With a spot in the AFL playoffs all but secure, one might think the 5-10 Utah Blaze would naturally exhale and feel a sense of accomplishment.
Perhaps, but there is also a sense of urgency, as the Blaze still have plenty of work to do before they feel the current season is anything close to resembling a success.
"Our players feel a great obligation to the ownership of this team," coach Danny White said. "They stuck with us when we lost nine in a row. They could have shaken things up and tried to cut their losses. But they stuck with is when times were a little tough."
To pay back the Garff family, which has twice been voted the AFL's top management, the Blaze want to win one more game and earn the right to host a playoff game.
After this weekend's bye, Utah will try to do exactly that when it closes the regular season at Arizona in what the Blaze are calling their fourth consecutive playoff game before the playoffs even start.
"We owe it to the Garffs," quarterback Joe Germaine said. "They deserve it. Even when we were losing games, they would come into the locker room and talk to us. They still had faith in us when a lot of people gave up on us. So to get a home playoff game for them, that would be great."
The home playoff game would also be a significant boost to the team's bottom line.
Though the Blaze qualified for the AFL playoffs in each of their first two seasons, those games were on the road and ended up being money-losing trips for the team.
A home game would result in at least 15,000 tickets sold and go a long way in covering costs in a league not exactly awash in revenue.
As things currently stand, Utah holds the fourth seed in the American Conference. A win next week against the Rattlers would lock in that seed and set up based on current standings a first-round matchup against Colorado at EnergySolutions Arena.
PACE RETURNS: One of Utah's most energetic players made his return to the lineup on Monday against Los Angeles. Tom Pace, a former Arizona State receiver, had been on the injured reserve list for most of the season.
Though he had been practicing with the team for a few weeks, he wasn't finally deemed ready to play until last week. To make room for Pace, the Blaze waived Brian Hernandez from the practice roster.
Pace played primarily on special teams, where he returned four kicks for 56 yards, including a long of 33 yards.
LUCKY BREAK? Perhaps the biggest play in Utah's 65-56 win over the Avengers Monday night was a fumble recovery in the end zone by Blaze defensive back Damon Mason.
The play, in which L.A. receiver LaShaun Ward was stretching for extra yardage while being tackled by Utah's Eddie Canonico, could easily have been ruled a non-fumble.
Ward reached toward the end zone for what might have been a go-ahead score with 3:43 to play and the Blaze leading 51-50. But instead of ruling Ward down by contact with the turf at the two-yard line, the officials let the play go on and Mason scooped up the ball and returned it 28 yards.
Instead of L.A. having a chance to go ahead, Utah extended its lead two plays later when Germaine hit J.J. McKelvey for a touchdown."Just a lucky break right there," Germaine said. "I didn't see what happened. It was at the other end. But sometimes we just get a break."
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