PHOENIX — US Airways Center, or the Snake Pit as it’s known among Arizona Rattlers fans, hasn’t been exactly a fun place for visiting teams.
In fact, the Rattlers had won 16 straight games at home dating back to late in the 2013 season.
But without starting quarterback Nick Davila, who is out with a foot injury, the Rattlers’ offense sputtered in a heated 56-34 loss to the arch-rival San Jose SaberCats in front of 8,249 fans.
B.J. Coleman made his first Arena Football League start, and had a hard time finding his rhythm. The former Tennessee-Chattanooga signal caller finished 17-of-38 for 191 yards with three touchdowns. But he was also intercepted three times.
The game had a ridiculously quick start, with 21 combined points being scored in the first 2:49. San Jose’s Erik Meyer hit D.J. Stephens on a 33-yard touchdown pass on the first play from scrimmage. The ensuing kickoff was returned 57 yards for a touchdown by Arizona’s A.J. Cruz.
That was immediately answered by SaberCats kickoff returner Reggie Gray, who raced 54 yards for a score on the next kickoff just :56 later.
For as much as the Rattlers’ offense struggled, they hung tough. And when fullback Mykel Benson scored on a 2-yard touchdown run on Arizona’s first possession of the second half, the score was knotted up at 34-34.
Backed up deep in their own territory on the next possession, the SaberCats got the play of the game. On a third down-and-10, Meyer swung a short pass to the right to Gray, who sidestepped an Arizona defender and took it 45 yards to the house.
It was a costly play for the SaberCats, though. After delivering the ball, Meyer was dragged down by Arizona’s Michael McAdoo. Rattlers’ defensive tackle Anttaj Hawthorne then piled on Meyer while he was down, contorting his head and neck. Meyer stayed down for several minutes and was finally put on a stretcher and ambulance to a local hospital.
No penalty was called on the play, but tempers flared for several minutes between coaches and players.
“They are not a dirty team, it’s just football,” San Jose head coach Darren Arbet said after the game. “It’s unfortunate that happened but the other guys stepped up for their brother and finished the game out.”
Meyer’s injury seemed to energize the SaberCats. On Arizona’s next possession, linebacker Francis Maka sacked Coleman in the end zone for a safety, pushing San Jose’s lead to nine points.
Meyer’s replacement, Nathan Stanley, would throw fourth-quarter touchdown passes to Darius Reynolds and Adron Tennell to provide the winning margin for the SaberCats, who remained one of only two undefeated teams in the AFL.
As for Coleman, he wasn’t downtrodden after the game, instead using the experience to learn from.
“I think there are going to be some things that I can really go back and learn from on film,” he said. “I’ve got to knock that rust off — it’s early in the season — and I think that it’s going to be an opportunity to get better.”
Coleman wasn’t working with a full complement of receivers for a good portion of the game. Kerry Reed, who had three touchdown catches in each of the three games he played in this year, left with a hamstring injury. He was replaced by Chase Deadder.
With the loss, the Rattlers fall to 4-2 on the season, still good for first place in the National Conference’s Western Division.
• Davila’s streak of 106 consecutive games played was snapped.
• The loss was Arizona’s first at US Airways Center since a 62-43 defeat at the hands of the defunct Chicago Rush July 20, 2013.
• Since the Rattlers’ run of three straight ArenaBowl championships started in 2013, this is only the second time they’ve failed to score at least 40 points in a game. The other was June 27, 2014 in a 62-33 loss at San Jose.
• Since the beginning of the 2012 season, the Rattlers are an unbelievable 56-13 (including playoffs). Five of those losses have come to San Jose. The only other team with multiple wins over Arizona in that span is the Spokane Shock.
The Rattlers hit the road to take on the New Orleans VooDoo (2-4) at Smoothie King Center Saturday, May 9 at 5:00 p.m.
New Orleans is coming off a 66-63 win over Spokane Saturday night. Garrett Lindholm kicked a 41-yard field goal as time expired to give the VooDoo the victory.