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Utah Blaze expect early test in division rival SaberCats

Published: Friday, March 23 2012 7:42 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — If Utah lacked any excitement heading into its home season opener at EnergySolutions Arena – playing its division rival only fuels the Blaze flame.

Utah finished its two-game road swing one-up and one-down and will look to make a statement against San Jose, which is fresh off its bye week, on Saturday at 7 p.m.

"This is our first divisional game of the year," said Blaze coach Ron James in a press release. "The way our division stacks up, every game can determine your playoff fate as the year progresses. We are looking forward to seeing how we match up against the number one team in the league."

Last season, the Blaze split the regular season against the SaberCats, with both teams winning on their respective fields. San Jose, much like Utah, looks to be a more potent team this year after a disappointing performance in 2011.

San Jose (1-0) in the opening week defeated reigning National League champion Arizona, 71-70. The SaberCats, behind quarterback Mark Grieb, lead the AFL in total offense (432 ypg), scoring offense (71 ppg) and passing offense (432 ypg).

However, those stats could be deceiving considering San Jose has only played one game thus far.

Grieb, a 12-year AFL veteran, tossed for 432 yards and nine touchdowns against the Rattlers. James Roe emerged as the main target in the passing game, hauling in 10 receptions for 100 yards and three scores.

The Blaze will look to continue the defensive pressure that led to eight sacks in a 69-49 win over Iowa last week.

Mike Lewis, Caesar Rayford and Keenan Mace have combined for nine sacks for minus-42 yards in two games.

"Grieb is one of the best quarterbacks of all time in the Arena Football League," James said. "You're looking at a hall of famer and a great football team coming in here. We need to play at a top level and be ready for this challenge."

Despite the lackluster performance in the first week against San Antonio, Utah quarterback Tommy Grady appears to be back in rhythm after missing the last part of 2011 with an injury. The former University of Utah gunslinger has thrown for 613 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Receivers Aaron Lesue and Ernie Pierce are the top threats at the hashes.

Lesue, considered the explosive, big-play wideout this season, leads the team in receptions (17), yards (175) and touchdowns (6).

Pierce has inherited the possession and short-yardage role in the passing game, with 16 catches for 162 yards and two scores.

BLAZE-A-PALOOZA: Many local sports icons are expected to attend the San Jose game Saturday. Blaze fans can expect to see Haloti Ngata, Luther Elliss, Mark Eaton, Shawn Bradley, Kevin Curtis, Jason Buck, Sione Pouha, David Nixon, Brian Kehl, Thurl Bailey, Chad Lewis, Edwin Mulitalo, Gabe Reid, Lauvale Sape, Reno Mahe, Stewart Bradley and Brandon Doman at EnergySolutions Arena.

Email: tphibbs@desnews.com

Home opener

SaberCats (1-0) at Blaze (1-1)

Saturday, 7 p.m.

EnergySolutions Arena

Radio: 1280 AM

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