All Photos by Shawn Jonas
SAN JOSE – The San Jose SaberCats (16-1) clinched the number one overall seed in the Arena Football League and home field advantage throughout the playoffs, with a triumphant 56-29 victory over the Arizona Rattlers (13-4).
The showdown featured the previous two AFL Most Valuable Players in quarterbacks Erick Meyer and Nick Davila. Leading the way for the SaberCats, Meyer, the 2013 MVP, completed 73 percent of his passes for 286 yards and eight touchdowns. Meanwhile, the San Jose defense came up huge, allowing just three second half points.
“We didn’t play well the last two games in our mind and we wanted to come out and have a good showing with a lot of energy and they did that tonight,” said Owner and Head Coach Darren Arbet.
The Rattlers got on the board first when fullback Mykel Benson finished a six play drive with a three-yard touchdown run. San Jose would answer on a scoring drive of its own, as Reggie Gray caught a seven-yard pass and dove into the end zone, evening the score at 7-7.
Arizona would answer in the second quarter with an eight-yard touchdown pass from Nick Davila to Rod Windsor and another score on a 20-yard pass to Kerry Reed, as the Rattlers led 20-7.
With the history of these two rivals, the back-and-forth pendulum swung, as the SaberCats cut into the Rattlers’ lead with an 11-yard touchdown pass from Meyer to Maurice Purify. The touchdown was the first for Purify as a SaberCat, who spent the past three seasons with Arizona, and cut the lead to 20-14.
The momentum carried over for the SaberCats after Davila fumbled the snap and Donte Paige-Moss recovered the ball, giving San Jose possession. The SaberCats would capitalize with a 10-yard touchdown reception by Odie Armstrong to tie the game 20-20 with just under a minute remaining in the first half.
Arizona followed the 14 points scored by San Jose with a 10-yard touchdown reception by Windsor; however, the PAT kick would be blocked by Francis Maka and scooped up by Rodney Fritz, who returned the kick, awarding the SaberCats two points and cut the lead to 26-22. Following the stellar special teams play, San Jose scored on a four-yard pass from Meyer to Purify, his second of the game, as the SaberCats held their first lead of the game at 29-26 to end the first half.
After recovering the second half kickoff from a ball off of the net, the Rattlers tied the game 29-29 with a 27-yard field goal by Fabrizio Scaccia. The SaberCats would answer as Gray would get open in the back of the end zone for the 16-yard touchdown reception, giving San Jose a 35-29 edge.
The SaberCats’ number one ranked defense continued to stifle the Rattlers. Following an interception by David Hyland, San Jose capitalized on the turnover when Purify grabbed the pass from Meyer, broke a tackle and took off for a 34-yard touchdown, as the SaberCats lead swelled to 42-29 with 1:38 remaining in the third quarter. Purify finished with 10 receptions for 108 yards and three touchdowns.
“There is never a doubt in anyone’s mind no matter what the score,” said Meyer. “We always know that there is going to be a play made and the momentum will switch in our favor eventually.”
Not allowing the Rattlers to get into a rhythm offensively, Donte Paige-Moss and Francis Maka teamed up for back-to-back sacks to force a 4th and 19, culminating in an incomplete pass by Davila and turnover on downs. Leading the AFL in touchdown receptions, Gray would find a soft spot in the end zone and haul in his third touchdown of the game, extending the SaberCats lead to 49-29.
With a routine 12-yard reception in the second quarter, Gray broke Jason Willis’s franchise record for most receiving yards in a season (1,606) set in 2013. Gray, who hauled in 11 receptions for 88 yards and three touchdowns, is now the SaberCats all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards, touchdown receptions and scoring in a season.
Veteran SaberCat Clevan Thomas recorded two tackles, en route to becoming the ninth player in Arena Football League history with 600 or more career tackles.
“They were in tuned with each other and they played well tonight,” said Arbet. “The first goal is to win your division, second goal is home field advantage and from there it’s to get to that game.”
The SaberCats will hit the road to take on the LA KISS on Saturday, August 8th in the regular season finale.
Offensive Player of the Game: QB Erik Meyer
Defensive Player of the Game: LB David Hyland
J Lewis Small Playmaker of the Game: WR Maurice Purify
Cutters Catch of the Game: WR Reggie Gray 12-yard record setting catch
AFL Highlight of the Week: WR Maurice Purify 34-yard TD
Game Recap Courtesy of the San Jose SaberCats Media Relations