advantage of a broken coverage and connected with Jarrod Harrington for a 14-yard score to extend the Rattlers’ lead.
The Danger were not ready to be put away so easily. On the ensuing kick-off, Nebraska receiver Mike Tatum picked up some blocks, exploded through a lane and raced 49 yards to put his team on the scoreboard.
Arizona would answer right back as Powell led a four-play, 26-yard drive, punctuated by Powell calling his own number and skipping into the end zone from three yards out to put the Rattlers back up by two scores at the start of the second quarter.
The teams continued to trade scores until late in the first half.
After a Nebraska field goal, Arizona marched deep into Danger territory before Lolley scampered, untouched eight yards to paydirt to give the Rattlers a 35-17 lead at the break.
Arizona started with the ball in the second half and did not take long to effectively put the game out of reach. On the first play from scrimmage, Powell kept the ball on a read-option play, accelerated through the middle, broke a couple tackles and high-stepped his way to the end zone for a 30-yard score.
Nebraska tried to keep the game close but were unable to stop the Rattlers’ powerful offense as Arizona claimed its second Intense Conference title in three years and a United Bowl to be played on their home field.
“We wanted to get that bad taste out of our mouth from ’16,” said Rattlers’ head coach/general manager Kevin Guy. “A lot of these guys were a part of that. What happened in ’16 had nothing to do with what happened today. But we as coaches we wanted to get that over with.”
-Powell was once again a tremendous force both on the ground and through the air. The one-time Nebraska quarterback torched his former team to the tune of 12-16 passing for 110 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 91 yards and three scores.
-The Rattlers used their league-best rushing attack to keep the chains moving and wear down the Danger defense. Offensive linemen Lamar Mady, Steven Gurrola and Brandon Haskin dominated the line of scrimmage and powered the offense to 186 rushing yards, as well as not surrendering any sacks.
-This marks Arizona’s 12th league championship game in the franchise’s 27-year history, but just their fifth to be played at home. Their lone win at home came in the 1997 Arena Bowl when the Rattlers topped the Kurt Warner-led Iowa Barnstormers, 55-33.
-In the United Conference championship game, the Sioux Falls Storm rallied in the fourth quarter to upset Iowa, 52-50, and clinch their 10th consecutive United Bowl appearance. Sioux Falls eliminated Arizona in the 2018 playoffs, but the Rattlers lead the overall series, 5-2, including ending the Storm’s run of eight straight United Bowl championships in 2017.
The Arizona Rattlers host the Sioux Falls Storm in United Bowl 11 at Gila River Arena in Glendale on Saturday, July 13th. Kick-off is at 6pm. The game can be seen live on YouTube.