SALT LAKE CITY — It was supposed to be a different year for the Utah Blaze. They had finally changed. No more — not again — not this time. They had finally figured out Arizona. This was the year the Blaze would take over the division against the Rattlers.
One thing: Arizona is Utah’s venom.
The Rattlers for the seventh time in eight games handled Utah, 77-49, on its home opener Friday at EnergySolutions Arena. Arizona improved its all-time record against the Blaze to 14-3.
“That got out to a big lead and we fought back. It was the same thing that happened when we played them in the playoffs,” Utah coach Ron James said. “Our timing was off. It really had nothing to do with what they were doing defensively. Our offense was just not in sync. We were not running at a high tempo or producing any rhythm.”
It seemed as if the preseason expectations were reassured on the opening possession when Utah’s David Hyland corralled a tipped-pass at the Arizona 2 yardline. It was a chance for the Blaze to finally start quickly against their nemesis.
But on the ensuing play, Arizona’s Cliff Dukes — a notorious Blaze nightmare — returned the favor with the pick six. The Rattlers eventually extended the lead to 20-7 off two touchdown passes from Nick Davila to former Blaze wide receiver Tysson Poots.
The Blaze, similar to the last meeting between the rivals in the Western Conference Finals last year, battled back and eventually took the lead off Tommy Grady’s strike to Chase Deadder and recaptured the advantage off a 14-yard pass to Mario Urrutia after the Rattlers responded.
With 39.4 seconds left, Davila orchestrated a six-play, 40-yard drive that culminated with the third touchdown connection with Poots in the first half for a 33-28 lead at the break.
That’s where things got messier than first grade art time.
“We can’t play a third quarter like we played that third quarter. We have to come out and score,” James said. “We have to come out and score. When you turn the ball over three times in a row — that’s not the way we’re accustomed to playing.”
On the opening series of the third quarter, Arizona’s Virgil Gray trotted into the end zone from 22 yards out. The interception sparked 27 unanswered points to take a 60-28 lead with 14:11 left in the fourth quarter.
Grady was benched in the third quarter after throwing five interceptions.
Utah is back at home on Saturday against Tampa Bay. Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m.