SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Blaze desperately needed to protect EnergySolutions Arena on Saturday, and because of Iowa’s inability to protect its own end zone, they did exactly that.
Early in the third quarter, Utah’s Al Phillips stuck a grenade into Iowa’s return game with a violent hit that pinned the Barnstormers on the 2-yard line. Shortly after, Caesar Rayford barreled through his intended blocker and wrestled down a game-changing safety. The added two points ultimately helped guide the Blaze to a 43-34 win.
“Safeties are the biggest play in arena football because it’s not only two points, it’s a possession,” Utah coach Ron James said. “So, you’re getting the ball back and it can be a nine-point swing. That’s the difference in the ballgame right now. When you look back at it, I think our defensive line came to play in this game.”
The Blaze (4-4) once again hurt their own cause with penalties and turnovers. Holding a 29-21 lead, Utah nearly spoiled Rayford’s efforts when quarterback Tommy Grady gift-wrapped a pick-6 for Iowa's John Mohring after he inexplicably threw from his rear after he tripped.
“A lot of it is just mechanics and timing,” James said of Grady, who increased his interception total to 19 on the year with two more Saturday. “Early in the game he had a problem with one of his calves and he wasn’t able to get away from center as quick as he wanted. He gutted his way through the game, but we have to have an answer for his inaccuracy. With three road trips coming up we’ve got to solve that issue.”
Utah was whistled for 13 penalties, several of which squandered scoring opportunities and removed points from the board.
“It’s frustrating. It just seems like it’s a different area that’s being penalized all the time,” James said. “They’re mental lapses and we can’t have that no matter whose in the ballgame. Offensively, we cannot continue to shoot ourselves in the foot with those mental errors. There’s no excuse for it, particularly in the red zone.”
But ultimately the Blaze accomplished what was necessary, and they returned to .500 after a sporadic start to the season.
“It was a must-win. It was an ugly game, but we were able to gut it out and get the win and that’s all that matters. It’s vital because we’re going to San Jose next week,” James said. “We cannot afford to drop games at home against conference opponents. We haven’t been playing very well at home.
"Luckily tonight we got the win. It wasn’t pretty, but we put it in the proper column.”
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