PHOENIX (ABC 4 Sports) - For the second time this season, the Utah Blaze (11-5) knocked off a team ranked atop the Arena Football League’s Coaches Poll by defeating the Arizona Rattlers (12-4) on the road at US Airways Arena. The 62-49 victory extended Utah’s current streak to a franchise-record five straight wins.
In a much-hyped matchup between two prolific quarterbacks, it was the defense that stole the show as the Blaze held the AFL’s third-ranked scoring offense to just 49 points. Rattlers quarterback Nick Davila entered the game as the League’s second-most efficient passer, but completed just 54.3 percent of his attempts while Utah came up with two interceptions.
The two teams exchanged scores to start the game before Odie Armstrong rushed into the end zone from a yard out to give Arizona a 14-6 lead. On the following kickoff, Arizona executed an onside attempt, but Antwan Marsh snatched the ball out of the air and sprinted nine yards to the end zone for a momentum-changing score. Two plays later, David Hyland dove in front of an Arizona receiver to pick off the pass by Davila.
Utah quickly converted the turnover into points, as Tysson Poots connected with Tommy Grady on a six-yard touchdown toss. The Rattlers responded with a 45-yard score to OL Sir Vincent Rogers, but the Blaze quickly regained a 27-21 lead as Grady lofted a 34-yard touchdown to Jeremy Kelley on a fourth down attempt. Davila forced a short pass on the first play of the ensuing possession, and William Mulder outmuscled the receiver to secure another interception.
Grady then found his favorite target of the season, Aaron Lesue, for a 17-yard hookup that gave the Blaze a 34-21 lead. John Booker caught a one-yard touchdown pass for the Rattlers with 39 seconds to go in the half, but another failed onside kick by Arizona gave Utah great field position. Poots hauled in a six-yard score with 26 seconds on the clock to give the Blaze a 41-28 lead at halftime.
The Blaze maintained a two-score lead throughout the second half as Utah and Arizona exchanged scores. For a moment, it looks as if the Rattlers had a chance to inch closer to the lead after Utah turned the ball over on downs with 6:24 remaining in the fourth quarter. Arizona drove the ball to the one-yard line, but a stout Blaze defense refused to let the Rattlers find the end zone. Utah forced Arizona to turn the ball over on downs and eventually ran out the clock to secure the victory.
The evening was monumental for Lesue, who finished with five receptions for 51 yards and caught his 50th touchdown of the year to set a new Utah Blaze single-season record. Grady extended his AFL season record to 125 touchdown passes, as he completed 20-of-33 passes for 184 yards and seven scores. Poots led all receivers with nine catches for 63 yards and four touchdowns, while Jeremy Kelley snatched three balls for 47 yards and two scores of his own.
With a 4-2 divisional record, the Blaze is now just a game behind the Rattlers for the West Division lead, as Arizona sits at 3-3 inside the division. Arizona travels to San Antonio next week to take on the Talons (12-3) before finishing the season at home against the Kansas City Command (3-12). Utah will clinch a playoff berth this weekend if the Talons defeat the Chicago Rush (9-6) on Sunday night.
The Blaze returns to EnergySolutions Arena on Friday, July 13th to face the Cleveland Gladiators (7-9) in a nationally-televised matchup on the NFL Network.