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Arena football: Blaze end season on high note with win at home

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(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah's Arness Ikner runs the ball as the Utah Blaze face the Cleveland Gladiators, AFL football at EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City, Saturday July 27, 2013.

By Steve Luhm

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Jul 27 2013 10:31PM
Updated Dec 7, 2013 11:36PM

The Utah Blaze’s season to forget ended with a satisfying victory Saturday night at EnergySolutions Arena.

Quarterback Tommy Grady threw three touchdown passes, including two in the second half to Mario Urrutia, to lead the Blaze to a 48-46 win over Cleveland.

Utah finished a 7-11 Arena League season on a two-game winning streak.

Blaze coach Ron James credited his defense and special teams for the victory, which was Utah’s second over the Gladiators this season.

"The defense played lights out," James said. "Offensively we were very erratic. We left a lot of points out there. But we were able to hang in there."

James sounded pleased that his players fought so fiercely.

"They are professionals," he said, "and they’re going to work all the way through. ... At least we ended on a high note. We were happy to be able to do it in front of our fans because that’s who we play for."

The Blaze got off to a quick start.

After receiving the opening kickoff, it took them only two plays to score. Grady’s 1-yard touchdown pass to fullback Ben Stallings gave Utah a quick 6-0 lead, although Kyle Brotzman missed the extra point.

On Cleveland’s first possession, Blaze defensive back Arness Ikner’s interception gave Utah a golden chance to score again. But the Gladiator defense held from its own 2-yard line when Grady threw two incomplete passes and was intercepted on fourth down.

It was the first of three consecutive stops by Cleveland, but defensive back Tony Tatum prevented the Blaze from falling into a two-score hole. His interception and 25-yard return for a touchdown tied the game, 13-13, early in the second quarter.

It was 20-20 when Cleveland lined up for a 30-yard field goal with four-tenths of a second left in the half. The kick was blocked, however, and a wild scramble for possession ensued. The ball ended up in the end zone, where Utah’s David Hyland finally recovered for a bizarre touchdown that gave the Blaze a 27-20 lead.

James tried to make it a two-score game when he ordered an onside kick to start the second half. It didn’t work, though, and Cleveland’s Joe Phinisee grabbed the ball and ran 14 yards for the tying touchdown.

The Blaze followed the Gladiators’ quick score with back-to-back touchdown passes from Grady to Urrutia. The first was an 11-yarder. The second was a 20-yarder and gave Utah a 41-27 lead with 4:01 left in the third quarter.

From there, the Blaze held on despite three fourth-quarter touchdown passes by Provo-born Danny Southwick, who replaced Chris Dieker when he was injured.

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