Week after agonizing week during the first two months of the Arena Football League season, Utah Blaze players and coaches would say the same things over and over again. They would talk about how they hadn't given up on the season and how if they could just get over the hump and win a game, they would get on a roll. They spoke of how playoff success was still the goal.
They still believed, at least they said they believed, after nine consecutive losses to start the year that they could turn the season around.
And now, after winning six of their final seven games, the Blaze proved they were right.
Utah's win over the Arizona Rattlers in Phoenix late Saturday night not only clinched the team's third-consecutive playoff berth, but it gave the Blaze their first-ever home playoff date. Utah, the No. 4 seed in the American Conference, will host the fifth-seeded Colorado Crush on Saturday at 2 p.m. at EnergySolutions Arena. Utah and Colorado finished with identical 6-10 marks, but Utah won the tie-breaker by virtue of its 71-36 head-to-head victory over the Crush on May 10.
"This is a pretty special group of guys," said Blaze coach Danny White. "They have responded to adversity and hung in there and gone through some pretty rough times. It's all gravy from here on out. This is what it's all
about, and the fun starts now."
Utah has never won a playoff game, with road losses each of the past two seasons. Getting a home game, however, will aid the team both on the field and financially.
"Getting a home game is a big deal because that was our goal when the season began," said White. "And like every team in the league, we are a better team at home because of our fans. To have this first game at home is huge for us as far as helping us move on and try to advance past the first round."
The winner of the Colorado vs. Utah game will then travel to play either the Chicago Rush or San Jose SaberCats, both of whom earned first-round byes as division champions.
The Blaze have put together two of their best games in franchise history the past two years against the Crush, a team partially owned by ex-Denver Broncos legend John Elway. In addition to this year's 35-point win, the Blaze blasted the Crush 51-14 in 2007 in one of the best defensive performances in league history.
But Colorado will come into Saturday's game on a two-game winning streak. They crushed the Kansas City Brigade, 51-27, in the regular-season finale.
"We can't choose who we play. We play Colorado and they've been on a roll the past couple of weeks," said White. "We're on a roll, too, so it should be a good matchup."
With the playoffs not part of season-ticket packages, the Blaze will have their work cut out for them this week trying to get as big of a crowd as possible to the game."There are only a few days to sell tickets and get the fans out," said White. "We need the normal, wild, loud group of fans to be there to support us because it's a huge advantage to us. Our players respond really well to our fans, so we've got to do whatever we have to in order to fill the place."
Welcome to the playoffs
No. 5 Colorado Crush
at No. 4 Utah Blaze
Saturday, 2 p.m.TV: ESPN