Utah Blaze hold on for one-point win over Iowa Barnstormers
SALT LAKE CITY — In the first meeting between Utah and Iowa in the second week of the season, it was worthy of stand-up routine. The Blaze dominated in every aspect during the 20-point laugher. This time around, things weren't nearly as comical. Yet, ultimately it had the same result.
The Blaze (4-2) recovered a gutsy onside kick with 51.8 seconds remaining to ground the Barnstormers 63-62 at EnergySolutions Arena Friday night.
"We knew it was going to be a totally different team," said Utah coach Ron James. "I'll take an ugly win over a pretty loss."
It was the third consecutive win for Utah when the game was decided by one possession.
"The main thing is repetition," explained James when asked about the success in close situations. "We run a one-minute drill more than anyone in this league."
The game started in head-scratching fashion. On the opening play, Utah quarterback Tommy Grady sliced his throw to the left, but as the ball ricocheted off the boards Alvance Robinson instinctively snatched it in mid-air for the 7-0 lead.
With the game tied at 14-14, Iowa quarterback JJ Raternik meandered out of the pocket, withstood a massive hit, and found Jesse Schmidt for the 32-yard touchdown with 8:53 left in the half.
Raternik finished 24-of-36 for 356 yards and seven touchdowns, while Schmidt tallied a game-high 12 receptions for 172 yards and four scores.
In the closing minutes of the second quarter, Utah held Iowa, behind the No. 1 ranked rush defense in the AFL, four straight times from the Blaze 4-yardline. But, Jacob Hardwick was whistled for a personal foul call to keep the drive breathing.
James said, "I thought (it) was a crazy call." Two plays later, the Barnstormers (3-3) took the 28-21 lead.
After Utah quickly responded with an Aaron Lesue touchdown, the Blaze caught a fortuitous bounce off the nets to recapture the, 35-28, advantage.
When Raternik eyeballed his intended receiver the ensuing possession for an interception with .01 second left in the half, Utah decided to score.
The call backfired when Iowa's John Mohring jumped Grady's pass for a pick-six. Iowa missed the PAT, closing the half 35-34.
"We ran the wrong play — plain and simple," James said. "At the end of the half, we wanted to run a quick-screen and we ran the wrong play. The call was a safe play — we wanted to go into half up seven."
Trailing early in the fourth quarter, the Grady-Lesue connection delivered once again. On fourth down, Lesue leaped over the boards and secured the TD, giving Utah the two point advantage with 10:56 left.
"First of all, Aaron Lesue looks like one the best players in the league this year," James said. "The catch he made on fourth down over the boards is one of the greatest catches I've ever seen."
Lesue finished with 11 catches 166 yards and four touchdown. Grady sported another fantastic outing with 291 yards in the air and eight TDs.
The two teams exchanged scores, when Utah elected an onside kick, Caron Coffman sealed the game with the recovery.
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