PHOENIX (AP) - The top two offenses in the high-scoring, pass-happy Arena Football League meet on Friday in the resurrected indoor league’s championship game.
The Arizona Rattlers (18-2) set a record for wins in a season while the Jacksonville Sharks (16-4) scored a league-best 64.3 points per game. The two teams meet Friday at 8:30 p.m. EDT at the U.S. Airways Center in the league’s 24th Arena Bowl, the second since the league declared bankruptcy.
The Rattlers scored 61.9 points a game, second best in the league, in winning the National Conference and have run off 11 wins in a row. Quarterback Nick Davila earned most valuable player honors as the highest-rated passer in the league, throwing for 117 touchdowns in the 18-game regular season.
So what will make the difference? Defense, say the coaches.
“This game is all about getting stops,” said Arizona coach Kevin Guy, named coach of the year earlier this week. “Our defense has played well all year, our defense has caused more turnovers than any team out there this year so we expect our DBs (defensive backs) to be ball hawks tomorrow night and go attack that football.”
Jacksonville coach Les Moss, arena coach of the year in 2010, added that turnovers will separate the squads.
“I think it is going to be the team that makes the least amount of mistakes,” said Moss, who coached Guy in the arena league in 1999. “Obviously the defenses play a part in that and they have a good defense. We have a very good defense as well, we give up a lot of yards passing but we don’t care about yards passing, we care about stops, stopping people in the red zone.”
Arizona gave up the second-fewest points a game this season (46.4) and intercepted 35 passes. Jacksonville gave up the most passing yards in the league (302.3 a game) but also had 31 picks. The two teams led the league in turnover margin, Arizona at plus-33 and Jacksonville at 20.
“It’s going to come down to stops,” said Arizona defensive back Marquis Floyd, who had nine interceptions and led the team in tackles. “Because with good offenses it can get into a shootout. So whoever can create that defensive stop, even if it is on special teams, it’s a big part of the game.”
In two playoff games, Davila has thrown for 11 touchdowns and three inceptions, while Jacksonville’s Aaron Garcia, in his first title game after 17 years in the league, has completed 79 percent of his passes, throwing 12 for TDs and just one interception.
“As a quarterback you don’t like to hear it but, as they say, offense sells tickets but defense wins championships,” said Garcia, who has played for six arena teams beginning with Arizona in 1995. “Obviously, as a good quarterback I have never been able to win it on my own so I am counting on these guys, that defense to go out there and get a couple of stops so we can go out there and do our job.”
The Sharks, who have reached the championship game in their second year of existence, started the season 13-1 before losing three straight. They won the American Conference championship game over Georgia on Monday, two days after the Rattlers beat Chicago, giving Arizona a couple of extra days of preparation.
Arizona, which won arena titles in 1994 and 1997, defeated Jacksonville 55-52 in the season opener on March 12. This is the sixth championship game appearance for Arizona