SAN ANTONIO — The Utah Blaze dropped a tight 54-48 duel to the San Antonio Talons on Saturday in the two teams' Arena Football League season-opener, played in front of 6,886 fans at the Alamodome.
In the end, penalties and miscues proved too much for Utah to overcome in an environment that left a slim margin for error.
"I thought our team played hard," said Blaze president and head coach Ron James. "We didn't play smart at times, but we played hard. We weren't as efficient as we could've been in an opener. We've got some things we need to work on for next week and we'll make sure we correct those mistakes."
Utah quarterback Tommy Grady completed 31-of-46 passes for 331 yards and six touchdowns with two interceptions, as he hooked up with wide receiver Aaron Lesue on four of his scores. Ernie Pierce led all Blaze receivers with 10 receptions for 103 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown grab. Rookie wide receiver Tysson Poots also contributed a touchdown catch, as he finished with two catches for 36 yards. Fullback Ben Stallings gained 19 yards on the ground, including a three-yard scoring run.
Reigning ArenaBowl champion quarterback Aaron Garcia led the way for the Talons, completing 23-of-37 passes for 341 yards and eight touchdowns with one interception. He found receivers Jomo Wilson and Carl Moore for three scores apiece while also hooking up with Jason Willis on two more touchdown completions.
Defensive back Josh Jones led Utah with eight tackles and picked off a first-quarter pass attempt by Garcia that led to a Blaze score. Nose guard Keenan Mace also notched the team's only sack in the first quarter. He forced Garcia to fumble on the play, and defensive end Mike Lewis was able to recover the loose ball. Utah again converted the turnover into points.
The teams traded scores throughout much of the game, leading to a 48-48 tie in the fourth quarter. With 5:27 remaining, Utah drove the ball to the Talons' 18-yard line before the offense stalled. Grady faced fourth-and-long when he was intercepted in the end zone by Ken Fontenette. Two plays later, Garcia lofted a 34-yard touchdown pass to Wilson for the decisive score.
"We have to play smarter football," said James. "We didn't take care of the football and it led to too many turnovers. We have to be able to convert late in the games in the future. If we do those things, we'll come away as winners."