SAN JOSE -– The San Jose SaberCats (7-2) won their fifth consecutive game, defeating the Utah Blaze (4-5) 35-34 in front of 8,438 fans at HP Pavilion on Saturday night. Quarterback Russ Michna delivered once again, completing 22-of-38 passes for 246 yards and four touchdowns, though he also threw a pair of interceptions. Defensively, San Jose clamped down on the Arena Football League’s reigning Most Valuable Player, Blaze quarterback Tommy Grady, holding Utah to just 34 points.
“The defense has played well five weeks in a row, they're on fire right now,” said Owner/Head Coach Arbet after the win. “It was really important for us to get that first win inside the division. We have another one next week in Spokane that we have to get ready for.”
The Blaze got off to a hot start in this divisional contest. After forcing an interception on San Jose’s opening possession, Grady found wide receiver Anthony Jackson on fourth down from nine yards out to give Utah an early 7-0 lead. San Jose quickly answered back, as Michna shook off the interception to find wide receiver Huey Whittaker open in the back corner for the end zone for the score, tying the game at seven.
On their next possession, one that spanned five minutes across the first and second quarters, Utah methodically marched down the field to untie the ball game. Grady spotted wide receiver and Russell Athletic Offensive Player of the Game Aaron Lesue cutting across the middle for an eleven-yard connection, pushing the Blaze lead to seven with 12 minutes remaining in the second quarter. The SaberCats responded quickly, with Michna finding wide receiver and JLS Playmaker of the Game Fred Williams for a scintillating 28-yard pitch and catch to bring the score back to even at 14. San Jose’s defense joined the fun on the next possession, as a big run stuff from Whittaker set up a Clevan Thomas interception on fourth down in the SaberCats’ end zone. The San Jose offense would put the newfound possession to good use, as Michna hit wide receiver Jason Willis with a 41-yard bomb to give the SaberCats their first lead of the night just before halftime, 21-14. Trying to extend the margin before halftime, San Jose tried but failed to recover an onside kick, giving the Blaze a short field. After two running plays forced the SaberCats to burn their final timeouts, Utah unconventionally took to their air. Taking a pitch from Grady, Lesue ran to his left. The San Jose defense converged on the runner, leaving wide receiver Chase Deadder open in the end zone for the easy completion. Utah would miss the point after attempt, making the score 21-20 SaberCats going into halftime.
After winning the opening toss and deferring to the second half, Utah would start the second half with the ball. That didn’t last long, as Thomas intercepted his second pass of the night and took it 50-yards to the house, extending the SaberCats lead to 28-20. Following a spectacular 28-yard catch from wide receiver Mario Urrutia, Grady escaped heavy fourth down pressure to once again hook up with Lesue, this time from 14-yards out to bring the Blaze within a point. Utah’s defense would force a San Jose turnover on downs, headed by pressure up the middle from the defensive line on Michna. The SaberCats defense would match that task, as defensive back JC Neal forced a fumble that was recovered by linebacker Francis Maka. Michna would use this possession much better than the last, finding Willis for the second time on a beautiful touch throw over a defender to bring the lead back to eight at 35-27 in favor of San Jose after three quarters of play.
Opening the scoring in the final frame, Grady connected with Lesue from 17-yards out, their third hook-up on the night, to cut the SaberCats lead to 35-34. Surprisingly, this would be the only scoring for either side in the fourth quarter. After a tipped Michna pass resulted in an interception, the San Jose defense stepped up big once again, forcing a hard fought turnover on downs with just under four minutes to play. With a chance to put the game away, the SaberCats offense stalled, turning the ball over on downs with 32 seconds remaining. After incompletions on the first three downs, SaberCats defensive back Ken Fontenette broke up a Grady fourth down attempt to Lesue with 11 seconds remaining, sealing the 35-34 SaberCats victory.
For San Jose, Michna did an excellent job at spreading the ball around. Williams led the receiving corps with ten catches for 124 yards and a score. Whittaker pitched in with six grabs for 46 yards and a touchdown, while Willis hauled in five balls totaling 67 yards and two scores.
On defense, the SaberCats held their opponent to under 40 points for the fifth consecutive game. In addition to the game-ending pass breakup, Fontenette racked up a team-high nine-and-a-half tackles (nine solo). Thomas continued his stellar play with the two interceptions and added four tackles and three pass breakups. Maka and defensive lineman Terrance Carter each tallied a sack in the win as well.
In the loss, Grady finished 24-for-48 for 291 yards and four touchdowns along with two interceptions. His primary target, Lesue, hauled in ten balls for 117 yards and three scores, in addition to throwing one passing touchdown. Urrutia caught seven passes for 126 yards and fellow wide outs Deadder and Jackson added receiving scores.
Next week, the SaberCats put their winning streak on the line against Spokane. The Shock (7-3) defeated San Jose at HP Pavilion in Week 5 69-47, so the SaberCats will look to return the favor with a road victory next week. The game can be found on Saturday, June 1 at 7:00 p.m. PT on television on CBS Sports Network and on the radio at KNBR 1050.
Score by Quarters 1 2 3 4 Score
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Utah Blaze .. 7 13 7 7 34
San Jose SaberCats .. 7 14 14 0 35
Russell Athletic Offensive Player of the Game: UTAH – WR Aaron Lesue
Riddell Defensive Player of the Game: SJ – DB Clevan Thomas
J. Lewis Small Playmaker of the Game: SJ – WR Fred Williams
Cutters Catch of the Game: UTAH – WR Mario Urrutia’s 3rd quarter flying catch over the boards.
AFL Highlight of the Game: SJ – DB Clevan Thomas’ 50-yard interception return for a touchdown in the 3rd quarter.
Courtesy San Jose SaberCats Media Services