Fourth down and two yards to go with 40 seconds left in the game trailing 45-39…
As arguably the most productive wide receiver in the Arena Football League this season, Anthony “Tiger” Jones understood that all the hard work in the off-season prepared him for this moment — but just like every fan in the Amway Center and those watching on the CBS Network knew the ball would be going to him.
But so did Arizona Rattlers defensive back Arkeith Brown and when Philadelphia Soul quarterback Dan Raudabaugh released the pass in the direction of Jones, who had eight catches for 73 yards and two touchdowns, Brown perfectly timed the collision and separated the ball from the Soul receiver causing a turnover on down.
This ultimely drop by the usually sure handed receiver sealed the victory for the Arizona Rattlers and gave them their second straight Arena Football League Championship 48-39.
Following in the pattern of the subsequent game being more tightly contested than the previous, the Soul had their chance to end their three game losing streak against the National Conference foe, but too many missed opportunities will have the American Conference Champions once again playing the “what-if” game…
“What if” they didn’t turn the ball over:
In the previous match-ups with Arizona, Philadelphia had a -7 turnover ratio and while each team had two turnovers, timely interceptions in the endzone by Jeremy Kellem and Virgil Gray ended two opportunities by the Soul to seize momentum in a game that was back and forth throughout the afternoon.
Raudabaugh, who was 31 of 51 for 306 yards and four touchdowns, expressed in the post game press conference that against at team like Arizona one or two plays could turn the momentum of the game and put it out of reach, which those turnovers ultimately did.
“What if” the defense didn’t have costly lapses:
The Soul defense came into the game knowing that it could not give talented quarterback Nick Davila any extra help, but that they did by having mis-communication in the defensive backfield which left Rattlers receivers wide open, and he took advantage by going 20 of 29 for 315 yards and six touchdowns, with two of those touchdowns going to uncovered receivers.
Playing on a short field, it should be difficult for receivers to produce lofty yards-per-reception averages, but not on Saturday: Tysson Poots three catches 50 yards (16.7), Maurice Purify four catches 83 yards (20.8) and game MVP Rod Windsor 10 catches 145 yards (14.5) all were able to take advantage of the sloppy tackling by the Soul defenders.
“What if” the go-to guys stepped up:
“Tiger” Jones had a good game, but not what many Philadelphia fans expected out of the 5th year player from Louisville after accumulating regular season totals of 150 receptions 2121 yards and 37 touchdowns, but Soul Head Coach Clint Dolezel revealed in talking to the media after the game that they adjusted their offensive play-calling based on what the Rattlers defense gave them; often times that was press coverage on Jones and off-coverage on receivers like rookie Ryan McDaniel, who took advantage of the opportunity, and had a career game with 13 catches for 137 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Also missing from a lot of the game-plan was fullback Derrick Ross, who only had 4 carriers for 23 yards with two of those carries ending up in the endzone. Running backs are seldom used outside of the goal line in the AFL, but this third year back out of Tarleton State earned the right to be more of an integral part of the Soul offense after having totaled 536 rushing yards and 35 touchdowns this season.
While Coach Kevin Guy would not let it come out of his mouth, it was hard for the celebrating Rattlers fans to resist wanting to associate the word dynasty with this football team.
Three straight Arena Bowl Championships appearances and being one play away from being the second AFL team to three-peat has this franchise on the cusp of rewriting the league’s history book.
The quest for the “Desert Three-peat” will soon be underway and those who follow the AFL closely wouldn’t be surprised to see a third consecutive championship game match-up between the two talented franchises in 2014 season.
Will the Rattlers be able to save on shipping and not pack the Foster Trophy because it will be making its home again in the US Airways Center, could the Soul finally become the snake charmer and get past their venomous adversary, or will there be two new teams battling it out for the 2014 AFL championship? We will have to see!