PHOENIX, Ariz. – The six-time world champion Arizona Rattlers (10-2) defeated the Nebraska Danger (4-8) by a score of 45-40 at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Arizona. This loss puts the Rattlers back on track heading into the playoffs, maintaining their half-game lead of first place.
It was a special night for General Manger and Head Coach Kevin Guy, who became the all-time winningest coach in Rattlers history, breaking Danny White's previous record of 141 wins. Guy took over in 2007, and has since gone on to win four championships (2012-2014 AFL, 2017 IFL). A two-time coach of the Year award winner, Guy has never coached a Rattlers team that has missed the playoffs. Finding success in both the Arena Football League and Indoor Football League, Guy doesn't view this record as an individual accomplishment.
"I never go into this for the individual awards, I've always been about the team" Guy said. "I want to thank all the coaches through the years, all of my support staff of football operations, all of the great players we've had. You can't to do this without great players, and I think we've done an awesome job of recruiting over the years."
At halftime, the Arizona Rattlers honored former defensive lineman Anttaj Hawthorne, inducting him into the Ring of Honor. Hawthorne joins Sherdrick Bonner, Hunkie Cooper, and Randy Gatewood as the fourth Rattler to receive the honor. Hawthorne spent eight seasons with the Rattlers and appeared in five Arena Bowls, winning three, (2012,2013,2014). As a Rattler, Hawthorne recorded 118.5 tackles, 26.5 sacks, and was a First-Team All-Arena selection in 2011.
Several past players that won with Hawthorne and Guy were in attendance tonight and got to say a few words, which meant a lot to Coach Guy.
"When you see those faces and hear those faces, it brings back a lot of memories," Guy said. "All of those guys are special. I did feel like we as coaches got the best out of them."
The two teams traded scores for most of the game, but the Rattlers took a 12-point lead late in the third to put them ahead for the remainder of the game.
Offensively for Arizona, QB Jeff Ziemba went 13-for-23 and threw for 108 yards. Ziemba had two passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns. WR Dezmon Epps had 83 all-purpose yards and caught two touchdowns.
For Nebraska, QB Gregory Hankerson went 13-for-24 and threw for 123 yards and three touchdowns. Hankerson added 83 yards and a touchdown on the ground. RB Angelo Pease, WR Eric Thomas, and WR Kenzel Doe all caught touchdowns.
On defense for the Rattlers, they had a total of six tackles for loss. DL Chris McAllister and DT Terrence Surratt each had a sack, and DB Arkeith Brown led the team in tackles with six.
It was a bounce back game for the Rattlers defense that struggled against Iowa and has lost two starters to injury.
"I think we're heading in the right direction," McAllister said. "We played more aggressive. "
Defensively for Nebraska, Darrin Peterson led the team with 8.5 tackles.
Nebraska started with the ball, but the Rattlers forced a fourth down near mid-field. On fourth down, QB Gregory Hankerson rushed 23 yards for the game's first touchdown, giving the Danger an early 7-0 lead.
A penalty on the kickoff put the Rattlers on Nebraska's 15 yard-line to start their first possession. A few plays later, Jamal Miles rushed three yards for a touchdown to tie the game up at seven.
On the Danger's next possession, a sack from DL Josh Gordon forced a field goal attempt on fourth down. Nebraska K Brad Hatfield nailed a 47-yard field goal to give the Danger a 10-7 lead.
A 25-yard kick return from WR Dezmon Epps put the Rattlers in Nebraska territory to start their next drive. RB Shadrach Thornton scored on an eight-yard rushing touchdown to give Arizona a 14-10 lead.
At the start of the second quarter, a 13-yard touchdown pass from Hankerson to WR Eric Thomas gave Nebraska a 17-14 lead.
Later in the second, Hatfield made another long field goal from 43 yards out to give Nebraska a 20-14 lead.
The Rattlers responded with a seven-yard rushing touchdown from QB Jeff Ziemba, giving the Rattlers a 21-20 lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Rattlers recovered an on-side kick attempt and got the ball back with a minute remaining in the half. With a second to go, K Sawyer Petre made a 29-yard field goal to extend the Rattlers lead to 24-20 at halftime.
Nebraska recaptured the lead when Hankerson found WR Kenzel Doe for a 15-yard touchdown. The Rattlers blocked the point after attempt, giving the Danger a 26-24 lead.
Arizona regained the lead with a five-yard touchdown pass from Ziemba to Epps, bringing the score to 31-26, Rattlers.
The Rattlers forced a fourth down deep in Nebraska territory, and took over on downs after a missed field goal by Hatfield.
Ziemba capped off a long Rattlers drive with an eight-yard rushing touchdown to give the Rattlers a 38-26 lead at the end of the third quarter.
At the start of the fourth quarter, the Rattlers pinned the Danger to the one-yard line on fourth down, and took over on downs after another missed field goal from Hatfield.
The Danger cut the lead to five after RB Angelo Pease rushed two yards for a touchdown, bringing the score to 38-33 with six minutes left in the game.
A 15-yard pass from Ziemba to Epps put the Rattlers up 45-33 with 3:17 left to play.
Nebraska cut the lead to five again with 15 seconds left, but couldn't recover the on-side kick attempt. The Rattlers would go on to win 45-40.
The Rattlers will travel to Iowa this Saturday, June 2nd and face the Iowa Barnstormers (9-2) on the road. Serious playoff implications are at stake next week, as Arizona and Iowa are the top two teams in the IFL standings. The game will kick off at 5:05 p.m. PDT at Wells Fargo Arena, and will be streaming live on YouTube.
For more information, head to azrattlers.com.