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Defense leads Arizona Rattlers to sixth straight victory

PHOENIX — Defense has been the hallmark of the Arizona Rattlers’ current winning streak.

Saturday night was no different, as the Rattlers’ stingy ‘D’ stopped the Orlando Predators on seven possessions en route to a relatively easy 55-35 win in front of 11,673 fans at US Airways Center.

Once again, the defense set an early tone.

After a 31-yard pass play set Orlando up with a 1st-and-goal at the Rattlers’ 10 in the game’s opening minutes, the Predators tried to play power football. It didn’t work.

Fullback Michael Simons, who weighs 295 pounds, was stopped short of the goal line on third and fourth downs, giving the Rattlers the football.

Seven plays later, quarterback Nick Davila hit Kerry Reed on a 6-yard touchdown pass to open the scoring.

Orlando (7-6) would answer. Bernard Morris hooked up with Larry Brackens on a 7-yard TD pass just 4:30 later to tie the score.

That’s as close as the game would be the rest of the way. Arizona (10-2) would stop the Predators on downs on back-to-back possessions and enjoyed a 21-14 halftime lead.

The advantage grew after Davila found Reed on a 2-yard scoring strike on the Rattlers’ first possession of the second half. Defensive back Jeremy Kellem then thwarted an Orlando drive by intercepting Morris in the end zone on the next possession. The former Middle Tennessee Blue Raider has picks in each of his last five games, and leads the AFL with 11 interceptions on the season.

Davila turned defense into offense on the very next play, hitting Rod Windsor on a beautiful 32-yard touchdown pass to push the lead to 34-14, after Fabrizio Scaccia’s extra point was blocked.

The win was the sixth straight for the Rattlers.

“I thought our defense played outstanding tonight,” Arizona head coach Kevin Guy said. “We got stopped a little bit more than I wanted to on offense tonight, but we knew they were playing pretty good defense coming in as well.”

Indeed they were. In their last three wins, over Portland, Cleveland and Philadelphia, the Predators yielded an average of just 42.3 points per game.

Davila wasn’t spectacular, but was efficient. The reigning league MVP completed 24-of-35 for 221 yards and six touchdowns. In three games since returning from a foot injury, Davila has thrown 19 touchdown passes and hasn’t been intercepted.

The left-hander was still pretty critical of his own play.

“The score should have been worse than that,” Davila said. “The defense was doing an outstanding job. They’re a great team. We’re not going to get, as coach says, the ‘attaboy’ thrown at us. We’re going to try and get better, starting with me on offense.”

One player who stood out on offense was receiver A.J. Cruz. Normally a return man and a jack linebacker, Cruz has been pressed into duty on the offensive side due to injuries suffered by receivers Chase Deadder and Markee White. The second-year player out of Brown had nine catches for 62 yards and two touchdowns and also scored on a 5-yard run to help ice the game with 2:35 left.

Defensive end Michael McAdoo was a menace for Arizona. The rookie led the team with 7.5 tackles, two sacks, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup. McAdoo has four sacks in his last three games.

“I’m really just enjoying the moment,” he said following the game. “Every day I just wake up and thank the Arizona Rattlers for giving me a shot, giving me an opportunity. That was my whole thing, I felt like if I just got an opportunity, I’d have to take advantage of it. This was big for me.”

The Rattlers travel to Anaheim to take on the LA KISS next Saturday at the Honda Center. Arizona won the first of three meetings between the division rivals 68-30 back in April.