SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 Sports) – The Utah Blaze are just two wins away from bringing home just the second professional sports championship in state history. The Blaze (13-6) will take on the Arizona Rattlers (14-5) for National Conference supremacy on Saturday, August 4th at the US Airways Center in Phoenix at 8:00 p.m mountain time.
Not including minor league sports, nly Real Salt Lake, which won the MLS Cup in 2009, and the 1971 ABA champion Utah Stars have won major professional titles.
"We're trying to bring home a title for Utah," said defensive end Caesar Rayford. "If Real Salt Lake can do it, why not us?"
"This is big," said quarterback Tommy Grady. "The Blaze were just 2-14 three seasons ago, so this has been quite a turnaround."
The National Conference title game will feature a rubber match between the Blaze and Rattlers, as the two teams split their series during regular season play. Arizona defeated Utah in their first meeting during a Week 10 bout, 86-70. The Blaze got its revenge eight weeks later, handing the Rattlers a 62-49 loss in Week 18.
Utah advanced to the National Conference Championship by knocking off the top-seeded San Antonio Talons (14-5) last Friday, 35-34, for its first playoff victory in franchise history. The Blaze will be the underdogs once again against the Rattlers, but that's a role the entire team has embraced.
"The whole part about being an underdog is that it does nothing but add fuel to the fire," said defensive tackle Keenan Mace. "It just keeps us going. Nobody thought we would make it this far, and look where we're at now."
"It's us against the world," added Rayford.
Utah advanced to the National Conference Championship by knocking off the top-seeded San Antonio Talons (14-5) last Friday, 35-34. Meanwhile, Arizona moved on from the quarterfinals round by eliminating the San Jose SaberCats (12-7) on Saturday, 51-48.
"We're making people aware of us," said Rayford. "We haven't won our championship yet. But, now that we've got things going in the right direction, people are realizing that the Utah Blaze are playing some good ball. We're not just an afterthought in Utah sports anymore."
The winner will head to New Orleans on for ArenaBowl XXV and take on the winner of the American Conference Championship game, featuring the Philadelphia Soul and Jacksonville Sharks.