They Got This: Rattlers Blow Out Soul To Win ArenaBowl XXV
NEW ORLEANS -- The mood was somber last year for the Arizona Rattlers, as they lost the ArenaBowl on the final play of the game against the Jacksonville Sharks. From the very start of the season through the very last play of the season, the Rattlers did what they had to do to erase those hard feelings, and they did just that on Friday night, beating the Philadelphia Soul 72-54 to win ArenaBowl XXV.
As if the venom level wasn't already high enough for the Rattlers coming into the postseason, they seemed like they had an added chip of their shoulders from the get go when they had to hear from the media all about how they were going up against the best team in the league in the Soul. After watching the thorough beating in the ArenaBowl though, there was no doubt whatsoever who the superior team was. Vengeance was finally had.
This was a game that was truly never in doubt for the Rattlers. They had turned the ball over eight times in their first two games in the playoffs, but they scored every single time that they touched the football in this one, save for the last drive in the game when the clock ran out.
The defense came into this game without Virgil Gray, one of its best cornerbacks, and that created a shift in the secondary. Arkeith Brown had to shift to the free safety spot, while Marquis Floyd and Brandon Anderson took the roles of the two corners. Brown wouldn't be denied, as he earned Defensive Player of the Game honors after picking off two passes, both of which came in the first half.
"I played safety earlier in the season so I was somewhat used to it," said Brown after the game. "I just had to talk to Virgil [Gray] about the different techniques to use. He gave me some good advice and I felt more comfortable in the middle."
Nick Davila had a massive game last year in the ArenaBowl, throwing for eight TDs, and he became the first to throw for at least eight scores in two ArenaBowls in league history. This time around, he tied the league record by QB Kyle Rowley of the Spokane Shock with nine passing touchdowns. Davila went 23-of-30 for 266 yards, and he broke ArenaBowl records for the highest completion percentage in a single game (76.7%) and highest quarterback rating in a single game (142.5). Both records were held by Mark Grieb of the San Jose SaberCats in ArenaBowl XVIII, a game in which he torched none other than these Rattlers.
Davila now has 17 touchdowns in his ArenaBowl career, tying Jay Gruden for the second most in the history of the ArenaBowl. The difference is that Gruden pulled that feat off in four games. Davila has played in just two. The only man with more touchdown passes in his ArenaBowl career is Grieb, who has 20 passing scores.
It was a record-setting day for Maurice Purify as well. The former Nebraska Cornhusker had the biggest game of his professional career, coming up with nine catches for 143 yards and seven TDs. Over his last 90 minutes of football this year, Purify amassed 18 receptions, 12 of which went for six points. The huge receiver ended the playoffs with 16 touchdowns, over double what any other receiver had in the postseason.
"I'm really not the guy who likes to get records, I'd rather get the ring," said Purify. "At the end of the day, records can get broken next year."
Arizona tied the league record for the most touchdowns scored in an ArenaBowl with 10, and it pulled off a feat that no team in the AFL has ever done. It scored touchdowns on four consecutive plays in the third and early into the fourth quarter. After a touchdown by Purify at the 14:25 mark of the fourth quarter, the Rattlers had scored 33 points in just a total of seven plays run in the second half.
This wasn't a championship that was won with stats, though. If the title were won by scoring the most points, the Soul would be the ones bringing home the Foster Trophy from the Bayou. Instead, it was a heck of a lot of little things that made Arizona the Arena Football League champs in 2012.
The defensive line didn't record a single sack on Dan Raudabaugh for the game, nor did the unit force a single fumble. Don't tell that to Raudabaugh though, as he took a beating standing in the pocket. The defensive backs really didn’t have a ton of flashy stats save for Brown's two picks, but the unit forced Raudabaugh to do exactly what he didn't want to have to do early in the game: Throw the ball deep. This was a Philadelphia offense that made a living out of 1- and 3-step drops over the course of the whole season, but with the defensive backs jamming at the line of scrimmage and getting physical with the Rattlers, Raudabaugh had to hang onto the ball. The former Miami Redhawks standout ended up tossing those three picks in the first half, and he never had a chance to get back in the game.
The Rattlers held the Soul to just 13 points in the first half of this game, the lowest point total that the boys from the City of Brotherly Love scored in a half in 35 games dating back to last year.
Special teams were crucial as well. The stat that will stand out is the fact that Odie Armstrong recovered a loose ball off of the nets in the second half that really put the game away. What doesn't stand out but was arguably just as important were the five Philadelphia onside kicks that were all recovered by Arizona and the two balls that took weird bounces off of the nets on Philadelphia kickoffs that ended up being recovered quickly by Brown. Chris Gould might have missed three extra points and had one blocked, but he also knocked in two field goals in the first half that kept the momentum rolling for the Rattlers.
The offensive line kept Davila clean for the whole game as well, and this unit proved why it deserved to have two of its three members on the All-Arena team.
Those are all of the little things that it takes to win a championship.
Purify won the Offensive Player of the Game honors, while Brown won Defensive Player of the Game. Davila was the ArenaBowl XXV MVP.
It wasn't the offense, it wasn't the defense, it wasn't the special teams, and it wasn't the coaching that won the Arizona Rattlers their third ever ArenaBowl. It was about being hungry, being smart, and playing with that chip on their shoulders.
And now, the party on Bourbon Street will continue deep into the night, and the Foster Trophy will be making its way back to the desert.
"I'm not even going to sleep tonight," said Davila after the game. "This is New Orleans, and I'm going to enjoy Bourbon Street coming from Southern California."