Phoenix, Ariz. – Friday’s game is not technically a playoff game, but it definitely feels like one. The Arizona Rattlers (8-3) will enter the Snake Pit this week in what is arguably the biggest home regular season game they have had in years, when they play the league leading Philadelphia Soul (9-2).
If the Rattlers win, they will pull even with the Soul, trailing only the Orlando Predators (9-2) for the top seed in the post season (Philadelphia currently leads Orlando via a tie-breaker). The Rattlers play the Predators at home later on this season. If the Rattlers lose, they will fall essentially three games behind the Soul with only four games left to play (Philadelphia will have a two game advantage plus the tie breaker). A win puts the Rattlers in the driver’s seat to host ArenaBowl XXIX. A loss may mean that Arizona will have to travel for another chance at the Foster Cup.
The Rattlers are coming into this game with a bit of momentum. After a difficult month of May, where they went 1-3, Arizona has now won two straight, including over second place Cleveland Gladiators (5-6), and last week over conference rival, Portland Steel (1-9).
During this current win streak, Arizona’s offense is looking like the offensive juggernaut it had been during its three year championship run. They have scored 77 and 76 respectively, and there is little sign of them slowing down. Quarterback Nick Davila earned the Under Armour Offensive Player of the Game award (an honor he has earned six times already this season) for completing 24 of 33 passes for 280 yards and eight touchdowns with no interceptions. Add to that, wide receiver Maurice Purify is really beginning to warm up, pulling in ten catches for 138 yards and three scores. On the ground, fullback Mykel Benson is closing in on having a career season in touchdowns, already with 14 on the year (his career best is 17 touchdowns, a mark he hit twice, in 2011 with the Milwaukee Mustangs and last season with the Rattlers).
Defensively, the Rattlers are once again getting their groove back. Last season’s GoRVing Defensive Back of the Year Jeremy Kellem made his debut last week, and already recorded seven tackles and two pass breakups. Defensive backs Arkeith Brown and KJ Morton have been looking very strong on the edges as well.
The Soul will step onto the Ak-Chin Indian Community field with a fair amount of momentum as well. They also are riding a two-game winning streak, with wins over the Jacksonville Sharks (5-5) and the LA KISS (4-6). After last week’s convincing 73-37 victory over the KISS, two Philadelphia players were honored by the league. Quarterback Dan Raudabaugh earned the Under Armour Offensive Player of the Week for completing 20 of 23 passes (87 percent) for 261 yards and six touchdowns. Wide receiver Darius Reynolds was awarded the J. Lewis Small Playmaker of the Week award for his 10 catches for 141 yards and three touchdowns.
This Friday’s game will have huge implications for the AFL’s 2016 post season. The game is at 7:00 p.m. PDT at the Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Arizona and will be nationally televised on ESPN2. The game can also be streamed live on ESPN3.com or the WatchESPN app on a tablet, smartphone, or streaming device.