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Rattlers breeze past Portland in AFL playoff opener

PHOENIX — There’s a belief in football that beating any opponent more than once over the course of a season is a difficult thing.

The Arizona Rattlers don’t subscribe to that thinking.

Led by a relentless defense and nine combined touchdown passes from quarterbacks Nick Davila and Shane Boyd, the Rattlers destroyed the Portland Steel 84-40 Saturday night in front of 13,192 fans at Talking Stick Resort Arena in the first round of the Arena Football League Playoffs.

Things got off to a great start for the Rattlers (14-3) when the newly-acquired Nich Pertuit bounced the opening kickoff off the goal post and Dan Buckner recovered at the Portland 2-yard line. Fullback Mykel Benson rumbled into the end zone on Arizona’s first play from scrimmage and the Rattlers never looked back.

The Rattlers defense forced a Rashaad Carter fumble on Portland’s first play of the game, and Dimetrio Tyson recovered at the 15-yard line. Davila capped the ensuing drive with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Rod Windsor to put Arizona up 14-0 with 5:40 to go in the first quarter.

Arizona exploded for 35 second-quarter points, including some from their defense. Defensive back K.J. Morton stepped in front of a Shane Austin pass and returned it 17 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the half to pad the Rattlers’ lead to 49-14.

The win over Portland (3-14) was the fourth of the season for the Rattlers. The average margin of victory in the four meetings has been 42.5 points.

Arizona’s defense intercepted four Portland passes, returning two for touchdowns. Arkeith Brown picked off an Austin pass and took it to the house from 42 yards out in the fourth quarter to cap the Rattlers’ scoring for the night and extend the lead to 84-27.

“I thought our defense played lights-out tonight,” Rattlers head coach Kevin Guy said. “Defense was just swarming all night. We had four interceptions, two of them we took to the house. We put relentless pressure on them.

“We had some nice breakups, as well. We even caused some fumbles. I think we had eight defensive stops tonight, so the defense really came out.”

The 84 points set a new franchise record for most points ever scored in a home game, eclipsing the 83-spot the Rattlers hung on the now-defunct San Antonio Talons in 2013.

With the win, Arizona advances to the National Conference Championship Game against the winner of Sunday’s game between the Cleveland Gladiators and the LA KISS in San Diego. The Rattlers went 5-0 against those two teams this year, so Guy doesn’t have a preference on who heads to the desert next Saturday.

“Nope,” he responded when asked. “Whoever shows up is who we’re playing. It is what it is. We’ve got to go through them all to get to the championship game, so we’ll play anybody, anywhere, anytime.”

Regardless of opponent, that championship game will be played Saturday, Aug. 13 at Talking Stick Resort. Kickoff is at 6:30 p.m.

What an improvement: Pertuit, who kicked for San Jose the last four seasons, was perfect on extra points Saturday, hitting all 12 of his attempts in relief of the injured Alex Zendejas. He also clanged several kickoffs off the posts, creating havoc for Portland return man Shaine Boyle and leading to opportunities for the Rattlers’ special teams.

“(Nich) was a great pick-up for us,” Guy said. “Alex has done a great job for us all year long. He’s not where he needs to be on extra points, but he’s going to get better. Alex is going to be a great kicker in this league.”

Zendejas had missed 22 of 122 extra point attempts in the regular season.

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