Arizona Rattlers head coach/general manager Kevin Guy has built a reputation in the Arena Football League as a fiery personality on the field, but sends a louder message with his moves in the front office.
After surrendering 68 points in their narrow overtime win in Jacksonville on April 23, Guy was looking for a stronger effort from his defense against a winless Portland Steel team.
The coach benched starting safety Allen Chapman, reinstated cornerback Markus Smith and started rookie Al Phillips, despite the defensive back spending just three days with the team.
These moves, in addition to the return of veteran nose tackle Anttaj Hawthorne, spurred the Rattlers to another one-sided victory, 68-21, in front of 11,510 fans at Talking Stick Resort Arena Saturday night.
Arizona did not have an ideal start as Portland quarterback Kasey Peters found Tyrone Goard on a 7-yard touchdown pass on the game’s second play from scrimmage to give the Steel a 7-0 lead.
From there, it was all Arizona as quarterback Nick Davila hit Rod Windsor over the middle and the veteran receiver beat his defender to the edge and raced 48 yards to the end zone.
Davila went 14-of-18 for 246 yards and seven touchdowns, including three to Windsor, on the night.
On the ensuing drive, Peters fumbled the snap near his own goal line and linebacker Tyre Glasper scooped and scored to give Arizona a lead it would not relinquish.
Portland would not score again until there were seven seconds remaining in the first half, as the Rattlers launched a defensive onslaught designed to make their shortcomings in Jacksonville seem like a distant memory.
The defensive front sacked Peters five times, two each from defensive linemen Chris McAlister and Damien Borel.
“We wanted to get back to the basics,” McAllister said. “We weren’t really happy with how we rushed the passer in the Jacksonville game. We wanted come out in this game and show the league that we’re a good front.”
When Peters could get the ball off, the secondary was there too, as safety Arkeith Brown collected six pass deflections and Phillips sealed the game in the fourth quarter with an interception.
“I thought our defensive backs set the tone early,” Guy said. “They were making some plays on fourth down, and I thought our pass rush got stronger as the game went on.”
Peters (23-49, 245 yards, 3 TDs, INT) struggled in his first start of the season as the Rattlers forced eight turnovers on downs and shut out Portland in the fourth quarter.
“Arkeith has been waiting to get in that middle, and I thought he did an excellent job tonight,” Guy added. “We got a lead and I was able to put Al Phillips in there. I think they played better than I thought we were. I was nervous before the game, because they weren’t together a long time. There were some questions about checks, but we’ve got something to build on now.”
Both sides of the ball suffered a big blow for Arizona as wide receiver/linebacker Kerry Reed was blocked into the boards of the end zone during a kickoff in the second quarter, sustaining an apparent knee injury and had to be helped to the locker room.
“It didn’t look good, but we’ll find out,” Guy said about Reed’s status. “We’ll take some images and figure it out.”
The Rattlers will face a much bigger test May 7 when they travel to Orlando to face the unbeaten Predators.
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