Blaze Overcome Dull Offense, Stuns San Antonio
The Utah Blaze averaged 62.7 points per game this season, and they scored at least 55 points in 16 of their 18 games. In fact, the Blaze have always been known for their offense and their porous defense. On Friday night though, it was the defense that stepped up and picked up the slack for an offense that was stumbling and bumbling all the way to the end in a 35-34 win at the Alamodome over the San Antonio Talons.
Utah had gone 0-for-3 in its franchise history prior to this year, but it has its victory in the oddest of ways. Yes, QB Tommy Grady threw for 326 yards, but he only had five touchdowns in a year in which he averaged 7.9 TDs per game, and he had a pair of picks on back-to-back possessions in the second half. Grady had 35 completions, the fourth best mark in a playoff game in league history, four behind Rickey Foggie in 1998.
Grady's top receivers had virtually identical numbers. WR Aaron LeSue caught 14 passes for 132 yards and three TDs, while WR Tysson Poots had 14 grabs for 132 yards and two scores. Both LeSue and Poots tied for the fifth most receptions in a postseason game in AFL history.
Meanwhile, it was a bitter end to the season, and perhaps to the career of QB Aaron Garcia. Garcia had a rough game, suffering a wrist injury and throwing for just 285 yards and five scores. His Talons led 20-7 at the end of the first quarter, but the offense went another 28+ minutes until their next score.
Still, after interceptions on back-to-back Utah possessions, Garcia had a chance to be a hero, just as he was in the ArenaBowl last year for the Jacksonville Sharks. The Talons were down a point with just over three minutes to play with the ball on the Utah 2-yard line. On 4th-and-goal though, Garcia was sacked by DL Joe Mortensen. The Talons conceded the ball on downs and never gave the ball back.
There were a whopping 10 stops against 10 touchdowns, and the difference in the game proved to be a Stefon Demos missed extra point on the very first score of the game.
The Talons were led by WR Jason Willis, who had 11 receptions for 112 yards and two TDs. WR Derek Lee also had 95 yards and a score, while WR Jomo Wilson had 74 yards as a receiver and 72 more as a return man.
With the win for the Blaze, the three teams that are left in the National Conference are all from the Western Division. This guarantees that a team from the Western Division will be in the ArenaBowl for the fifth straight season. If Utah ends up getting to New Orleans this year, it will give all four teams in the Western Division a spot in the ArenaBowl in the last five seasons. No other division in the league has had all of its teams in an ArenaBowl in their franchises' histories.
The Talons had the longest winning streak for any team this year at 11 straight games. However, they ended the year with back-to-back losses in very close games, losing by three to the Iowa Barnstormers and now by a single point to the Blaze.