SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Blaze find themselves in the driver's seat in the tightly contested West Division race after their third consecutive win in the waning moments at Milwaukee last weekend.
Utah, currently in a three-way tie for first in the toughest division in Arena Football, returns home to face its rival the Spokane Shock at EnergySolutions Arena today at 7 p.m.
"Spokane is a very talented club," said Blaze coach Ron James in a released statement. "We are excited about challenging ourselves with another top-flight divisional opponent."
Utah (5-2) remained stagnant in third place in the AFL Power Rankings for the second straight week. The Blaze are joined by three other teams in the West Division in the top nine, two of which occupy the top four (San Jose 2; Arizona 4), making every game critical for playoff implications.
The Shock (3-3) have recently found a melody on offense after signing quarterback Kyle Rowley three weeks ago. Spokane started 1-3, but behind Rowley's guidance has stormed back with back-to-back victories against Milwaukee and Jacksonville, while narrowly falling at Arizona.
In the three-game span, Rowley has thrown for 703 yards and 14 touchdowns, helping boost the Shock scoring average to 55.3 points per game.
"The Shock has an explosive offense led by a quarterback who has won a championship in this league," James said. "The way they have been playing as of late, we will have to be ready for one heck of a game. We need the entire Blaze nation behind us to give us the energy to prevail in this contest."
Utah, if history has a tendency of repeating itself, is in for another close finish. In the five wins this season, four have been decided by one possession. This, in large part, is associated with an inability to stop the pass.
The Blaze currently rank 14th in passing defense (290.7 ypg), 15th in scoring defense (60.1 ppg) and 13th in total defense (300 ypg); pretty gloomy considering there are only 17 teams in the AFL.
If the game evolves into a seesaw scoring affair, which is more than likely, Utah will need quarterback Tommy Grady to continue his player-of-the-year-like performance.
Grady has thrown for 36 touchdowns in the last three games and leads the league in total offense (2,253), total offensive touchdowns (51), passing yards (2,198) and passing touchdowns (51).
Grady has a barrage of options at his disposal — Aaron Lesue, Alvance Robinson and Ernie Pierce. The trio has combined for 167 receptions, 1,879 yards and 44 scores for perhaps the deepest receiving corps in the AFL.
Utah Blaze on the air
Spokane Shock (3-4) at
Utah Blaze (5-2)
today, 7 p.m.
TV: KMYU (9 p.m., delay)
Radio: 1280 AM/97.5 FM
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company