SaberCats Break Arizona Curse in Championship Classic
Any fan of arena football simply couldn't have asked for a better matchup. The three-time defending ArenaBowl champion Arizona Rattlers against the 17-1 San Jose SaberCats, the former looking to do the implausible in professional sports, and the latter looking to unleash three consecutive seasons of postseason revenge. And to top it all off with a trip to ArenaBowl XVIII on the line. The result? Arguably the best Arena Football League game of all-time.
Both offenses were perfect in the first half, each scoring five touchdowns out of their five opportunities, leading to a tie score at halftime of 35-35. In the second quarter, the SaberCats faced 4th-and-20, but successfully converted with a 21-yard touchdown pass to Darius Reynolds.
In total, San Jose's Erik Meyer threw for nine touchdowns in comparison to eight thrown by Arizona's Nick Davila. A combined six lead-changing touchdowns were scored in the last five minutes. The controversial game-winning touchdown for the SaberCats was scored by Reggie Gray from six yards out with just eight seconds remaining. The play was ruled a touchdown, but there is debate as to whether or not the ball crossed the goal line before it was fumbled and picked up by the Rattlers. Originally, the play was reviewed and Arizona players celebrated during the process with assurance they had possession. But the ultimate result was the call standing.
Down 70-67, the Rattlers had one last window of opportunity, but Alex Zendejas' 53-yard field goal attempt fell short, ending one of the most thrilling matchups in AFL history.
"This is one of the best games I've ever been a part of. And it's even more fun when you come out on top," Meyer stated following Saturday's game. "It's really been the theme with these guys all season. We've stuck together. We battle the ups and downs, and with the way this team played today, it was exciting."
Interestingly, this was the first game all season where the SaberCats' defense failed to manage an interception. Their only change of possession was a fourth-down stop in the fourth quarter. The Rattlers' defense, meanwhile, managed a fourth-down stop in the third quarter, as well as an interception by Jeremy Kellem in the fourth quarter.
The Rattlers had won 10 consecutive postseason games before this matchup, while the SaberCats were originally 0-3 against Arizona in the playoffs since 2012. Both streaks were broken on Saturday. After having to play in Arizona in the postseason each year, the home-field advantage of Stockton Arena likely made the difference, despite being minimal with just 6,456 fans in attendance, some of which were in favor of the Rattlers,
Upon advancing to ArenaBowl XVIII, the SaberCats will face the winner of the American Conference Championship between the Jacksonville Sharks and Philadelphia Soul. The ArenaBowl is currently scheduled for Saturday, August 29 at Stockton Arena at 4:00 p.m. PT. The home team is 10-11 in ArenaBowl matchups where home-field advantage is granted.