Now comes the hard part.
The playoffs now are out of the question after the Utah Blaze were eliminated from postseason play following last week’s heart-wrenching loss to San Jose at home.
So with Saturday’s home game against the New Orleans VooDoo, the Blaze must shift their focus to winning the remainder of the season and making sure the cluster of talented rookies can continue their success to 2014.
“The next four games for us are really important because we’re playing for next season,” Utah coach Ron James said. “We’re playing for player development, playing for pride, being professionals, and we’ve got to buckle it up and ride on.”
The Blaze may have found another diamond in the rough in quarterback Jason Boltus, who will start his fourth career Arena Football League game Saturday against the VooDoo.
James said Boltus had thrown just six career AFL passes before this season. He threw for 306 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions against the SaberCats last week.
Along with emerging young receivers Mario Urrutia and Anthony Jackson, the Utah offense will have a chance to end the season on a high note, building a foundation for next season and getting back to the postseason in 2014.
“We understand that in order to be a team that is successful in this league, you have to have a core group moving forward,” James said.
Utah could get its head start on improving for next season with a VooDoo team that has had its share of struggles this season. New Orleans endured an eight-game losing streak earlier this season before righting the ship and going 3-2 over its last five games.
James said he’s excited to see how his players respond to the atmosphere.
“It’s been disappointing, but at the same time, we understand the job’s not finished,” he said.
VooDoo at Blaze
P At EnergySolutions Arena
Kickoff • Saturday, 7 p.m.
TV • KJZZ
Radio • 97.5 FM
Records • VooDoo 4-10; Blaze 5-9
Last meeting • New Orleans 72, Utah 57 (May 31, 2012)
About the VooDoo • After a rocky start to the year, New Orleans QB Chris Dixon has turned around the offense, throwing for 213 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions in the last three games. … Wideout Donovan Morgan has hauled in 24 touchdowns and 1,152 yards on 75 receptions in just nine games. … The VooDoo offense ranks last in total yards on offense (251 yards per game) and passing yards (234.2 yards per game). … Quorey Payne is averaging 188.8 all-purpose yards per outing.
About the Blaze • Utah has the third-best passing defense in the AFL, allowing just 241.9 yards per game. … Linebacker Antwan Marsh had two interceptions against San Jose last week. … A.J. Jackson had seven catches for 99 yards and three touchdowns against the SaberCats a week ago. … Injured defensive players David Hyland and Joe Mortensen are game-time decisions; both are dealing with mildly separated shoulders.