The Utah Blaze, after a miserable start to the season, have won three of their last four games to move into playoff contention.

Now they just need to learn how to win a game on the road — all three of the Blaze's victories have been in the friendly confines of EnergySolutions Arena.

Today at noon, Utah will face the team just above them in the standings, the Grand Rapids Rampage, in Michigan.

"The next step for us is to win on the road," said Blaze coach Danny White. "If we want to be a playoff team, and we think we are, we need to be able to find a way to get the job done in someone else's building."

The Rampage plays at Van Andel Arena, which is older and smaller than most facilities in the Arena Football League.

"We've got to be prepared for the environment and the noise there," said White. "It's just a different environment up there because it's an old, old field and a smaller arena, and it's not nearly as plush and as nice as we are used to, but the crowds are loud and into it.

"It's sort of like playing the Packers in Green Bay. It's a small market, but for a lot of them, it's their life. It's a big deal for those people. They are going to be there doing anything they can to help their team win."

A win today would be big for the Blaze because it would not only put them ahead of the Brigade by half a game in the American Conference standings in the race for the final playoff spot, but it would also give them the tie-breaker advantage should the teams finish with identical records. Utah, which has only two games remaining after today, already has the tie-breaker edge on the other team in the conference that entered Week 14 with three wins, the Kansas City Brigade.

"It's a huge game for us," said Blaze offensive lineman Devin Wyman. "We hoped to be in the position to be playing to get into the playoffs and we are, and we need to get the job done. It will be a challenge, but that's what you look for at the end of the year."

While Utah has been hot of late, winning three of its last four, the Rampage has been struggling, losing four in a row. Still, Grand Rapids has been impressive at times this season. The Rampage scored 92, 84 and 72 points in their three victories.

"Grand Rapids has looked like the best team in the league some weeks and like the worst team in the league some weeks," said White. "We've prepared this week like we'll be playing them at their best since they are at home and have something to prove."

The Rampage is led by quarterback James MacPherson, who is fourth in the conference with 61 touchdown passes. His top target has been Kenny Higgins, who has gained 1,226 yards with 24 touchdown catches this year.

The Blaze, meanwhile, have a prolific offense of their own. QB Joe Germaine leads the AFL in passing yardage, and Utah is second in the 17-team league in scoring. Wide receivers Huey Whittaker, Aaron Boone and J.J. McKelvey are all among the league leaders in catches and yardage.

Following today's game, the Blaze will host Los Angeles on June 9 before a bye week and then finishes the regular season at Arizona.


Blaze on the road

Utah (3-10) at Grand Rapids (3-9)

Today, noon

TV: none

Radio: 1320 AM


E-mail: [email protected]