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Historic ArenaBowl lives up to hype
ORLANDO – For the first time since 1996, the Arena Football League has a repeat champion. The Arizona Rattlers (15-3) defeated the Philadelphia Soul (12-6), 48-39, to win ArenaBowl XXVI in front of a crowd of 12,039 in Orlando and a national audience on the CBS Television Network.
The Rattlers became the first team since the Tampa Bay Storm in 1995-96 to repeat as ArenaBowl champions and the only team in League history to beat the same team twice in back-to-back years to win titles.
Russell Athletic Offensive Player of the Game and ArenaBowl MVP Rod Windsor led all receivers with 145 receiving yards to go along with a pair of touchdowns in the Rattlers’ win. His quarterback, Nick Davila completed 20-of-29 for 315 yards and six scores. Davila also became the League’s all-time leader in ArenaBowl touchdown passes with 23 for his career, breaking Mark Grieb’s previous career mark of 20. Riddell Defensive Player of the Game Virgil Gray recorded 9.5 tackles and a key interception in the win.
The Soul were led on offense by J. Lewis Small Playmaker of the Game Ryan McDaniel, who tied an ArenaBowl record with 13 receptions to go along with 137 yards and two touchdowns. Philadelphia quarterback Dan Raudabaugh tied Kurt Warner’s mark for most passes attempted in an ArenaBowl with 51 attempts in the loss. Raudabaugh finished 31-of-51 for 306 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions.
The back-and-forth matchup was a classic AFL meeting that went down to the wire. Just as they did seven times at ArenaBowl XXV last year, Rattlers quarterback Nick Davila found receiver Maurice Purify for the first score of the game. Dan Raudabaugh answered back with a 15-yard scoring strike of his own to receiver Ryan McDaniel. Carlos Martinez added the extra point to even the game at 7-7 midway through the first quarter. Just as it appeared the high-powered Rattlers offense would be rolling to another score on their second drive of the game, Philadelphia defensive back Rayshaun Kizer picked off an errant Davila pass off the net to shift the momentum over to the Soul side. However, on the ensuing possession, Rattlers All-Arena defensive back Virgil Gray made an exceptional play on the ball in the end zone to give possession back to Arizona with 28 seconds to play in the first quarter.
To open the second quarter, Davila connected with Rod Windsor on a perfectly thrown pass matched with a one-handed catch for a score to put Arizona on top 14-7. Philadelphia answered right back with a lengthy drive, culminating in a Derrick Ross touchdown run to even the score once again. The Rattlers regained the lead with 5:47 to play in the first half after Davila hit Purify on a crossing route for a 47-yard touchdown. The touchdown catch was the longest since ArenaBowl XI when Calvin Schexnayder hauled in a 49-yard score. Philadelphia responded with another long drive, ending with Raudabaugh finding Anthony Jones for a touchdown with 52 seconds left in the first half. Philadelphia attempted an onside kick, but it was easily recovered by the Rattlers at the Soul nine-yard line. The Soul defense stood strong despite the field position, limiting Arizona to a field goal on the drive. Not to be outdone, Arizona stopped the Soul offense on their next drive, as Rattlers nose guard Anttaj Hawthorne blocked a Martinez field goal attempt that would have tied the game. Arizona took a 24-21 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Philadelphia received the ball to start the second half and took their first lead of the game on a touchdown catch by McDaniel. Martinez could not convert on the extra point, limiting the Soul lead to three, 27-24. Arizona would answer right back, however. After Rod Windsor suffered an injury midway through the third quarter, receiver Kerry Reed entered the game and made an immediate impact, hauling in the go-ahead touchdown with just more than six minutes to play in the quarter. Raudabaugh was intercepted in the end zone again on the next drive, this time by Jack linebacker Jeremy Kellem, to give Arizona an opportunity to double-up. The third quarter ended with the Rattlers on top, 31-27.
Arizona opened the fourth quarter with a Davila touchdown pass to Windsor, who returned to the lineup after being shaken up in the third. Lindholm tacked on the extra point to give the Rattlers an 11-point lead, 38-27, early in the fourth. The Soul and Tiger Jones answered quickly with a touchdown; however, Martinez missed another extra point off the iron, leaving the score at 38-33, Rattlers with 11:31 to play in regulation. Two minutes later, Davila found Tysson Poots for a 14-yard touchdown to put the Rattlers back up by 12. Philadelphia answered with a Derrick Ross touchdown run to bring the Soul within a touchdown, despite another missed extra point from Martinez. The game reached its high point when Philadelphia forced a fumble as Rod Windsor rushed towards the end zone. However, Philadelphia was unable to capitalize on the turnover, as defensive back Arkeith Brown laid a big hit that broke up a pass to Soul receiver Tiger Jones on fourth down to seal the victory for the Rattlers. To top off the repeat win, AFL Kicker of the Year Garrett Lindholm chipped in a 24-yard field goal to bring the final score to 48-35.
Postgame Awards
Russell Athletic Offensive Player of the Game: Arizona Rattlers WR Rod Windsor
Riddell Defensive Player of the Game: Arizona Rattlers DB Virgil Gray
J. Lewis Small Playmaker of the Game: Philadelphia Soul WR Ryan McDaniel
Cutters Catch of the Game: Arizona Rattlers WR Rod Windsor’s one-handed touchdown catch (2nd Quarter)
AFL Highlight of the Game: Arizona Rattlers DB Arkeith Brown’s game-clinching stop on 4th and 2 (4th Quarter)

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