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SaberCats Conclude Regular Season With Win, 65-40 Over the Chicago Rush

Sunday July 28, 2013

 SAN JOSE, Calif. – The San Jose SaberCats (13-5) concluded their regular season on Saturday night by defeating the Chicago Rush (10-8) 65-40 in front of 8,874 fans at the SAP Center in San Jose. SaberCats quarterback Russ Michna completed 19-of-24 passes for 257 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions in the win.

"We had a good outcome today. Last week I thought we played hard, but the breaks didn't go our way. This week, the breaks came out in our favor,” said Coach Darren Arbet after the win. “I thought the guys did what they had to do in practice this week. They played well tonight and took care of business.”

San Jose now looks ahead to the postseason, which kicks off next week when they travel to take on their bitter divisional rivals, the Arizona Rattlers (15-3) at US Airways Center in Phoenix. Game time and broadcast information has yet to be determined.

Chicago wide receiver Reggie Gray silenced the crowd early as he returned the opening kickoff 57-yards for a touchdown to open the scoring. However, San Jose linebacker Francis Maka got a hand on the ensuing point after attempt and Steve Octavien picked up the blocked kick and took it to the house to cut the Rush lead to 6-2. On the SaberCats opening offensive possession, Michna connected with wide receiver Jason Willis on a 16-yard score to give San Jose their first lead of the night at 9-6. It didn’t last long however, as Rush quarterback Carson Coffman placed a perfect pass 32-yards down field right in stride with the streaking Gray. After another failed extra point attempt, Chicago’s lead was 12-9. San Jose would answer back again, as defensive end/fullback Jabari Fletcher broke a tackle to reach the end zone from five yards out, putting the SaberCats back on top 16-12. On Chicago’s next possession, another deep pass to Gray set up the Rush deep in SaberCats territory. However, defensive back Clevan Thomas denied the threat, picking off his 14th pass of the season and taking it 51 yards for the score, extending the San Jose lead to 23-12. That interception was his fifth interception return for a touchdown this season and broke the SaberCats single season record for interceptions, set by Thomas himself back in 2003 when he had 13 picks.

Returning on offense to open the second quarter, Coffman composed himself and manufactured a five minute drive; wide receiver Taurus Johnson got the Rush back on track with four yard run, cutting San Jose’s advantage down to four at 23-19. The SaberCats would push the lead back to double digits at 30-19, as Michna connected with a sprawling James Roe in the back corner of the end zone from 20 yards out. On the ensuing Rush possession, two sacks and heavy pressure forced Coffman into an off balance throw that bounced off of Thomas’ hands and into the waiting arms of fellow defensive back JC Neal for his first interception of the year. Taking the newfound possession down inside the one-minute mark, Michna connected with Willis for a second time on the night, as a diving effort by #7 capped off the 24-yard hookup and put San Jose up 18 with 25 seconds left in the half. A final attempt at points before the half by Chicago failed to gain any traction up field, and the SaberCats took the 37-19 lead into halftime.

After forcing a San Jose turnover, a key fourth down conversion from Coffman to wide out Landon Cox preserved the Chicago drive, and a second fourth down conversion found the end zone, as Coffman found Johnson on the quick slant for six to open the second half scoring and the San Jose lead was back down to 37-26. Not to be denied of points twice in a row, Michna dissected his way down the field to put the SaberCats back up 18. He ended the drive with a touchdown pass to Roe who hauled it in with a spectacular one-handed grab as he sprinted across the goal line.

On a possession that rolled over from the end of the third into the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Rush desperately needed points to stay with the SaberCats. Those hopes ended as a fumbled snap exchange by Chicago was recovered by Co-Riddell Defensive Player of the Game Jason Stewart and wide receiver Huey Whittaker bulldozed his way through two Rush players into the end zone from 18 yards out to extend San Jose’s lead to 25 at 51-26. On the next Chicago possession, not to be outdone, the other Co-Riddell Defensive Player of the Game Thomas picked off his second pass of the night and brought it back for his AFL record-setting sixth interception return for touchdown of the season, putting the SaberCats up by 32. That interception ended starting quarterback Coffman’s night, as backup Luke Drone entered the game midway through the fourth quarter. On his first drive, he engineered a seven-play drive ending with a fourth down touchdown pass to Johnson, his second of the night, cutting the deficit to 58-33. After recovering a Rush onside kick attempt, fullback Dennis Godfrey spun, shed a would-be tackler and with a different player draped all over him, dove into the end zone for his first SaberCats touchdown from 11 yards out. Following another kick return for a score by Chicago, the SaberCats offense proceeded to run out the clock, and seal the 65-40 win over the Rush.

For San Jose, Michna was balanced and efficient in the win over his former team. Willis set the tone for the SaberCats receivers, hauling in eight passes for 134 yards and two scores. He also passed Roe for the single-season franchise receiving yards record, finishing the season with 1,606 yards (Roe posted 1,560 in 2007). In his second game this season, Roe tacked on six catches for 65 yards and two touchdowns while Whittaker added six catches for 63 yards and a score of his own. On the ground, both Fletcher and Godfrey reached the end zone.

Defensively is where the SaberCats took this game away from the Rush. Clevan Thomas added his 14th and 15th interceptions of the campaign, setting the franchise record for picks in a season, and returned both for touchdowns, setting the AFL record for interception returns touchdowns in a single season at six. Fellow defensive back Ken Fontenette breached the 100-tackle mark for the year with ten-and-a-half tackles and Neal added five tackles of his own and his first interception of the season. Jason Stewart provided the backfield pressure, as he notched three sacks on the night along with a fumble recovery.

Next week, San Jose travels to the Snake Pit to take on the Rattlers in the first round in the playoffs. The SaberCats went 1-1 this season against Arizona and will look to use the momentum from this win to bring their A-game against the Rattlers.

Score by Quarters 1 2 3 4 Score
----------------- -- -- -- -- -----
Chicago Rush 12 7 7 14 40
San Jose SaberCats .. 23 14 7 21 65

Russell Athletic Offensive Player of the Game: SJ-WR Jason Willis
Riddell Defensive Player of the Game: SJ-DB Clevan Thomas and SJ-DL Jason Stewart
J. Lewis Small Playmaker of the Game: SJ-DB Clevan Thomas
Cutters Catch of the Game: SJ-WR James Roe’s one-handed touchdown catch in the third quarter
AFL Highlight of the Game: SJ-DB Clevan Thomas’ 51-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter

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