The San Jose SaberCats (8-4) late comeback fell short, as they were defeated by the Iowa Barnstormers (6-7) 73-68 at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines on Saturday night.
Quarterback Russ Michna returned to action as the SaberCats starter after missing last week’s game due to injury. The former Western Illinois Leatherneck completed 28-of-39 passes for 392 yards with nine touchdowns and no interceptions.
Wide receiver Jason Willis hauled in a team-high nine passes for 116 yards and five touchdowns in the losing effort. San Jose had an opportunity to win the game late, but four consecutive passes fell incomplete, and Iowa came out with the victory.
Iowa forced a turnover on the opening kickoff and cashed in immediately, as quarterback J.J. Raterink picked out a well-covered Jesse Schmidt for a 12-yard score to give the Barnstormers the early 7-0 advantage.
San Jose responded quickly, as Michna found Willis for a 17-yard strike, making a very difficult catch against the boards to tie things at seven. The teams then traded scores, as Raterink hit former SaberCats wide receiver Marco Thomas for six, and then Michna found Willis for the second time on the evening to bring the score level at 14. The Barnstormers took a 21-14 lead into the second quarter following Raterink’s third touchdown pass, picking out Marcus Harris for the 27-yard score.
San Jose opened the second quarter with a bang, as Michna found Huey Whittaker for a 31-yard touchdown to tie things at 21.
The Barnstormers took the lead back on a three-yard touchdown pass by Raterink to Thomas, pushing the Iowa advantage to 28-21 midway through the second quarter. San Jose answered right back, as Michna found his favorite target on the night, Willis again for an easy five-yard scoring toss to knot things at 28.
The teams swapped scores again within the final minute, but a 27-yard field goal by Iowa kicker Fabrizio Scaccia gave the Barnstormers the 38-35 lead at the half.
The Barnstormers opened their largest lead of the game on their opening drive of the second half, as Raterink and Thomas connected for the third time tonight, on a 23-yard pass over the middle to give Iowa a 45-35 lead. The SaberCats responded again, as wide receiver Amarri Jackson made an incredible over-the-wall catch for a nine-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 45-41. Thomas flexed his muscles again for Iowa, as he hauled in a deep 45-yard touchdown to give him five total scores on the evening (four receiving) and pushed the Barnstormers lead to 52-41 midway through the third.
San Jose fought back within four points yet again, as Willis hauled in another touchdown reception, this from nine-yards out, to cut the lead to 52-48. Harris extended the Iowa lead yet again, catching a short pass on the right sideline from Raterink and taking it 39 yards for the touchdown for a 59-48 lead late in the third quarter. Willis struck once more to clip the Iowa lead to 59-55 as Michna spotted him from 21-yards out.
Thomas struck again with his sixth touchdown of the game (fifth receiving), as he brought in an 11-yard scoring toss from Raterink to push the lead to 66-55 midway through the fourth quarter. Whittaker made a diving six-yard touchdown catch, Michna’s eighth scoring toss on the night, pulling within five at 66-61 with under four minutes to play in the game. Raterink and Schmidt stretched the lead to 12, as they connected for the second time on the evening, from 13-yards out and with 2:01 to play in the fourth, it was 73-61.
San Jose would not go away though, as Michna picked out a wide open Fred Williams for a 35-yard touchdown to pull back to 73-68 with 1:20 remaining. Following an unsuccessful onside kick attempt, San Jose’s defense came up with their first stop of the game, as Clevan Thomas made his league-leading ninth interception of the season to give the SaberCats an opportunity for the win. The SaberCats were unable to score, as Michna’s fourth and goal pass fell incomplete to turn the ball over, and Iowa escaped with the win.
Next week, the SaberCats return home to HP Pavilion in San Jose to host their bitter divisional rivals, the Arizona Rattlers (11-1) in the Net 10 Wireless Arena Football League Game of the Week on CBS Sports Network. Saturday, June 22 is also Military Appreciation Night at HP Pavilion and the game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. PT.
San Jose SaberCats Media Services contributed to this report.