AFL: Blaze snake-bitten once again by rival Rattlers
In desperate need of anything resembling momentum, Tommy Grady's pass intended for Brandon Thompkins bounced off the back of an official midway through the third quarter, shot high into the air and was eventually swallowed up by the frenzied Arizona Rattlers defense.
It was that kind of night in the Utah Blaze's home opener Friday night at EnergySolutions Arena.
When Utah needed to make a potential game-changing play, the Blaze flat-out struggled against the defending AFL champion Rattlers, their most bitter of rivals, in the 77-49 loss.
"That's not the way we're accustomed to playing," said Blaze coach Ron James.
In the see-saw, back-and-forth game that is Arena football, the Blaze were slow out of the gates, caught fire in the second quarter Â eventually taking the lead a little before halftime but were put to bed by a nightmarish first 12 minutes of the third quarter.
The Rattlers picked off Grady three times in that quarter returning one for a touchdown while the Blaze also turned the ball over on downs deep in their own territory. That gave Arizona quarterback Nick Davila all the time in the world to slice the Utah defense for easy points.
"We blew ourselves up," James said.
It didn't help that a familiar face returned to ESA to torch his former team. Former Blaze wide receiver Tysson Poots, a Southern Utah product who caught 30 touchdowns for Utah last year, caught four touchdowns and provided crucial third-down pick-ups for the Rattlers when they needed a wideout to step up.
"It's motivation, man," said a smiling Poots. "These are my friends you've got to show up when you play your friends."
Earlier this week, James said this game would be an ideal benchmark game for his team, with several new faces in key places, but the Blaze offense struggled, most notably with the absence of Grady's favorite target, receiver Aaron Lesue, who missed his second straight game with a lower leg injury. Grady finished the game with four touchdowns and five interceptions on 195 yards passing.
"With Aaron not in the lineup, you're losing that go-to guy, you're losing that guy who's automatic," James said.
It's still very early in the season, though,and James' group has a chance to succeed in the first-six-game cluster he likes to focus on, but the Blaze will need to regroup with Tampa Bay Storm coming to town next Saturday.
"We've got 16 more weeks to go and we better start getting things right right now, because we're going to see [Arizona] in a few weeks," James said.
Rattlers 77, Blaze 49
O Reigning AFL MVP Tommy Grady is picked off three times in the third quarter and five times in the game.
• Former Blaze receiver and SUU product Tysson Poots haunts his old team, catching four touchdown passes for Arizona.