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Sioux Falls ruins Rattlers’ perfect season, takes United Bowl in Glendale

(Photo courtesy of Gary Royall)

Despite a raucous crowd of 14,635 fans and a 10-point second half lead, the Arizona Rattlers (15-1) were unable to cap a perfect regular season with a United Bowl Championship as they fell to the Sioux Falls Storm (14-3), 56-53, at Gila River Arena Saturday night.

Sioux Falls started with the ball and, in what turned out to be a pre-cursor for the rest of the contest, converted a 3rd and long before quarterback Lorenzo Brown hit Damian Ford in the back of the end zone to give the Storm an early lead.

Arizona answered on its first drive as receiver Jarrod Harrington capped a seven-play, 28-yard drive by taking a hand-off to the left and hurdling a defender on his way to paydirt, tying the game at seven.

On the ensuing kick-off, Rattlers’ defensive back Devontae Merriweather got hold of kick returner Damond Powell, stripped the ball and Arizona recovered deep in Sioux Falls territory.

Two plays later, Arizona State alum Jamal Miles took a hand-off to his right, cut inside and plunged into the end zone to give the Rattlers their first lead.

The teams traded scores until just before the half. With the score tied at 28, Arizona quarterback Drew Powell was driving his team deep into Storm territory but fumbled the snap on 3rd down and was forced to take a sack with just a few seconds left. The Rattlers settled for a Jimmy Camacho field goal and headed to the locker room with a 31-28 advantage.

Arizona started the second half with the ball and Harrington took a hand-off, juked a couple defenders in the backfield and raced down the sideline for an electrifying 29-yard run, setting the stage for a Powell eight-yard touchdown pass to Miles, extending the Rattlers’ lead, 38-28.

Sioux Falls answered as Brown found receiver Brandon Sheperd for a 28-yard gain. On the next play, Brown hit wideout Kent Shelby for a three-yard score to pull the Storm within three points.

On the ensuing drive, Powell had Arizona deep in Sioux Falls territory yet again. However, on 4th and goal, Powell threw to Harrington at the goal line and Harrington appeared to be interfered with by defensive back Jermaine Robinson, but no flag was thrown.

The Storm took advantage as Brown instituted a five-play, 44-yard drive, capped off by a Calen Campbell two-yard touchdown run to give Sioux Falls a 42-38 advantage.

Despite a Harrington 58-yard kick-off return for a score that swung the lead back to the Rattlers, Arizona’s defense struggled to stop the big play and the Storm held a 49-45 advantage early in the 4th quarter.

With less than 12 minutes left in the game, Powell was sacked, fumbled the ball and Sioux Falls recovered. The Storm took advantage as Powell hit Shelby for a nine-yard score on 3rd & 8 to give their team its largest lead.

The teams traded scores until the final minute of play. With the Rattlers trailing by three points, Camacho executed a seemingly perfect onside kick that was recovered by Merriweather, but Arizona was flagged for an offsides penalty on the play. Sioux Falls took possession and managed to run out the clock to claim its seventh United Bowl title in franchise history.

Rattlers’ head coach/general manager Kevin Guy felt his team was fighting a war on two fronts – Sioux Falls and the officials – and did not mince words when discussing his team’s latter “opponent.”

“Every time we made a key play, there was some stupid penalty,” said Guy. “It was ticky-tack. They’re in the locker room before the game, saying, ‘This is big boy football and we’re going to let you play,’ then they call ticky-tack stuff on key downs. We’ll address it in the offseason. But I’m fed up.

“The referees should be held accountable, just like the coaches and players are. The refs are part of the game. They’re supposed to be bringing their best. And they didn’t have their best night.”

Quick Strikes

-Brown was named United Bowl MVP, the second of his career, finishing 15-19 passing for 200 yards and five touchdowns. The nine-year veteran also ran for 16 yards and a score. Powell had solid numbers (16-21, 166yds, 2TDs, 27 rush yds, 2 rush TDs), but was indecisive at times and took three sacks at crucial points in the game.

-A big moment came early in the second quarter. On 2nd down & 19, Brown was under a heavy rush and forced into an errant pass that was picked off by Arizona defensive back Devin Cockrell. However, defensive lineman Connor Flagel was called for roughing the passer when he pushed Brown to the ground after the ball was released. Sioux Falls scored on the next play to tie the game. Plays like this earned Guy’s frustration: “The referees took us out of the game.”

-The Rattlers fell to 1-4 in championship games played on their home field. The lone win came in 1997 against Kurt Warner and the Iowa Barnstormers. This was just the third indoor football game to be played at Gila River Arena, the first coming in 2016 when Arizona fell to Philadelphia in the Arena Bowl. The Glendale venue is a candidate (along with Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum) to be the Rattlers’ temporary home for the next two years while Talking Stick Resort Arena is under renovation.

-Arizona struggled to get off the field on third down, allowing the Storm to convert six of seven for the game, as well as their only fourth down attempt. A big reason for this was the pass rush, a big factor for the Rattlers’ success during their previously undefeated season, as the Arizona front managed just one sack and failed to pressure Brown in crucial situations.