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SaberCats top Predators 65-62
SAN JOSE, Calif. - The San Jose SaberCats (2-0) opened their 2013 home slate by defeating the visiting Orlando Predators (0-2) 65-62 in thrilling fashion on Friday night at HP Pavilion in front of 11,263 fans. Quarterback Aaron Garcia completed 22-of-36 passes for 288 yards and seven touchdowns in his home debut for San Jose. Riddell Defensive Player of the Game, defensive back Clevan Thomas led the team in tackles with seven, and posted an eye-popping three interceptions, including one that sealed the game in the endzone as time expired.
“I’m proud of the guys, I told them let’s stay the course, whatever happens forget about that play and let’s look forward to the next one,” said Owner/Head Coach Darren Arbet. “No one was in doubt, even when they took the lead late, everyone was still focused until we won that football game.”
A chippy first quarter didn’t stop these two prolific offenses from putting up explosive numbers. The SaberCats reached the endzone on all three of their first quarter possessions, led by two touchdown grabs from wide receiver Jason Willis. The Predators found paydirt on both of their first quarter possessions with Russell Athletic Offensive Player of the Game, wide receiver Amarri Jackson scoring both touchdowns, but still trailed 21-14 after one quarter.
After Thomas’ second interception in as many games, Garcia and Willis hooked up for a third time, pushing the SaberCats lead to 14. However, Orlando stayed in the game with two touchdowns from quarterback Kyle Rowley to wide receiver Prechae Rodriguez, sandwiched around San Jose wide receiver Jamarko Simmons’ second touchdown of the game, which brought the half time score to 35-28, in favor of the SaberCats.
Opening the second half with possession of the football, the Predators struck quickly, with Rowley finding Jackson for his third score to tie the game at 35. The teams then traded touchdowns as well as interceptions before Garcia fired a bullet to wide receiver Huey Whittaker for a 35-yard scoring strike to take the 49-42 lead into the final quarter.
The Predators again countered San Jose’s attempts to put them away, starting the fourth quarter with two touchdowns and a pair of defensive stops to take the lead for the first time, 55-49. After a sack by San Jose defensive lineman Jabari Fletcher that resulted in a safety made the score 55-51, the teams traded touchdowns in the final minute. With just 27 seconds left on the clock, defensive back Mervin Brookins took the ensuing kickoff 58-yards for the score, putting the SaberCats ahead for good. Thomas intercepted a last-ditch attempt by Rowley in the endzone, his third interception of the game, to seal the 65-62 victory for San Jose.
For the SaberCats, their deep and dangerous receiving corps lived up to its name in the win. In the balanced attack, Willis led the way with eight catches for 98 yards and three touchdowns. Whittaker finished with six catches for 75 yards and a score while Simmons came through in the clutch with four catches, three for touchdowns and 35 yards. On defense, Thomas, the Hall of Fame selection put his ball-hawking skills on display once again, finishing with the three interceptions.
For Orlando, whose losing streak on the road stretched to 11 games, their gaudy offensive statistics weren’t enough to deliver a victory. Rowley finished his impressive night 26-of-46 passing for 373 yards and nine touchdowns. On the outside, Jackson snagged 12 catches for 209 yards and five scores, while running mate Rodriguez ended with eight catches for 98 yards and three touchdowns. On defense, cornerbacks Simeon Castille and Marcus Everett each registered one interception and fellow defensive back Dominic Jones led the team with five tackles on the night.
With the win, the SaberCats improved to 2-0 on the young season. Next week, San Jose takes its perfect start on the road in a matchup with their bitter rivals, the Arizona Rattlers (2-0), who knocked the SaberCats out of the playoffs en route to winning the 2012 ArenaBowl Championship.
Sabercats Media Services contributed to this report.