In their three previous meetings with the LA KISS, the Arizona Rattlers had breezed to three wins by an average margin of almost 40 points per game.
Saturday night’s game at the Honda Center in Anaheim looked like it might be another cake walk for the three-time defending Arena Football League champions, but it wasn’t.
The Rattlers, who led by as many as 23 points late in the second quarter, had to hang on for a tough 49-43 win. In the process, the Rattlers wrapped up the West Division championship with five regular season games remaining.
Quarterback Nick Davila completed 22-of-33 passes for 282 yards and five touchdowns as Arizona (11-2) won their seventh straight game.
LA (2-11) closed to within six points late after backup quarterback Joe Clancy, who replaced starter Danny Southwick in the fourth quarter, hit Donovan Morgan on a an 8-yard touchdown pass. Clancy then took a botched extra point snap in for a 2-point conversion to make the score 49-43.
The Rattlers were able to kill the last 2:33 of the game, thanks to a slew of LA penalties, including a crippling personal foul called against defensive back Josh Victorian.
• Davila has been razor-sharp since returning from a foot injury that kept him on the sidelines for four games. In the four contests since his return, the league’s reigning MVP has completed over 66 percent of his passes for 924 yards and 24 touchdowns. More importantly, he hasn’t had an interception.
His five touchdown passes Saturday were spread out among three different receivers.
• A.J. Cruz continues to be a game changer in all aspects. The KISS had captured the momentum of the game after Southwick hit Morgan on a 43-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Cruz took the ensuing kickoff back 58 yards for a score, shifting the momentum back to Arizona’s sideline.
Cruz averaged 26 yards per kickoff return against his former team and now has six return touchdowns this season. He also caught five passes for 31 yards and a score.
• Arizona’s normally stellar secondary had a rough night with a few costly blown coverages that lead to touchdowns. Morgan had two long touchdowns (48 and 42 yards) where there was no Rattlers defender anywhere near him.
In the fourth quarter, Southwick found a wide-open DeMarco Sampson, who had shaken Arkieth Brown, on a 30-yard touchdown connection.
In all, LA QBs combined to throw for 319 yards against the Rattlers’ secondary.
• Arizona defenders racked up three roughing the passer penalties in the game. Nose tackle Anntaj Hawthorne was flagged twice and defensive end Michael McAdoo got one.
• The Rattlers flat-out forfeited at least six points at the end of the first half. With just seconds remaining, the Rattlers faced 2nd-and-9 from their own 5-yard line. Davila found Windsor on a bubble screen to the right, and the receiver got free. Windsor streaked down the field and was on his way to a sure touchdown when he inexplicably slid down at the LA 1-yard line, but time had expired on his run downfield.
Windsor also had a costly fumble in the fourth quarter. After making a sliding catch at the KISS’ 10-yard line, Windsor wasn’t touched. He got up, looking to gain more yards, but was stripped of the football, which was recovered to LA’s Tom Gilson.
• Jeremy Kellem had another interception for the Rattlers, giving him 12 on the season. It was Kellem’s sixth straight game with at least one pick.
• Kevin Guy notched his 100th win as the Rattlers’ head coach. Only Danny White, who guided Arizona to 121 wins (regular season and playoffs) from 1992 to 2004 has more.
The Rattlers will enjoy their second bye week of the season, then will return home to host the Las Vegas Outlaws at US Airways Center Saturday, July 11.