Unbeaten Arizona outlasts Power, 73-69
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PHOENIX – After a terrible start, the Power rallied behind the magnificent play of receiver Aaron Lesue, but one last onside kick attempt didn't work.
The Arizona Rattlers held on for a 73-69 victory before a crowd of 8,179 at US Airways Center on Saturday night, showing how much farther the Power need to come to knock the Rattlers from their perch at the top in the Arena Football League.
The Rattlers (5-0) have won the past two ArenaBowls. With this year's championship game played at the site of the team with the best record, this early-season showdown was huge for both teams.
“The bright spot is that there is a lot of season left,” Power coach Ron James said. “This would have been a watershed win for us. But it didn't happen.”
This was safety Virgil Gray's homecoming. He helped lead the Rattlers to the past three ArenaBowls, winning the last two.
But quarterback Nick Davila went after Gray, completing 12 of his first 14 passes with one of those dropped in the end zone. Rod Windsor and Maurice Purify got wide open on the Rattlers' first two scores on busted coverages, and the Power got into a 27-7 hole after a quarter.
“We struggled on the defensive side, especially on the back end,” Gray said. “I felt like I was struggling in the middle a little bit on defense. I tried to get us back in on kick returns. I think it gave us a little boost. But I could never get it going on defense. I take the blame for that.”
Gray had one kickoff returned nullified by holding, but returned another 54 yards for a score that counted late in the first half. The Power was successful on the on-side kick, and, down 27-7 after a quarter, found itself trailing 47-42 at halftime.
Tommy Grady's 6-yard touchdown pass to Lesue (who set a franchise record with six TD catches in the game) to open the second half gave the Power (3-2) its first lead of the game.
But the Rattlers were never stopped other than the on-ide kick, and made one big stop midway through the final period, capitalizing with Nick Davila's ninth scoring strike, and building a double-digit lead again.
“They're a tough team, no doubt about it,” Power coach Ron James said. “You don't win back-to-back championships without having that (mental toughness). We're learning how to win. But there's a difference in mentality, for sure. But the way I look at it, they stopped us three times on offense. If it was just two out of three … ”
The Rattlers (5-0), 33-5 at home since 2011, decided to shorten the field on the Power in the final quarter after going up 67-63.
An onside kick was covered up by the Power at the Rattlers' 6. Grady, who was 26 of 44 for 339 yards and nine touchdowns, took four shots into the end zone but came up empty.
The last intended for Lesue was broken up by Marquis Floyd, giving the Rattlers the ball with less than seven minutes to play.
Davila worked the ball down the field, before finding Tysson Poots on an 18-yard score for a 73-63 lead with 3:52 left.
Poots, Windsor and Purify each had three touchdown catches.
Lesue caught yet another TD pass with 19 seconds left, but after Rattlers coach Kevin Guy called time out just before Julian Rauch's onside kick, the Rattlers recovered the try, and burned the final seconds.
“We came out ready to play,” Rattlers coach Kevin Guy said. “They didn't stop us all night on defense. I think we found who is who. We had the No.1 scoring offense and they had the No.1 scoring defense, and they didn't stop us once. The only time came on that onside kick.”
Richard Obert is a freelance writer.
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