SAN JOSE -- With the playoffs on the horizon for one team, and tee-times set for the other, the San Jose SaberCats (12-6) had playoff positioning on the line, while the Iowa Barnstormers (6-11) were playing for pride. Rational thinking would lead one to believe that Iowa could mail it in on one of their last games of the season; au contraire, they came to play. With San Jose trailing at halftime 28-20, it took a flurry of key defensive plays and 23-unanswered second half points, giving San Jose the 57-48 victory in front of 11,072 at HP Pavilion.
The momentum of winning the last three games and going into the playoffs: That is what you want, SaberCats Owner and Head Coach Darren Arbet said following the win. You have 18 weeks to correct all of the problems. You want to go into the playoffs with momentum, and that is what we are going to do right now.
It was an a-typical offensive performance for San Jose as they managed to only put up 20 first half points. Iowa was able to block an extra point as well as get a defensive stop, propelling them to a surprising 28-20 halftime lead.
With 2012 SaberCats Hall of Fame inductees Sam Hernandez and Barry Wagner having their jerseys retired at halftime, something must have carried over from the celebration because the SaberCats came out to play in the third quarter. After the two teams traded scores to begin the half, the first key momentum swing happened when the Cats had a net recovery on a kickoff with 6:04 to go in the third quarter and the team trailing 35-27. Two plays later quarterback Mark Grieb found James Roe in the endzone for a four-yard touchdown bringing the SaberCats to within one at 35-34. On Iowas ensuing offensive possession, San Jose defensive lineman Jermaine Smith sacked J.J. Raterink in the endzone for a safety to give San Jose their first lead 36-35 since the games opening drive. After receiving the resulting kickoff, the Cats again wasted no time in expanding their lead as Grieb found wide receiver Huey Whittaker for one of his three scores on the night, this, a nine-yard touchdown, capping off the 23-unanswered points. The SaberCats would not relinquish the lead after that point, and finished the regular season on a three game winning streak.
In what potentially could be Griebs last home game as a member of the SaberCats, the future Hall of Famer did what he normally does; throw touchdowns. Grieb finished the game going 30-42 for 285 yards and seven touchdowns, all while finding five different receivers. Wide receiver Samora Goodson finished with 11 catches for 85 yards, Griebs long time target James Roe finished with three catches for 30 yards and three touchdowns, while Huey Whittaker had nine catches for 91 yards, three receiving touchdowns. Whittaker was also awarded National Guard MVP of the Game and Russell Athletic Offensive Player of the Game.
Although the game was much closer on the scoreboard this time around against Iowa, the fact that the defense was again stellar in the second half didnt change, and it was no coincidence that the defensive line as a whole took home the AFL Playmaker of the Game award. The defense recorded five sacks, a fumble recovery, and a safety; the effort propelled the SaberCats to the come from behind victory. San Jose finished the season with a new AFL single season record for sacks as a team with 42. Defensive back Tanner Varner led the team with seven-and-a-half tackles, and lineman Tim McGill chipped in with two of the five sacks and also took home the Riddell Defensive Player of the Game award.
For the Iowa offense it was a solid performance considering the circumstances. Quarterback J.J. Raterink was able to complete 22-36 passes for 227 yards and three touchdowns despite being under heavy duress during the second half. Iowas top receiver Jesse Schmidt caught seven passes for 67 yards and two touchdowns, while wide receiver Marco Thomas caught five passes for 48 yards and a touchdown; Thomas also threw for a touchdown in the second half on a halfback pass.
The Iowa defense played well, holding the SaberCats offense below its season scoring average, but they were unable to force any turnovers or sack Grieb, which does not bode well for stopping an offense as prolific as San Jose. Defensive back Cameron McGlenn finished with a team high 11 tackles and defensive back Jason Simpson finished second with eight-and-a-half tackles to go along with a pass breakup.
Courtesy San Jose SaberCats media services