Purify's TD Grab Puts Arizona Rattlers In ArenaBowl XXV
There were a total of 832 yards. There were 16 penalties. There were 46 first downs. There were eight turnovers. There were a ton of offensive records set. And there was one heck of a finish. And now, the Arizona Rattlers are going back to the ArenaBowl for the second straight season, as they won the National Conference once again by beating the Utah Blaze 75-69 on Saturday night.
This was as odd of a game as this writer has ever seen in the Arena Football League, and it sets the stage for what should be a great ArenaBowl between the Rattlers and the Philadelphia Soul.
Matters started off great for the Rattlers, who jumped out to a 14-0 lead thanks to a 40-yard TD run by FB Odie Armstrong and a pick six by DB Arkeith Brown. Touchdowns by WR Tysson Poots and WR Aaron LeSue on consecutive Utah possessions sandwiched an Arizona field goal to cut the lead to 17-14 early in the second quarter. The tide appeared to be turning again in the Rattlers' favor when they picked up a safety to make the score 26-14, but on the ensuing kickoff, the entire game changed once again.
Head Coach Ron James called for an onside kick that turned out to be a heck of a surprise to the Rattlers. K Kyle Brotzman placed the ball high in the air, and the Blaze came down with it. Four plays later, Utah was back in the end zone to cut the lead to five. The teams exchanged touchdowns late in the half to make the score 33-28 with three minutes to play in the stanza. A failed onside kick attempt gave the Rattlers the ball deep in Utah territory. Head Coach Kevin Guy tried to get cute, calling for a wide receiver pass play, but WR Maurice Purify was intercepted, giving Utah its first stop of the game on defense.
The passing play for the Rattlers from the wide receiver position was rare for sure, as the team only called seven wide receiver pass plays in the last 11+ seasons. All seven passes were completed, four of which went for touchdowns. The last time an Arizona receiver had a pass intercepted was WR Hunkie Cooper in 2000.
From there, the breaks started going Utah's way. TE Ed Ta'amu scored a touchdown to give Utah its first lead at 35-33, and the predictable onside kick fell into the hands of the Blaze. Five plays and 46 yards later, LeSue was in the end zone, and the Blaze were up two scores, knowing that they were getting the ball first in the second half. Arizona turned the ball over again just before halftime, but on the final play of the half, rather than attempt a field goal, James elected to go for the touchdown to try to extend the lead even further. The pass sailed incomplete, and the half ended 42-33.
Utah scored 35 points in the second quarter, breaking the record for the most points scored in the second quarter of a playoff game in league history. It fell just one short of the record for the most points ever scored in any quarter by a single team, which was 36 by the New York Dragons in 2003.
At the half, the discrepancy in the statistics was out of this world. QB Tommy Grady had more pass completions than the Rattlers had plays, and the single-season record holder for the most passing yards and passing touchdowns had nearly 300 passing yards and six TDs. Meanwhile, Purify didn't catch a single pass in the first half, something that definitely became notable in the second 30 minutes.
After failing on the final play of the first half to take a 16-point lead, the Blaze botched up a second chance on the first play of the second half. Grady was picked off by Brown for the second time on the night, giving Arizona the ball back. The two teams exchanged scores quite a bit after that, and the men doing the damage were Poots, LeSue, and Purify.
Purify scored to make it 49-47. Utah retook the nine-point lead with a TD by Poots. Purify scored again to wrap up the scoring in the third quarter, but LeSue answered back to make it 62-54. A missed extra point by Brotzman seemed to loom large, but after Purify's next touchdown with 9:15 remaining, the Rattlers elected to try a fake extra point, which was stopped right at the goal-line. The Blaze went back up by nine when LeSue hauled in a three-yard TD pass after a 10-play drive that ate up half of the fourth quarter. That's when the drama ensued in the desert.
It only took one play for the Rattlers to get the score back within a deuce, as QB Nick Davila found Purify for his fourth touchdown grab of the half. Arizona couldn't recover the next onside kick in spite of the fact that it had its chance to get its hands on the ball, but the defense held firm, picking off Grady for the third time on a fourth down to give the offense one last chance.
It was a chance that would be used well. Davila ran six plays and got his team into the end zone by hitting Purify for a fifth time in the half. A successful two-point conversion bumped the lead up to six, but a personal foul on Purify gave the Blaze some hope to be able to escape from the Snake Pit with a shocking upset.
Thanks to the 10-yard mark off against Purify, Utah started with the ball on its own 23-yard line. A short pass to the sidelines left just one tick on the clock with the ball sitting at the Arizona 19. It was almost the exact same position that the Rattlers were in last year on the final play of the game against the Jacksonville Sharks in the ArenaBowl. Then, WR Jeron Harvey scored the touchdown that broke the hearts of the Rattlers fans in attendance. This time though, Grady's pass off of the nets fell harmlessly to the ground, and even had the pass been completed, it would have been negated by an illegal formation penalty on the Blaze.
And just like that, Arizona had its bags packed for the Bayou.
Kudos definitely have to be given to the Blaze for their remarkable season. They set a franchise record for wins in a season with 12, and they won their first playoff game last week on the road against the San Antonio Talons.
Grady went out with a bang as well. He went 37-of-63 for 441 yards with 10 TDs. Those 10 scores broke the record for the most touchdown passes in a single postseason game, and the 441 yards was the second most ever, just five yards shy of QB Rickey Foggie's record set in 1998 while he was with the New Jersey Red Dogs. Grady threw the most passes in a playoff game in league history (63) and had the second most completions in a playoff game in AFL history to boot (37). His top two receivers had massive games as well. Poots had 19 receptions for 182 yards and four TDs, breaking the record for the most receptions in a playoff game in league history and coming just one short of the record for the most receptions in any game ever as well. LeSue had 12 grabs for 213 yards and five scores. It was the third most receiving yards by a player in a single playoff game in AFL history.
Grady finished up the season with just all sorts of records. If you include his two playoff games, Grady went 579-of-856 for 6,637 yards with 157 TDs and 26 picks. No quarterback in professional football history has ever put up numbers anywhere near that good, and it was truly a season that should be looked back at as one of the best that any quarterback has ever had at any level.
Utah's offense might have all of the stats, but it is Arizona's that got the job done and is now on its way to the ArenaBowl. The Rattlers did their share in the second half, matching the 42 points that the Blaze scored in the first half. Davila completed 16-of-19 passing in the second stanza, and he threw five of his eight TDs in the second half. Purify had nine catches for 142 yards and five TDs, all of which came in the second half.
If there is a concern for Arizona, it is that it is just turning the ball over far too much. The team has committed a whopping nine turnovers in two postseason games, and no team has ever won an ArenaBowl having turned the ball over that much in the playoffs. It is also concerning that DB Virgil Gray, who doubles as the team's kick returner, went out of the clash in the first quarter with a knee injury and did not return. Though there are no official reports to confirm this, the injury seemed serious during the game, and it seems doubtful that Gray will be ready to play in the ArenaBowl next week.
Other notes from this game…
-The 144 combined points marked the second highest scoring playoff game in league history (153, Indiana @ Grand Rapids in 2001)
-The 20 combined touchdowns was tied for the fourth most in a playoff game in league history (22, Indiana @ Grand Rapids in 2001)
-Utah's 24 passing first downs was the third most in a playoff game in league history (26, New Jersey @ Albany in 1998)
-The 40 combined passing first downs was the second most in a playoff game in league history (42, New Jersey @ Albany in 1998)
-Utah's 441 total yards was the second most in a playoff game in league history (452, New Jersey @ Albany in 1998)
-The 832 combined yards smashed the record for the most total yards in a playoff game in league history
-The 93 pass attempts in the game was the second most most total passes in a playoff game in league history (94, Chicago @ Colorado in 2005)
-The 774 combined passing yards was the second most in a playoff game in league history (796, New Jersey @ Albany in 1998)
-The 18 total passing touchdowns tied a league record for the most total passing scores in a playoff game in league history (18, Georgia @ New York in 2006)
-The eight total turnovers was just one shy of the record for the most turnovers in a playoff game in league history (9 several times)
The win for the Rattlers was their 25th playoff victory in franchise history, which is now two in front of the Tampa Bay Storm and the Orlando Predators for the most in the history of the league. This is going to be the seventh time that Arizona is playing for all of the marbles, tying it with Orlando for the second most in league history behind the Tampa Bay/Pittsburgh franchise.