The Chicago Rush came into EnergySolutions Arena on Saturday night as, arguably, the best team in the Arena Football League.
The Utah Blaze came into the game with the worst record in the league.
So, naturally, the Blaze came away with a 51-48 victory.
It certainly wasn't easy for Utah, though. Kicker Steve Videtich nailed an 18-yard field goal on the final play of the game in front of a crowd of 15,295 to complete the upset win.
"It was a real tribute to our guys that we hung in there and did what we had to do to win the game," said Blaze coach Danny White. "Sixty minutes, man. It was sixty minutes."
Utah improved to 3-10 with the victory, while the Rush, who have already clinched the AFL's Central Division title, a playoff first-round bye and homefield advantage in the postseason, fell to 9-3.
"That was a huge, huge win for us," said Blaze quarterback Joe Germaine.
The Blaze got out to a quick start, scoring 21 straight points almost before Chicago knew what hit them. But the Rush continued to chip away at the lead until they were able to knot the score, twice, in the the fourth quarter.
But Utah ran the final 43 seconds off the clock on three straight rushing plays to set up Videtich's chip-shot game-winner. It was in stark contrast to a field goal Videtich missed on the final play during the Blaze's season-opening game against Arizona. That miss cost Utah a victory and started a slide that saw Utah lose its first nine games of the year.
"This is a much better feeling than last time I was here (doing postgame interveiws)," said Videtich, who lost his job after that season-opening miss, but returned to the lineup three games ago.
Utah has now won three of its last four games and is still in the thick of the American Conference playoff race with three games remaining.
Germaine had an emotional week, as his infant son had heart surgery on Wednesday and still remains in an Arizona hospital.
"Obviously, he's on my mind all the time," said Germaine of his son, Crew. "We all have the hope that he will be fine. But we all have a job to do and this is my job. You just try to come out and be as professional as you can and do what you are supposed to do."
Germaine was outstanding, completing 28-of-38 passes for 233 yards and five touchdowns against the top-rated defense in the league. He is headed back to Arizona today to be with his family, but is expected to be return to the Blaze midweek in preparation for next week's road game at Grand Rapids.
Utah was up 14-0 before the Rush had even run an offensive play. The home team had stretched that lead to 21-0 before Chicago had run its third play on offense.
"You knew they were going to come back," said White. "They are a championship team."
The Blaze got the opening kickoff and then put together a time-consuming drive, culminating with a 9-yard touchdown pass from Germaine to Aaron Boone.
Videtich's ensuing kickoff went off the end zone uprights and was recovered by J'Sharlon Jones, giving Utah the ball back at the Chicago 3-yard line. Blaze fullback Rodney Filer ran the ball in from there to give Utah a 14-0 advantage.
Then, on Chicago's second offensive play of the game, quarterback Russ Michna's long pass attempt was picked off by Blaze defensive back Reggie Doster in the end zone. Utah's third drive of the game ended with a 22-yard Germaine-to-J.J. McKelvey touchdown pass, giving the Blaze a 21-0 lead with 4:08 remaining in the opening quarter.
The Rush then scored 14 consecutive points to pull to within a touchdown in the second quarter, but Utah held a 34-24 advantage at the half.
Chicago scored first in the second half to cut the gap to three points and later knotted the game at 41-41 and 48-48 in the fourth quarter, but the Blaze never trailed and were able to hang on for the victory.
"That second half lasted three days," said White. "That's what it seemed like."
Boone led the Blaze receivers with 10 catches for 88 yards and two scores. McKelvey had nine catches for 70 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while Huey Whittaker caught six passes for 58 yards and a score.
"They have a great defense," said White. "We had to work for every yard we got tonight."
The Blaze will next be in action a week from today when they face the Grand Rapids Rampage on the road. Utah is chasing the Rampage for the final playoff spot in the AFL's American Conference.
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