SALT LAKE CITY — For playoff-quality teams, a moment comes along that defines their worthiness. More times than not, it occurs on the biggest stage.
That time has come for the Utah Blaze.
Utah (7-5) bounced back with a record-setting performance at Kansas City last week, and the Blaze return to EnergySolutions Arena tonight against the Chicago Rush (7-4). The winner will put a stranglehold on its playoff fate — gaining sole possession of the fourth and final spot in the National Conference. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
After starting the season 5-1, including four straight wins to open the 2012 campaign, Chicago has stumbled as of late. The 2-3 record after the fast start is largely attributed to the Rush's defense. During the five-game stretch, the Rush have surrendered 64.4 points per game, including 77 in consecutive outings.
However, as it's proven over the course of Utah's season, it's likely to evolve into an offensive shootout. Both teams rank in the top three statistically for total offense while dwelling in the bottom portion of the AFL defensively.
The Blaze have predicated themselves on finishing strongly in closely contested games. Other than losing two games to San Antonio in the waning moments, Utah is 4-0 in games decided by one possession. Chicago has also proven the ability to pull wins out of the jaws of defeat, going 3-1 in games decided by seven points or less.
Utah's defense is fresh off its finest performance of the season — holding the Command to a mere 45 points, the lowest output of the year.
If Utah is able to stymie Chicago's offense, it could be enough to change the complexity of the entire game significantly.
Doing that, however, is easier said than done. Rush quarterback Russ Michna leads the AFL in pass efficiency and completion percentage at 70 percent. Jared Perry and Reggie Gray put unrelenting pressure on opposing secondaries — both having already eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving barrier. The two receivers have combined for 2,290 yards and 47 touchdowns on 161 catches.
Blaze on the air
Chicago Rush (7-4)
at Utah Blaze (7-5)
Tonight, 7 p.m.
TV: KMYU Radio: 1280 AM