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Rattlers on the wrong side of history...again

Andy Lopusnak
Monday March 12, 2012

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The last two games for the Arizona Rattlers have been two of the greatest in league history. Arizona scored 70 points and held a double-digit lead early in the fourth quarter in each contest. Both were decided on the final play of the game with Arizona losing each time.
In ArenaBowl XXIV, the home-standing Rattlers lost 73-70 to the Jacksonville Sharks when quarterback Aaron Garcia hit receiver Jeron Harvey in the endzone as time expired.
Unlike the ArenaBowl that featured seven lead changes in the fourth quarter, Saturday's game against Arizona's archrival San Jose had just one lead change the entire game. The Rattlers seemed unstoppable for most of the game thanks to touchdowns on all but the 13-second drive to end the first half and defensive stops on the first SaberCats possession in each half. Arizona led 14-0 after the first quarter and was up eleven with less than six minutes to go. However, an interception late in the fourth quarter led to San Jose's first lead of the game with 53 seconds left.
The game went into overtime after Arizona made a 24-yard field goal and San Jose missed one of the same distance at the buzzer. Both teams scored in the extra stanza - San Jose first with the converted extra point. Trailing by a point with sudden death looming, 2011 AFL Coach of the Year Kevin Guy opted for the win on a two-point conversion.
Rushard Dodd-Masters, who picked off Nick Davila to set up the SaberCats' first lead, broke up the would-be game-winning two-point conversion to seal the victory for the 71-70 SaberCats.
There were more similarities in the ArenaBowl loss and this one for the Rattlers.
The winning quarterback tossed for over 400 yards and at least eight touchdowns with no interceptions in each. Garcia had an ArenaBowl record 402 yards with eight scores. San Jose's Mark Grieb tossed for 432 yards with nine scores (203 yards and five touchdowns came after the start of the fourth quarter).
A Davila interception in the fourth quarter was the turning point. In the ArenaBowl, Jacksonville's Michaeux Robinson picked him off with 7:53 left. At the time, Arizona led 49-45. That led to the Sharks' first lead since the final seconds of the first half. The teams traded scores the rest of the way with Jacksonville prevailing at the buzzer. Saturday night, the Rattlers also led by four, 61-57, when Dodd-Masters intercepted Davila with 2:47 left.
Before kickoff, San Jose honored the three SaberCats inducted two days earlier into the AFL's Hall of Fame. Among these were: WR/LB Barry Wagner, the league's only six-time Ironman of the Year and perhaps the greatest player to play the game; OL/DL Sam Hernandez, who still ranks as the league's all-time leader in sacks; and head coach Darren Arbet.
San Jose was three-of-four on fourth down conversions. All three conversions went for touchdowns. This included a two-yard score and touchdowns of 24 and 38 yards. The lone miss was on the SaberCats' first possession when lineman Mark Lewis was interfered with by defender Kevin McCullough before the ball got to him, but the officials missed the call.
In the first half of the game, Grieb surpassed Andy Kelly for third all-time in league history in career passing yards (now has 42,589). He's less than 2,000 yards behind Clint Dolezel (44,459) for the second spot. Aaron Garcia, now with the San Antonio Talons, is the all-time leader with little more than 50,000 yards.
Grieb's 59 pass attempts are the third most in a single game in league history and are the most ever by a winning quarterback as Tampa Bay's Shane Stafford (63) and Las Vegas' Jay McDonagh (61) lost. It's also the most ever by a home QB.
Also for Grieb, it was his 15th regular season game with at least 350 passing yards since 2005, which is the most in the AFL during that timeframe. Don't forget he missed the entire 2010 season. In contrast, Aaron Garcia has eight such regular season games and played the entire 2010 season during this period.
Fifteen of Grieb's 25 incompletions came on first down, including a streak of nine straight incompletions.
Nick Davila reached 10,000 career passing yards in just his 35th regular season tying for the fastest to do in league history (Brett Dietz) thanks to 369 yards against San Jose. Davila already ranks 30th all-time in passing yards. He's little more than 300 yards away from passing Kurt Warner for 28th and if he continues his career pace should move up to around 20th all-time. Davila also now rank 25th all-time in passing touchdowns.
Arizona LB Cliff Dukes (12.5) along with San Jose linemen Tim McGill (10.0) and Jermaine Smith (6.0) were Tampa Bay Storm teammates last season and combined for 28.5 of the team's AFL record 41.0. In this game, there weren't any sacks. 
San Jose defensive coordinator Cedric Walker, a former All-Arena performer for Arizona, arrived to the arena late in the game due to a delayed flight from returning from his mother's funeral. Walker was coaching on the field when the SaberCats won the game.
There were three challenges in the game - all in the second half. One was overturned when Huey Whittaker scooped up a 14-yard touchdown with 5:01 left in the game. The ruling on the field was an incompletion. After further review, it was changed to a touchdown. San Jose challenged on the first drive of the second half after Mark Lewis fumbled near the endzone. The fumble was upheld. Arizona challenged Davila's interception late in the fourth, but the call was confirmed.
The SaberCats announced attendance of 13,733 is their highest in the regular season since June 14, 2008 when they beat Tampa Bay 73-70 in front of 14,042. During that game, Storm WR/LB Lawrence Samuels became the first AFL player to tally 1,000 career receptions.
This marked the 90th overtime game in Arena Football history (ninth since 2010 AFL rebirth) and the second between the SaberCats and Rattlers. The other OT game was the first game in San Jose history on May 12, 1995 when the defending ArenaBowl champions beat the expansion SaberCats 43-37. This was the 36th game in the Arizona-San Jose series - the second longest rivalry in Arena Football history behind the War on I-4 between Tampa Bay and Orlando. San Jose is now 19-17 in these games, which includes two ArenaBowl victories in 2002 and 2004.
For the second straight year, the SaberCats were preseason ranked #2 in the league's meaningless coaches poll and beat the #1 team in the season opener. Last year, Spokane was ranked #1 and lost 76-48 to the SaberCats. Arizona was the top team this year.

Andy Lopusnak is an 11-year AFL front office veteran, spending time with the Tampa Bay Storm, San Diego Riptide and Grand Rapids Rampage. He works as a statistician for NFL and college sports for CBS Sports and is a freelance photographer. Lopusnak received two Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of South Florida and has been a fan of ArenaBall since its inception.
The opinions expressed in the article above are only those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts, opinions, or official stance of ArenaFan Online or its staff, or the Arena Football League, or any AFL or af2 teams.
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