With the drama of the last week now put aside, the Utah Blaze sprinted around the Arena Football League turf Friday afternoon, walking through the game plan for Saturday night’s division rivalry showdown with the San Jose SaberCats.
It was quite a relief.
Following the team’s eviction on June 20, the front office worked tirelessly to reach an agreement with the Larry H. Miller Group to pay back owed rent through the first six games.
Now, back in their home, the Blaze will try to turn around a difficult season, one in which they’ve lost linchpins Caesar Rayford and Aaron Lesue and have gone to backup quarterback Jason Boltus after last season’s AFL MVP Tommy Grady struggled through the first 10 weeks of the season. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
“We’ve got a job to do,” said Utah coach Ron James. “You’re professionals and you’ve got to make sure you do your jobs week in and week out; distractions aside, anything that happens outside the field, you’ve just got to march through it.”
On to the SaberCats, a team that snatched away a road win from the Blaze 35-34 on May 25 in San Jose, Calif. More importantly, the 5-8 Blaze are still in the postseason picture, so James said the revolving door of players due to various injuries and departures must shut.
And the new guys must step up.
“Mathematically we aren’t eliminated from anything at this point,” James said. “We have to cling to that hope until it’s gone.”
Boltus is likely to make his third career AFL start. His thrust into the starting quarterback position has been a mixed bag. He’s 1-1 and has shown flashes of ability to run the ball, but has struggled with turnovers.
But the new quarterback is ready to lead the team to a home win that could hold more weight in the long term following the turmoil of the last week.
“Everybody that’s here is meant to be here and everybody can make plays,” Boltus said. “Basically, we’re young and we’re trying to get experience and see things before they happen.”
SaberCats at Blaze
O At EnergySolutions Arena
Tipoff • Saturday, 7 p.m.
TV • KJZZ. Radio • 97.5 FM
Records • SaberCats 9-4; Blaze 5-8
Last meeting • San Jose 35, Utah 34 (May 25)
About the SaberCats • San Jose QB Russ Michna has the AFL’s fourth-best passing offense. … Michna threw for 313 yards and nine touchdowns against the league’s best team, Arizona, last week. … The SaberCats rank second in total team defense (257.5 yards per game). … AFL Hall of Famer Clevan Thomas leads the league in interceptions this season with nine. … The San Jose defense ranks second in sacks with 27.
About the Blaze • Utah owns the No. 2 passing defense in the league at 239.8 yards per game. … The team ranks third in total defense at 262.8 yards per game. … QB Jason Boltus threw for a career-high 362 yards and six touchdowns against the Spokane Shock last week. … Receiver Mario Urrutia leads all statistical categories for rookies.