SALT LAKE CITY — Beware all who enter.
The Utah Blaze are beginning to make EnergySolutions Arena resemble a graveyard after defeated defending ArenaBowl champion Spokane Shock 69-62 Friday night.
It marked the first time this season that the Blaze were involved in a tightly woven game throughout with all four previous games resulting in blowouts.
"Our guys rose to the challenge. They took care of the football and made plays when they had too," Utah coach Ron James said. "We're very pleased with the effort top to bottom and now we've got to move on to Arizona — the No. 1 team in the league."
On the first possession of the game, it looked as if the Blaze would be stopped on downs. However, quarterback Tommy Grady found Alvance Robinson on fourth-and-10. One play later, Aaron Boone made his defender bite on a slant route and pivoted back after slamming on his breaks to give the Utah the 6-0 lead.
The Shock would respond the following drive after reigning ArenaBowl MVP Kyle Rowley connected with Shaun Kauleinamoku two straight times to take the lead at 7-6.
The Blaze would repay the deed when Ben Stallings assaulted his way past the pylon to once again recapture the lead at 13-7.
In the game of Arena Football — one turnover or stoppage on downs can ultimately prove to be the difference in the outcome.
That theory proved true once more.
On the first series in the second quarter, Utah's Michael Lewis pounced on a loose ball to give Utah possession in Spokane territory.
With the chance to give Utah comfortable breathing room, Grady showed upmost poise and moxie in the pocket.
Boone, with the ball on the Shock 10-yard line, found himself open for a glimpse, however with a defender lurking behind him, Grady sidestepped the impending rush and fired a bullet to Aaron Lesue in the corner of the end zone to give Utah the 20-7 lead.
It would be the first of three touchdown receptions for Lesue, the former Utah State Aggie.
"The difference in the game was, what we talk about every week, is that we got two more turnovers," James said. "Our defense came to play and did a great job and the offense was very efficient again."
The Shock, however, refused to go away quietly.2 comments on this story
With the Blaze leading 55-49 with just under four minutes remaining in regulation, Spokane lined up for an onside kick — but failed to advance the ball far enough. As the players stood around, assuming the ball was dead — Utah's Ernie Pierce instinctively scooped up the ball and trotted into the end zone untouched.
Spokane would eventually slice into the lead once more, scoring for the last time when Kauleinamoku hauled in a short score with 18.2 seconds remaining.
Utah would recover the ensuing kickoff and milk all but two seconds off the clock before stopping the Shock's desperation heave as time expired.