In a game of gaudy stats, only one number really stood out for the Utah Blaze: adding one to the loss column.
Again in front of one of the season’s biggest crowds, 10,149 fans, the Blaze (6-4) fell flat. There was little light to take from an 86-70 defeat at the hands of the Arizona Rattlers (7-3), a division opponent.
The Blaze were beaten up on defense, shoved around on offense and generally came out of Saturday’s loss at EnergySolutions Arena wondering how a four-game winning streak has suddenly morphed into two straight losses.
“We’ve had two substandard performances, and we are not playing at that level,” coach Ron James said. “We didn’t play a lick of defense. … We gave them opportunities, and they took them.”
The main culprits for Utah’s struggles were quarterback Nick Davila and receiver Maurice Purify. Davila shredded the secondary for a whopping 372 yards and 11 touchdowns. The big-bodied Purify rumbled his way through the defense for 196 yards receiving and seven touchdowns.
Led by the devastating duo, the Rattlers were on pace to shatter multiple Arena Football League offensive records, scoring 72 points with more than five minutes left in the third quarter. But instead, Arizona mercifully let up and ran the ball for most of the final minutes, simply settling for an embarrassing blowout rather than a record-setting drubbing.
Although Davila missed one final shot at the end zone, he still wound up with a record-tying performance for passing touchdowns — one that Grady had tied two weeks ago. But by the end of the Saturday night defeat, the Blaze’s own big win in that last home game against the Spokane Shock seemed to be a distant past.
“They’re disappointed, a little bit shocked,” James said. “But this was the message: From here on out, we’re going to play our smartest players. Those are gonna be the guys on the field.”
The Blaze offense contributed its fair share to the misery. Tommy Grady’s pocket was pushed around all day by the Rattlers’ pass rush, and the effects showed. After giving up only two interceptions in the last five weeks, Grady threw four in the game.
The quarterback still threw for a career-high 428 yards and nine touchdowns, and favorite target Aaron Lesue was again a highlight with 160 yards and six touchdowns. But the second-half scores in particular were hollow – the Rattlers were already well out of reach.
The Utah Blaze’s old habit of slow starts reemerged in the beginning, as the Blaze turned the ball over three times in the first half. In one, Aaron Lesue tackled a defensive back to force a fumble that Tysson Poots recovered, but another interception and a fumble stayed with the Rattlers.
Before they could blink, the Blaze were down 14-0.
Utah finally responded with a touchdown by Aaron Lesue, but Kyle Brotzman missed the kick. From then on, the Blaze couldn’t come closer than seven points. The Rattlers pulled away in a critical third quarter, outscoring Utah 28-14.
Utah Blaze fall in offensive shootout
• QB Tommy Grady throws for a career-high 428 yards but throws four interceptions.
• WR Aaron Lesue grabs six TDs and gains 160 yards receiving.
• Rattlers QB Nick Davila ties an AFL passing touchdown record with 11 in the game.