Last weekend’s Arena Football League quarterfinals came with a couple of surprises:
1) The defending American Conference champions (Philadelphia Soul) nearly came away with a big-time upset of the 17-1 Cleveland Gladiators. For the third time this season, Cleveland came away with a last-second victory over head coach Clint Dolezel’s Soul squad as placekicker Aaron Pettrey drilled a 36-yard game-winning field goal as time expired.
2) The 15-3 Pittsburgh Power fell shy of capturing its first postseason appearance in the franchise’s four-year history, as they were upset by the Orlando Predators (11-7), 56-48. Unfortunately for the Power, they were forced to visit Orlando for the postseason game despite the 15-win season, simply because they share the same division with the history-making Gladiators.
3) The 5-13 Portland Thunder sneaked into the postseason coming out of the National Conference––Pacific Division as the fourth and final seed in their respective conference. Earning a first round match-up with the defending champion Arizona Rattlers, the Thunder were expected to be blown out last weekend. Instead, they came up just four points shy of a huge upset, falling to the Rattlers 52-48.
4) This one wasn’t much of a surprise at all. Most had expected the San Jose SaberCats to easily handle the Spokane Shock in front of their home crowd, and that’s exactly what they did. A 55-28 victory earned San Jose a Conference Championship match-up with Arizona.
Here’s a look ahead to this afternoon’s two Conference Championship match-ups, including our game predictions:
Sunday August 10
American Conference Championship: Orlando Predators at Cleveland Gladiators (2:30 P.M. ET)
Although the dream match-up of Pittsburgh and Cleveland won’t be taking place this afternoon, Orlando and quarterback Bernard Morris (221 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT in win last weekend) are poised to give Cleveland a run for their money on the road today. Receiver Greg Carr destroyed Pittsburgh’s stout secondary last weekend, burning DBs for 97 yards and four touchdowns on 10 receptions. Unfortunately, I don’t see Carr having a similar game against Cleveland’s secondary, led by Dominic Jones and LaRoche Jackson. Cleveland is 10-0 at home this season, including last weekend’s victory, and I expect them to improve to 11-0 at home after today. Cleveland wins a close one, 62-56.
National Conference Championship: San Jose SaberCats at Arizona Rattlers (8 P.M. ET)
Arizona quarterback Nick Davila is the best quarterback in the Arena Football League today, and has already led this Rattlers squad to two consecutive ArenaBowl championships. A win today against San Jose––whether ARI wins another ArenaBowl this year or not––could turn this team into the AFL’s modern-day dynasty. Rookie quarterback Nathan Stanley had a superb game against Spokane, tossing for 193 yards and five TDs with zero interceptions, spreading the ball out to four different receivers and throwing his TDs to three different guys. But Davila was more efficient in his victory last week (67.9%, 247 yards, 5 TD, 1 INT), and overall he’s had an outstanding postseason career, tossing 74 touchdowns to just 12 picks in his playoff career. I’d take Arizona’s offense over San Jose’s nine times out of 10. Arizona makes their fourth consecutive ArenaBowl appearance with a 55-42 victory.
Photo: Sergio Estrada/Bay Area Sports Photography