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Avenger Title Hopes Cut Off

San Jose intercepts pass by Graziani in final minute to preserve 47-43 victory and claim top seeding for playoffs.

May 18, 2003|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

SAN JOSE — For the second time this season, the Avengers erased a 20-point deficit against defending ArenaBowl champion San Jose.

But on Saturday night, it was all for naught.

San Jose regrouped after blowing its first-quarter lead and held on for a 47-43 victory before 15,407 at HP Pavilion to win its fourth consecutive Western Division title. San Jose (12-4) also earned the top-seeded position for the Arena League playoffs and will have the home-field advantage that goes along with it.

The Avengers (11-5), who are 0-4 here, have a first-round bye, but they won't know if they are seeded third or fourth until today's Tampa Bay-Georgia game is complete.

The Avengers appeared poised to win their first division title when quarterback Tony Graziani scrambled out of the pocket and threw an 11-yard pass to Russell Shaw in the end zone with one minute left. But officials ruled that Graziani crossed the line of scrimmage before throwing the ball.

On the next play, Barry Wagner intercepted a pass by Graziani in the end zone with 48 seconds left.

"I was just trying to make too much happen [on that play]," said Graziani, who had four passes intercepted. "I should have thrown it away."

The Avengers had taken a 43-40 lead with 6 minutes 16 seconds left on a 32-yard touchdown pass from Graziani to Greg Hopkins and a two-point version pass to Chris Jackson.

But SaberCat quarterback Mark Grieb threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to James Hundon with 3:05 remaining for what proved to be the decisive score.

The Avengers trailed, 20-0, at the end of the first quarter, a point deficit with which they were all too familiar.

On Feb. 9 at Staples Center, the Avengers overcame a 20-point deficit against San Jose and won, 73-72, on a two-point conversion pass with one second left. It is the greatest comeback in the franchise's four-season history.

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