ORLANDO, Fla. For the third consecutive week to start out the 2008 Arena Football League season, the Utah Blaze found a way to lose on Friday night.
The first week's loss was caused by missed kicks. The second loss was due to three Blaze turnovers.
This time penalties were to blame for the Blaze, as they fell 69-61 to the Orlando Predators at Amway Arena.
Utah players committed 11 penalties against the Predators. Two of them were particularly costly, as they nullified second-half pass interceptions. As a result, the Blaze are 0-3 for the first time in franchise history. Orlando, meanwhile, improved to 1-2 with the victory in its home opener.
The Blaze offense, which had turnover problems in the three-point loss last Sunday to Cleveland, was nearly perfect on Friday night. In fact, quarterback Joe Germaine led the Blaze to touchdowns on the first nine times they had the ball. The only time the Blaze offense failed to score, in fact, was on their final drive when they ran out of time after driving to the Orlando 19.
Germaine finished the game with 363 passing yards with seven touchdowns through the air, five of which went to J.J. McKelvey. All three of Utah's receivers had big nights, as Huey Whittaker caught 11 passes for 130 yards, Aaron Boone caught 12 for 117 yards and two scores and McKelvey grabbed 11 passes for 111 yards.
But Orlando quarterback Shane Stafford, on his 32nd birthday, was just as effective. He threw for six touchdowns against the Blaze defense.
Utah led 49-42 in the third quarter and looked like it would add to its lead after a Stafford pass was intercepted. Instead, the Predators maintained possession of the ball due to a roughing the passer penalty. Orlando went on to score to knot the game, 49-49.
The Predators then had a successful onside kick and quickly capitalized with another score to take a 56-49 lead entering the fourth quarter.
Whittaker ran for the apparent game-tying score early in the fourth quarter, but Blaze kicker Steve Azar missed the extra point, ending his streak of 14 in a row, leaving Utah down 56-55.
On the Predators' next possession the Blaze looked like they once again had the stop they would need as Kelvin Morris intercepted a pass. Instead, Orlando kept the ball due to a defensive holding penalty. The Predators went on to score to go up 63-55.
Utah scored one last time on a Boone catch with one minute to play, but Whittaker's potential two-point conversion run failed, leaving the Blaze down 63-61. After an unsuccessful Blaze onside kick, the Predators scored with 27 seconds left but then gave the Blaze a glimmer of hope by missing the ensuing extra point. That left the Blaze down just eight, meaning a touchdown and a two-point conversion would have tied it and sent it to overtime. Germaine's pass on the final play fell incomplete.
The Blaze scored all five times they had the ball on offense in the first half. Germaine hooked up with McKelvey for four touchdowns in the first two quarters, while Germaine added a keeper for the other score.
Utah's defense had one stop in the first half, as Morris recovered a fumble. Orlando was able to knot the score at intermission at 35-all, however, since they had the ball first and scored last with just seven seconds left in the second quarter.
The Blaze, after two straight games in the Eastern Time Zone, will play their next two games at home. Utah hosts the Columbus Destroyers next Friday night with a game against the Georgia Force at EnergySolutions Arena on March 29.