As he had done 117 times before this season, Utah Blaze quarterback Tommy Grady scanned the field and saw an open man headed for the end zone.
He threw to Jeremy Kelley — who was tackled as he made the catch — for an Arena Football League-record 118th touchdown pass for Grady.
“Actually, I was surprised he was so wide open,” Grady said. “It’s exciting, it’s pretty big. It really is a whole offense thing.”
The man who makes the Blaze (10-5) offense move became the highest-scoring single-season passer in AFL history on Saturday night at EnergySolutions Arena, a special highlight in the waning seconds of Utah’s big 61-38 win over the Georgia Force (7-8). The victory also gave the team 10 wins for the first time in franchise history, guaranteeing a winning season.
The Blaze would’ve been content to run out the clock in the final minute of the blowout. Grady had tied the record on a soaring 34-yard pass to Aaron Lesue to the delight of the announced crowd of 9,444. But when the Force unsuccessfully attempted an onside kick, the coaches elected to give the fans a front seat to AFL lore.
“We decided to let Tommy go for the record instead of waiting for after the bye week,” coach Ron James said. “I think it’s significant for our fans because they can witness history.”
The win itself took a backseat to Grady’s ruthlessly efficient 25-for-28 performance with 206 yards and eight touchdowns. But it was nonetheless important for Utah’s playoff hopes, as the Blaze held on to the fourth and final seed with a chance to move up Sunday.
The victory was also built on the backs of the resurgent Blaze defense, which once again showed fine form at home. The Force turned to backup and ex-Hawaii star Bryant Moniz after losing their regular starter earlier in the week, and Utah was not merciful, keeping the undersized passer scrambling in the backfield for much of the game.
The Blaze defense ended up with three sacks and held Georgia to 10 points in the first half. The Force later found a bit of a rhythm, and dominated time of possession nearly 2-to-1, but they couldn’t stop Utah’s offense and turned the ball over on downs late in the fourth quarter.
“I think our defensive pressure was present, maybe just not as effective as it could have been,” James said. “But we came up with stops, our defensive backs challenged, and our red zone defense continues to improve.”
The Blaze will take a week off before heading for a tough road contest against the division-leading Arizona Rattlers (11-3).
Storylines Utah QB on fire
R Tommy Grady sets an AFL single-season record with 118 touchdown passes.
• Utah’s defense holds Georgia to 10 points in the first half.