After four road games in the past five weeks and three losses in that span, the Arizona Rattlers were looking forward to some home cooking in the form of a matchup with a Portland Steel team they had already beaten twice this season by a combined 99 points.
They didn’t disappoint the 14,401 fans in attendance at Talking Stick Resort Arena, cruising to a 76-49 victory Saturday night.
Portland (1-9) came into the game with momentum, having earned its first win of the season last weekend and featuring talented quarterback Shane Austin, who did not play in either of the season’s first two contests with the Rattlers.
Austin was in top form early, hitting receiver Tom Gilson for a 41-yard touchdown on the game’s third play from scrimmage.
The Rattlers answered back as Nick Davila tossed a pass just out of linebacker Bryce Peila’s reach and into the hands of Rod Windsor for the game’s tying score.
Arizona’s defense forced a turnover on downs in the red zone and, on the ensuing possession, wideout Maurice Purify caught a Davila pass down the sideline, shook off a tackle and coasted to the end zone for the Rattlers’ first lead of the night, 14-7.
Another long touchdown by Gilson would pull the Steel closer, but Ernesto Lacayo missed the extra point. Portland’s special teams miscues continued on the ensuing kickoff as Arizona kick returner Anthony Amos shot through a gaping hole the Steel’s coverage and ran 56 yards untouched for a score.
The Rattlers’ defense forced another turnover on downs and, coupled with another Windsor touchdown, Arizona never looked back on their way to its eighth win of the season.
The defense also looked on-point with the return of defensive back Jeremy Kellem, a crucial part of Arizona’s title runs, who missed the season’s first ten games as he tried to hook on with an NFL team. He paced the unit with four tackles and two pass breakups, despite not knowing what is next for himself going forward.
“I knew coming back out there, there would be an adjustment,” said Kellem, who had been living in Tennessee. “I’m just taking it one day at a time and soaking this win in”
Davila played one of his best games of the season, completing 24-of-33 passes for 270 yards and eight touchdowns, but gave credit for the team’s fortunes to his defensive counterpart.
“I’m just glad (Kellem) is here. Not just on the football field, but in the locker room, that presence is big. We need him on the back end of the defense. He’s a coach on the field. I love him.”
The Rattlers will be looking to avenge an earlier defeat when they welcome the Philadelphia Soul to Talking Stick Resort Arena Friday, June 17.
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