The Rattlers have won five ArenaBowls and one United Bowl, but it’s been since 2017 — their first year in the Indoor Football League — that they’ve held up the big cup in the end.
That’s been gnawing at the franchise that got spoiled under coach Kevin Guy.
It’s been one week at a time this season for the Rattlers, who can’t look past Saturday’s opponent.
They take on the Northern Arizona Wranglers at 6:05 p.m., for the Western Conference championship with hopes of reaching their 14th league championship game on Aug. 13, when the Indoor Football League title game will be played in Las Vegas.
One thing is certain, an Arizona team will be playing for the national title.
NAZ (13-4) has been the league’s upstarts this year, after winning just one game in their inaugural season last year. What a difference a new coaching staff with new personnel makes.
The Wranglers beat the Rattlers (14-3) 37-34 in June, before the Rattlers got revenge at home late in the regular season, winning 40-28.
“Both teams have great defenses and really good offenses,” Guy said. “It’s going to come down to we can’t have any busts. We’ve got to play special on special teams. All of that stuff gets magnified in a game like this.”
The Rattlers simply can’t turn the ball over. When they lost in Prescott Valley — their last loss — they lost six fumbles in the three-point setback.
They rallied late in the season to win five in a row. They’re coming off arguably their best effort of the season, beating Duke City 53-14, in the first round, scoring 17 points in the final 45 seconds of the first half.
Running back Shannon Brooks had one of his best games, rushing for 38 yards and two touchdowns and catching five passes for 69 yards and two scores, including a 41-yard catch-and-run on a screen pass from Drew Powell in the second half.
“That’s kind of my mindset,” Brooks said. “You’re not going to get the big score every run. Four or five yards a play is a really great run. The biggest thing I would say is working the team down. The line is doing their job. Eventually, the team will wear down and the big run will open it up.”
NAZ quarterback Kaleb Barker has thrown 40 TD passes this season, but he might be a better runner. He has run for 16 TDs, averaging 46 yards a game on the ground.
The Rattlers’ secondary has been the best in the league. Just between Dillion Winfrey and rookie cornerback Kyree Woods, they have 21 interceptions. Winfrey is first in the league with 11 interceptions, followed by Woods at 10. Woods got to 10 after intercepting four passes, three in the second half, last week against Duke City.
“We have to match them intensity-wise,” Woods said. “Lock in every day at practice. We have to make sure everybody is doing the right job.”
The Wranglers lead the league with 31 sacks, nine more than the Rattlers. JaQuan Artis, who forced a Powell fumble, then sacked him at the end, to clinch the win in June, has nine sacks.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Guy said. “Nobody is overlooking anybody.”
To suggest human-interest story ideas and other news, reach Obert at email@example.com or 602-316-8827. Follow him on Twitter @azc_obert.
Support local journalism: Subscribe to azcentral.com today