SAN JOSE, Calif. – The San Jose SaberCats (9-4) got back on the winning track on Saturday night against their division rivals, the Arizona Rattlers (12-2) 72-42 in front of 9,296 fans at HP Pavilion in San Jose on Military Appreciation Night.
San Jose quarterback Russ Michna was marvelous in the win, completing 24-of-37 passes for 313 yards and nine touchdowns, giving him two consecutive games with as many touchdown passes. The SaberCats defense also was a big part of the story tonight as they forced a pair of turnovers and posted two more stops, limiting Arizona to a season-low 42 points and held Rattlers’ signal caller Nick Davila to only 238 yards on 22-of-41 passing with a season-low four scores and one interception.
“We’ve got a lot of leaders on this team,” said Owner/Head Coach Darren Arbet following the key divisional win. “The guys were disappointed with what happened last week (in Iowa) and they said they were going to be great tonight. We all said that’s what it’s going to take to beat the Champions. The guys played great and it was our night.”
Davila and the Rattlers opened the scoring with a one-yard rushing touchdown on a keeper to put Arizona on top early, his fourth score on the ground this season. San Jose answered on their first drive with a 30-yard bullet from Michna to Russell Athletic Player of the Game Fred Williams to tie things at seven apiece, marking Williams’ tenth consecutive game with a score. The J. Lewis Small Playmaker of the Game would end the night with ten catches for 121 and a career-high five touchdown receptions. The first quarter concluded after both offenses traded another pair of touchdowns; with Davila finding receiver Kerry Reed from six yards out and Michna connecting with Amarri Jackson on a 19-yard equalizer to make it 14-14.
Arizona opened up the second quarter with seven more, after Tysson Poots reeled in the Davila pass in the back of the end zone to once again pull ahead. The Rattlers nearly forced the first defensive stop of the game during the SaberCats next possession, however a clutch 17-yard catch by receiver Jason Willis on fourth-and-13 kept the drive going and allowed San Jose to tie it at 21 after Willis made the Cutters Catch of the Game on a seven-yard grab over the boards in the end zone.
The momentum instantly swung San Jose’s way and the defensive front was able to pressure Davila enough to force a key turnover on downs on the eleven yard line. The ’Cats made the defensive stop count on the first play from scrimmage with Michna finding Williams streaking across the middle of the end zone to make the score 28-21 and give San Jose their first lead of the evening.
Arizona tried to bounce back on their next possession, however for the second time in a row the defense was able to stop Davila from moving the chains and forced another turnover on downs. Yet again, Michna capitalized on the turnover and found Williams alone in the end zone for their third touchdown connection of the half to extend the San Jose lead to 35-21, which would be all the scoring for the first 30 minutes.
Williams’ dominance carried into the second half when he logged his career-high fourth receiving score of the night on a two-yard pass from Michna to give the SaberCats a 42-21 lead, handing Arizona their largest deficit of the season.
The Rattlers were able to respond and cut the ‘Cats lead to 42-28 on Davila’s second rushing touchdown of the game, however Williams put a damper on the Rattler’s comeback when he reeled in a ten-yard Michna gem to put San Jose back on top 49-28 on their next drive. Riddell Defensive player of the Game Ken Fontenette, who ended the night with a game-high eight-and-a-half tackles, hauled in a wayward Davila pass and brought the interception back 20-yards to the house on the following Rattlers possession, making the score 56-28. Arizona’s offensive woes continued when Davila was forced to intentionally ground the ball in the end zone; which resulted in the third safety forced on the year for the SaberCats. That gave San Jose the ball where they once again made the miscue count, with a one-yard Huey Whittaker reception, widening the lead to 65-28.
Both Arizona and San Jose traded scores on their first possessions of the fourth quarter as Davila found Reed six yards out and Michna connected with Willis from the 15-yard line, making the score 72-35 midway through the final 15 minutes of regulation. Poots would get another six-yard touchdown reception to bring the score to 72-42 and the Rattler’s attempted to wrangle seven more in the closing minute, but San Jose forced the fumble in the end zone to seal the 72-42 victory.
San Jose next travels to Salt Lake City to battle the Utah Blaze (5-8) on Saturday, June 29 at EnergySolutions Arena in Week 15, and look for the season sweep. The game will be broadcast live on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area and KNBR 1050 at 6:00 p.m. PT.
San Jose SaberCats media services contributed to this report.