Throughout the first five weeks of the season, Ron James waited for that moment his players would stare down adversity and overcome it as one.
The Utah Blaze did that last Saturday at home, overcoming late-game turnovers to defeat division rival Spokane 52-48.
Now comes the hard part.
Now the Blaze must gather all the lessons learned in their 3-3 start to the year, take the good and leave behind the bad. And it starts with the defending Arena Football League champion Arizona Rattlers (6-1) Saturday night at US Airways Center in Phoenix.
“With this game, we’ve got an opportunity to go out and go toe-to-toe with the best team in the league and a division rival on the road,” James said. “We’ll see how we’re progressing.”
Quite the barometer game for the Blaze after struggling out of the gate. They lost their first three home games — dropping a Week 2 matchup with Arizona 77-49 — but James said this week’s practice has been about dissecting the game film from that March 29 game and seeing what went wrong.
“We didn’t have care for the football, and we learned that the score can spiral on you,” he said. “For us, it’s a matter of answering them every time.”
That will be tough.
The Rattlers lead the AFL in scoring at 69.7 points per game, headlined by quarterback Nick Davila and his arsenal of talented wide receivers. But the Utah defense could be up to the task. The Blaze group has totaled 12 turnovers in their back-to-back wins over Cleveland and Spokane.
“What’s stood out to me was how the players handled the adversity we were in,” he said. “Our players just rode through it.”
If Utah wants a chance to upset the defending champs at home, it will come down to the decision making of quarterback Tommy Grady. Last year’s league MVP has thrown for 36 touchdowns in the first six games, but also thrown 15 interceptions.
“We have to make the most of the opportunities that we have,” James said.
Utah Blaze at Arizona Rattlers
O At US Airways Arena (Phoenix)
Kickoff • Saturday, 7 p.m.
TV • KJZZ
Radio • 97.5 FM
Records • Blaze 3-3; Rattlers 6-1
Last meeting • Arizona 77, Utah 49 (March 29)
About the Blaze • The team acquired defensive end Julian Miller and defensive back Josh Ferguson from the Spokane Shock this week in exchange for wide receiver Brandon Thompkins. The Blaze also signed free agent wideout Anthony Jackson. ... Rookie WR Mario Urrutia is fourth in the AFL in touchdown receptions with 16.
About the Rattlers • The Arizona defensive backfield leads the AFL in interceptions with 15 through seven games. ... QB Nick Davila paces a Rattlers offense that leads the league in points per game at 69.7.