SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s David Hyland had an instinct, a feeling that the final play was headed his direction.
On fourth down, Spokane lined up from the five and a half yard line, trailing by a minuscule four points with a chance to send the Blaze stumbling to four consecutive home defeats. The Shock’s quarterback Erik Meyer dropped back and looked for Adron Tennell on the signature buttonhook.
Tennell momentarily separated from the coverage as the ball spiraled toward his chest. Then, in an instance, Hyland hurled airborne and deflected the toss to preserve Utah’s 52-48 win Saturday at EnergySolutions Arena.
“He’s one of their better receivers — there’s only three of them — so (Meyer) had to pick one of them,” Hyland said. “I had a feeling he was going to try and get outside of me and give me that little push off. So luckily our d-line got a good pass rush, got their hands up, and gave me time to react and get in front of that ball.”
Utah (3-3) returned the .500 and in a game with huge implications against the West Division leader, but continued to struggle with ball security.
“We’re still creating a lot of our own misfortunes,” Utah Blaze coach Ron James said. “That was a game that we should have won by a few scores, we made it harder than it needed to be, but they were at the top of our division and we needed to get the win and we did.”
The Blaze had an opportunity to put the game in the clouds with a three-possession lead in the first half, but turnovers allowed the Shock (5-2) to flirt dangerously close.
Uncharacteristically, Blaze quarterback Tommy Grady was befuddled and rusty during a game with huge division implications. The reigning AFL MVP tossed two more interceptions, blistering his season total to 15 through six games and mishandled the center-exchange twice.
“I’ll have to look at the film to find out about the exchange problems because it looks like he’s just getting out a little bit too quick,” James said. “A lot of the throws he was making tonight were underthrows. With the tall receivers we have, we can’t afford to make those mistakes. We’re really going to have to work hard at cleaning that up.”
Two weeks ago the season appeared dimmer than a medieval lantern, but it is starting to return to what was expected in the preseason with consecutive wins.
“Well, I break the season up in six game runs and our first six games we’re neutral,” James said. “That’s not good enough by our standards. The next six are vital for us to set the table for the last part of the season. We’ve got our backs up against the wall again this week going down to Arizona. Our group is energized.”
Utah returns to action Saturday at Arizona at 7 p.m.