When the Utah Blaze limped to an 0-9 start on the season, the players kept saying that they were close, but were simply not making the plays when it counted.
Now, they are.
Earning the right to host an AFL playoff game has been the team goal all season. Even with the atrocious start, the thought was still there was enough time to turn things around and reach that goal. A three-game winning streak and four-out-of-five gave the Blaze a realistic shot at realizing that goal coming into Monday night's game against the Los Angeles Avengers. With the Blaze's 65-56 win, that dream is still alive.
"Just a well-played game against a tough team," said coach Danny White. "The difference was our receivers making plays."
There were several times it appeared the dream was going to be dashed. An L.A. field goal followed by an onside kick and touchdown late in the first half gave the Avengers a 30-28 lead at the break. When Joe Germaine threw an interception that was returned for a score on the Blaze's second offensive play of the second half, things looked bleak.
Unlike the first nine games, however, Utah dug deep and found a way to make plays. The Blaze did it with a 45-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Boone to pull back to 37-35. The cause was helped when Boone batted the ensuing onside kick to teammate Maurice Fountain allowing the Blaze to score again to take a 42-37 lead.
When they fell behind 50-45, Huey Whittaker answered as he caught the third of his touchdowns on the night. But the biggest play that showed the difference from the opening nine weeks to the present was a fourth down and 15-yards to go play. The Avengers LaSahun Ward broke free down the middle and caught the ball at the Blaze 15. The Utah defenders did not give up and eventually stripped Ward of the ball at the one-yard line where Damon Mason returned it back to the 23.
The Blaze forged ahead 58-50 when JJ McKelvey caught a 27-yard touchdown on the next play. The game was iced when Utah's Kelvin Morris recovered a fumble and returned it 14 yards for a score.
"The defense remembered in the middle of the fourth what it was like to be 0-9," added White.Every player on the team stepped up when it was needed most. Whether it was quarterback Joe Germaine staying cool under pressure and bouncing back from the interception to start the third quarter, or all of the receivers coming up with big-time grabs, to the defense having some key stops down the stretch, the Blaze made the plays that are necessary to have a team not only make the playoffs, but possibly make some noise once there.