After all the one-point squeakers at EnergySolutions Arena, Utah Blaze fans finally got to see their team record a reassuring stomp-down performance.
The Blaze (6-2) crushed division rival Spokane Shock (3-4) in a record-setting 84-63 blowout Friday night. Utah’s offense was nearly flawless, scoring a franchise-high 84 points.
The 6,195 fans were treated to a virtuoso performance by quarterback Tommy Grady, who tied an AFL record for touchdown passes with 11 scores through the air. By extending plays with his scrambling, Grady created plenty of opportunities for hookups with Aaron Lesue and Shaun Kauleinamoku.
“They were playing off of us a lot, and we just got off to a big lead,” Grady said. “It was good to have those guys plugged in and ready to play.”
The Blaze took charge with a run of three unanswered touchdowns that started in the second quarter. The rally started with an 11-yard touchdown pass from Grady to Kauleinamoku. The defense then forced a turnover on downs by Spokane, which Grady converted by scrambling out of his collapsed protection and finding Lesue for a score.
The Shock then had 23 seconds to score before halftime, but linebacker and new signee Antwan Marsh played spoiler, intercepting a pass in the end zone. Utah then got the ball back after the half, and Lesue stretched out for a diving fourth-down touchdown catch that put the lead at 50-21. The rest of the game was mostly an exercise in holding on. Spokane managed to cut the lead to 14 points, but Utah was never in any danger.
“It was just about being efficient,” offensive coordinator Matt Sauk said. “It was really the first game that the defense and the offense both had a good game at home.”
If there was one drawback for Utah, it was the continued hammering of its secondary. Spokane receiver Brandon Thompkins had an amazing individual performance, racking up seven touchdown catches against the Blaze, which was good for second-best in AFL history.
New signees Marsh and Sha’reff Rashad made a splash with interceptions after blowing a few early plays. But the defense suffered even more setbacks after Rashad had to be carried off the field with a leg injury. Lesue filled in in the backfield, but he was also shaken up on a play.
“Our defense was creating things, and it kind of set the tone for the game,” coach Ron James said. “It’s obviously tough to lose guys, but we’ll just do what we did this week: Get new guys in there and play through it.”
But for the most part, from the beginning things were looking up for the Blaze. On the first Shock possession, linebacker Joe Mortensen pounced on quarterback Kyle Rowley after a bad snap for a safety.
After a big return and touchdown catch by Chris Bocage, the Blaze were working with a 9-0 lead in the first possession.
The Blaze also benefitted from some chippy play in the trenches. The Shock had a touchdown taken away by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and lineman Brandon Sharpe was ejected after a late hit on Grady and touching the official.
Utah Blaze 84, Spokane Shock 63
R Blaze quarterback Tommy Grady ties an Arena Football League record with 11 touchdown passes.
• Utah’s defense records a safety and three interceptions.