Part 1: Entering a new league
Phoenix, Ariz. – The Indoor Football League champion Arizona Rattlers have now concluded their 25th season and it turned out to be a remarkable one. With the Arena Football League contracting on only five teams, all on the east coast, the Rattlers had to find a new home. They found it in the Indoor Football League (IFL).
With the move, not only did the team have to learn a whole new set of rules, they also had to remake their entire roster, and they had to do so in an abbreviated offseason.
“The other teams were two months ahead of us recruiting when we decided to make the move, so we had to work hard,” said General Manager and Head Coach Kevin Guy. “Not only did we have to put a new roster together in the offseason but we were going to have to develop a new offensive scheme, a new defensive scheme, and new special teams.”
Despite these difficulties, the Arizona Rattlers put together a roster and game plan that would eventually compete in, and even win the United Bowl. Here is a look back at the 2017 season and how it unfolded.
Game 1: Rattlers at Storm
The Rattlers were headed into their first foray in the IFL, and faced a team with a 62-game home winning streak. The task was tall, and while Arizona at times looked tall enough for it, in the end they fell just short, losing to the Sioux Falls Storm, 40-29.
Quarterback Darron Thomas got the start, and showed a lot of promise, throwing for 148 yards and three touchdowns, and running for 23 yards. He did have one interception though, a 50-yard pick six, which proved costly.
The Rattlers got their first taste of having a true run game, and RBs Darrell Monroe and Jamal Miles did not disappoint, combining for 61 yards and a score. Monroe did have one fumble.
The Storm relied heavily on the run game. RB Korey Williams lead the way with 61 yards on nine attempts and a touchdown. RBs Mike Tatum and Robbie Rouse also saw a lot of action compiling 38 and 25 yards respectively. QB Lorenzo Brown also had 41 yards on the ground and one touchdown. Brown also threw for 59 yards and another score.
“When I walked out of that building after we lost that first game the thoughts that I had in my mind was one, Athletically we can match up with these guys, two, I felt that we would see this team again,” Guy said.
Game 2: Rattlers vs. Barnstormers
In the home opener of their 25th anniversary season, the Rattlers showed determination throughout the game, coming back from being down two possessions throughout most of the contest and even taking the lead late in the fourth quarter. But in the end, they fell short, losing by four points, with the final score being 51-47, Iowa.
“That’s just part of the process with a young team,” said Guy. “They are going to have to learn how to win.”
QB Darron Thomas threw 6 touchdown passes completing 20-36 of his throws in first home game as the Arizona Rattlers starting quarterback. He also ran for 61 yards scoring his first rushing touchdown in front of fans at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
“Everybody has got to keep pushing forward,” Thomas stated after the game. “It is just going to come through more hard work. We just have to keep working hard”.
Game 3: Rattlers vs. Crush
The Rattlers were firing on all cylinders against Colorado, racking up 221 total yards offensively and sacking QB Aaron Aiken three times on defense. The defense also had an interception, and three blocked passes. Special teams also scored twice.
“I thought we were really efficient in all three stages of the game,” Head Coach Kevin Guy said after the game. “We took a step forward. (We are) not where we want to be yet, but we are going to keep working.”
Arizona’s offense was highlighted by RB Darrell Monroe with 93 yards on the ground. Monroe earned the offensive player of the game award for his efforts.
“I just stuck to the game plan (and) did what the coaches asked me to do, trusted my (offensive) line.” Monroe said, “We all did good, defense did good, we were all communicating together.”
Rattlers QB Darron Thomas also had a big night, going a perfect 6-6 passing with 70 yards and three touchdowns.
Defensively, the Rattlers were able to get their first interception of the season along with tallying up their first three sacks.
On the other hand, Colorado’s QB Aaron Aiken went 15-27 passing, throwing for 95 yards, and throwing one pick.
Week 4: Rattlers at Blizzard
Arizona won their first road game in the IFL, with a 30-29 win over the Green Bay Blizzard at the Resch Center in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Special teams, once again, played a big part in the Rattlers one-point victory. Kick returner and WR Jamal Miles had another big day, averaging 18.3 yards per return. K Sawyer Petre also made a 27-yard field goal at the end of the half to take a three-point lead. Conversely, for the Blizzard, K Zeke Arevalo missed two point-after-touchdowns (PATs) which ended up being the difference in the game.
Offensively, Rattlers QB Darron Thomas completed eight of 16 passes for 85 yards and a touchdown. He also intercepted once. Thomas also had 37 yards and another touchdown on the ground. RB Ketrich Harmon had a big day as well, carrying the ball 13 times for 50 yards and two touchdowns.
For Green Bay, QB Matt Behrendt completed ten of his 23 passes for 117 yards and three touchdowns. He also had one interception.
The Rattlers defense played a big role in the win. Arizona held Green Bay to minus eight yards rushing and recorded five tackles for loss, including two sacks, one by DE Chris McAllister, the other by DL Justin Martin and DL Josh Gordon. DB Arkeith Brown had another interception this game, extending the Rattlers record to 16-0 since 2014 when Brown has at least one interception.
Game 5: Rattlers vs. Nighthawks
The Rattlers went toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the IFL, but fell short in an offensive shootout, losing to Wichita Falls by a score of 60-53.
“I just wasn’t happy with our overall performance,” Guy said after the game. “We are going to address that in the morning.”
In his first start in a Rattlers uniform, QB Cody Sokol went 15 of 28 passing with four touchdowns and throwing only one interception, amassing 224 yards passing in the loss.
“The pace definitely is a lot quicker,” Sokol said recapping his performance in a post-game interview, “I got ahold of it in the second quarter when I got into my rhythm.”
Ketrich Harmon set his IFL personal best mark, rushing for 123 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries in that game. Harmon averaged just over six yards per rush against the Nighthawks.
“We had a great day running the ball. The offensive line was opening holes,” Harmon stated after the game. “There were some drives we needed to capitalize on and we didn’t.”
Defensively, Arizona had three tackles for loss, one sack, and one hit on Wichita Falls QB Charles McCullum. However, on the most important drive in the game the Rattlers came up short, allowing the game winning touchdown in the final seconds.
“Their receivers were better than our coverage.” Guy said. “For whatever reasons, we weren’t getting it done.”
Game 6: Rattlers at Danger
Arizona finally evened their record at 3-3 with a victory over the first-place Nebraska Danger by a score of 39-36 with a last second field goal at the Heartland Events Center in Grand Island, Nebraska.
Rattlers quarterback Cody Sokol got his second start, and had a solid outing, completing 17 of 30 passes for 165 yards and four touchdowns. He also had 33 yards on the ground.
The game came down to special teams, where Arizona kicker Sawyer Petre had his best night as a Rattler so far this season. He completed all four of his point after attempts (PATs) along with completing three out of four field goals, which included the game winner with four seconds left on the clock.
Nebraska’s offense was held to only 149 total yards. Danger’s quarterback Derrick Bernard went 9-for-19 and 97 yards passing. He did throw three touchdowns and added another on the ground.
Game 7: Rattlers at Screaming Eagles
The Rattlers racked up eight rushing touchdowns in their 73-60 win over the Salt Lake Screaming Eagles. RB Darrell Monroe led the way, with five touchdowns. He also had 80 yards on 14 attempts (5.7 yards per rush). Right behind him was WR Jamal Miles with 22 yards and 3 touchdowns. Miles also returned the initial kickoff for a 56-yard touchdown. QB Cody Sokol also had a productive night, completed six of his ten passes for 102 yards and a touchdown. He did throw one interception.
The Rattlers secondary had a big night as well. Both DB Allen Chapman and Arkeith Brown each had an interception, and DB Nathan Lindsey picked off two two-point conversions.
Salt Lake QB Verlon Reed accounted for most of the Screaming Eagles offense, obtained eight total touchdowns. He completed 20 of his 32 attempts for 162 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. He also rushed 11 times for 107 yards (9.7 yards per rush) and four rushing touchdowns.
Game 8: Rattlers vs Empire
Arizona was in a tight battle with their longtime rival, the Spokane Empire. Rattlers battled through eight lead changes but just fell short. In the end, the team dropped their third game at home by a score of 60-51.
“We have got to get mentally tougher,” Guy stated after the game. “There are no excuses for it, we have to win at home.”
Rattlers quarterback Cody Sokol completed 22 of 34 passes with six touchdowns, amassing 249 yards against the Empire. He threw one interception in the game as well.
“We had opportunities to win the game and I just got to come out and make plays,” Sokol said. “That’s the biggest thing.”
On special teams, Jamal Miles had 144 yards on seven kickoffs. Kicker Sawyer Petre made an 18-yard field goal and was perfect on PAT’s going six for six.
The defense allowed six touchdowns and 221 yards against the Empire. They did block one extra point.
“We did not play defense,” Guy said. “We could not make a play on the ball.”
The Empire’s offense had 204 yards passing and 17 rushing in the game. Quarterback Charles Dowdell went 13 of 24 with six touchdowns and no interceptions.
“When we got to be 4-4, I had a meeting with (president) Chris (Presson) and some of the (Phoenix) Suns, and we were talking about multiple things that were going on in the year,” said Team Owner and CEO Ron Shurts. “We sat in the meeting for about an hour. At the end of the meeting, I said ‘we are going to win the whole thing.’ They looked at me (and said), ‘you’re 4-4. You were 0-2. You were 2-3. You are 4-4. You are pretty much at the bottom of the league at this point in time. How is that possible?’ I just said, ‘we are going to win the whole thing.’”
Check back later for part two of the series.
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