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Avengers Settle Score in Arizona

Impressive 63-49 victory shuts down Rattlers, who had defeated L.A. in six of previous seven meetings.

May 05, 2003|Mike Terry | Times Staff Writer

PHOENIX — The Avengers have waited a long time for the kind of game they played here Sunday.

It wasn't simply that they controlled the Arizona Rattlers in a 63-49 victory before 13,194 at America West Arena. On second thought, that's exactly the reason the victory was special.

Arizona has made Arena Football life miserable for Los Angeles, winning six of the seven previous meetings. But from the opening kickoff until quarterback Tony Graziani ran out the clock, this was the Avengers' day. They raced to a 35-14 lead in the first half, then spent the rest of the game maintaining their distance.

The victory kept the Avengers (10-4) tied atop the Western Division with San Jose. The loss, which ended Arizona's four-game winning streak, pretty much relegates the Rattlers (8-6) to third place. If the Avengers defeat Colorado on Saturday, they will clinch a first-round bye and will be host of a second-round game.

"We want to be playing well going into the playoffs like everyone else. But more important, since I've been here we haven't beaten Arizona," Avenger Coach Ed Hodgkiss said. "They're a great team with a great tradition. To come in here and play like this should really give us a confidence boost going into the playoffs."

On offense, the Avengers turned up the pressure, scoring nine touchdowns in 11 possessions. Graziani, who completed 22 of 31 passes for 289 yards, threw for eight of the touchdowns. Lineman Mathias Vavao, who also plays fullback on goal-line plays, scored the other on a one-yard plunge.

Graziani's favorite target, as usual, was offensive specialist Chris Jackson, who caught 10 passes for 172 yards and scored six times.

"I don't think we can play much more efficiently," Graziani said. "We put the pressure on them and kept the pressure on them. In the Arena league if you don't score every time, it's very easy for the other team to get back in the game. And it's good for our psyche to beat Arizona."

Big days for Jackson against Arizona are nothing new. In five games he has caught 58 passes for 908 yards and 25 touchdowns.

On defense, the Avengers recovered two fumbles and made one interception. All three turnovers came in the first half and were instrumental in giving the Avengers the scoreboard cushion that Arizona quarterback Sherdrick Bonner -- who wound up passing for 308 yards and seven touchdowns -- and the Rattlers could not overcome.

Avenger defensive specialist Damen Wheeler made the interception, which came on the Rattlers' first drive. Trailing, 7-0, Bonner stood at the Avengers' 21-yard line and tried to connect with Bo Kelly near the end zone on a timing pattern. But Kelly turned toward the middle of the field while Bonner threw toward the left corner. Wheeler gathered in the football and returned it to the Avenger seven.

"Just by the way [Bonner] made his move I thought the ball was going to the corner," Wheeler said. "I broke on it, and the ball was on its way as soon as I broke. I felt that play set the tone for the game."

*

In other games:

Duke Pettijohn scored on a one-yard run two minutes into overtime at Denver to give the Orlando Predators (10-4) a 48-42 victory over the Colorado Crunch (2-12).

The Carolina Cobras tied a league record by losing their 14th straight game, 57-38, to the Chicago Rush (7-7) at Charlotte.

The Georgia Force (8-6) clinched a playoff berth and set a franchise record for points in a game with a 77-56 victory over the Indiana Firebirds (5-9) at Indianapolis.

Eight Tampa Bay players scored touchdowns as the Storm (11-3) beat the Dallas Desperados, 67-64, at Dallas. Dallas (8-6) still clinched a playoff berth thanks to Indiana's loss to Georgia.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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