SAN JOSE, Calif. Mark Grieb and the defending champion Sabercats are back in the Arena Bowl, and the Rampage's incredible playoff run is over.
Grieb threw eight touchdown passes, five of them to Cleannord Saintil, and the San Jose Sabercats advanced to Arena Bowl XXII with an 81-55 win over the Rampage on Saturday.
"Getting another shot at it seems almost surreal," Grieb said. "It's kind of crazy we're going back after last year."
Omarr Smith intercepted a team playoff-record three passes that led to touchdowns and the defending champion Sabercats (11-5, 2-0) advanced to play in the Arena Bowl against first-time participant Philadelphia Soul, who beat the Cleveland Gladiators 70-35 earlier in the day. The game will take place in two weeks at New Orleans.
While his counterpart was over in the other locker room celebrating, Grand Rapids quarterback James MacPherson was having difficulty expressing his disappointment.
Meanwhile, MacPherson was 30-of-51 for 314 yards and four touchdown passes. He also ran for two scores but threw five interceptions.
"This will be tough to deal with the whole offseason," MacPherson said. "I'm a little embarrassed from that performance. It's not really my best at all. Our team played great. The defense got us a turnover and I'd give it right back with an errant throw."
Rampage coach Steve Thonn saw it differently.
"Sure James did not play his best, but it's not all on him," he said. "He missed a couple of throws that he's made in the past five weeks. We made too many mistakes and they are too good a team. We did a lot of great things to get to this point. This will eat at us for a couple of days but we'll begin to realize we had a good year."
Even MacPherson could see that.
"We showed we could play with anybody; that we're a good team," MacPherson said. "We had some big wins. Right now I feel tired, emotionally tired. It seems like it's been a long season."
Grieb's eight scoring tosses gives him 104 career playoff touchdowns. Saintil caught 11 passes for 113 yards.
"We were pretty sharp offensively," Grieb said. "They had a hard time stopping us."
Grieb, who led the league with 100 touchdown passes, threw for 255 yards on 24-of-30 passing. Jason Geathers caught two TD passes, ran for another and returned an interception for a score on the game's final play. Gene Frederic also caught a TD pass.
"This year was exciting because we really stepped up," Sabercats coach Darren Arbet said. "They started slow but they continued to believe and we're still on our goal to win the whole thing. The guys played hard and came in with such great focus."
Kenny Higgins caught 12 passes for 142 yards and a pair of touchdowns and ran for one as the Rampage (6-10, 2-1) saw their five-game winning streak end after a remarkable playoff performance in which they knocked two opponents on the road before losing in San Jose for the seventh time in as many trips.
"We set a good foundation and we need to build on that for next season," Higgins said.
SOUL 70, GLADIATORS 35: At Philadelphia, Matt D'Orazio threw eight touchdown passes to lead the Philadelphia Soul to its first ever appearance in the Arena Bowl.
D'Orazio completed 17-of-25 passes for 184 yards. Larry Brackins and Brent Holmes each caught three touchdown passes.
Robert Redd's 16-yard scoring catch cut the Soul's lead to 45-28 early in the third, but Mike Brown's highlight-reel kick return during which he hurdled over kicker Jason Ball on his way to the endzone gave Philadelphia a 52-28 lead and they never looked back.
D'Orazio found Arena League offensive player of the year Chris Jackson twice in the endzone and Wes Ours added a rushing touchdown.
Raymond Philyaw was shaky for Cleveland, going 25-for-49 for 303 yards with four scores and two interceptions.
Philyaw's 17-yard touchdown pass to Otis Amey at 6:28 in the first made it 7-7, but the Soul scored 28 of the next 42 points and led 35-21 at the half.
Brackins led Philadelphia with seven catches for 92 yards to go along with his three scores.