Two Arena Football League teams that entered the 2008 season with high expectations will play tonight at EnergySolutions Arena.
One will come away with a league-worst 0-4 record.
Suffice it to say, both the winless Utah Blaze and winless Columbus Destroyers are desperate for a victory.
"We've got to get this win," said Blaze receiver Aaron Boone. "For us, it's a must-win game."
The Destroyers, the AFL National Conference's representatives in the ArenaBowl last season, no doubt feel the same way. The loser of tonight's game is in no way out of the championship race after all, 12 of the 17 teams in the league make it to the playoffs but an 0-4 start is not a great sign for a team's prospects one-quarter of the way through the season.
Utah hopes being back among familiar surroundings will be enough to get it back on the right track after back-to-back losses across the country at Cleveland and Orlando.
"Hopefully we can get back into some kind of consistent rhythm," said Blaze coach Danny White. "Guys will be at home in front of a friendly crowd and that should help.
We've been so close that any little thing could turn this thing around. It won't take a whole lot."
Indeed, all three Blaze losses have come down to the final seconds, only to have Utah come out on the short end. It has gotten old, but it hasn't been too damaging to the players' confidence, at least if you believe what they are saying.
"We still think we have a great team." said Boone. "If nothing else, starting 0-3 has brought us together. We know we need to rely on each other to win a game, and we'll do that."
Utah's offense certainly has little to be ashamed of despite the losses. The Blaze scored touchdowns on all of their opportunities last week. The difference in the game was that Orlando was successful with an onside kick, and the Blaze ran out of time on their final drive of the game. On the year, the Blaze are averaging 62 points per game, which is second-best in the league.
Blaze QB Joe Germaine is having another fine season. He has 920 yards passing and 20 touchdowns with three interceptions through three games. Boone, Huey Whittaker and J.J. McKelvey all had more than 100 yards receiving last week at Orlando, while Tom Pace, the team's most experienced pass-catcher, sat out with a sore knee. Whether Pace will be able to go tonight will likely be a game-time decision.
While the Blaze offense has been solid, defense has been a problem. Utah is giving up a league-worst 66 points per game. White traded for veteran defensive back Damon Mason, the AFL's all-time leader in tackles, this week to help shore up the defense.
"We are probably the best 0-3 team in the history of football," said White.
The Destroyers surely take issue to that statement. Led by quarterback Matt Nagy and wide receiver Derek Lee, Columbus is capable of making it another long night for the Blaze defenders.Following tonight's game, the Blaze will stay home for another week while preparing to host the Georgia Force on March 29.
Columbus Destroyers (0-3) at Utah Blaze (0-3)
Tonight, 7 p.m.
Radio: 1320 AM
E-mail: [email protected]