PHOENIX – The league-leading Arizona Rattlers (13-0) overcame a 21-point deficit to defeat the Tucson Sugar Skulls 50-49 in overtime in front of 13,755 fans at Talking Stick Resort Arena on Saturday.
The victory kept the Rattlers in front of the Iowa Barnstormers (12-1) for first place and home field throughout the Indoor Football League (IFL) playoffs.
Facing their in-state rival for the fourth time this season, the Rattlers faced their biggest deficit of the season as they trailed the Sugar Skulls 35-14 with 48 seconds remaining in the first half.
"We just had a lot of adversity tonight and we had to overcome," Head Coach and General Manager Kevin Guy said. "I think it said something about our character that we found a way to win."
Rattlers QB Drew Powell was 13-of-20 passing for 158 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran for 29 yards, including the game-winning two-point conversion in overtime.
"We had that two-point play in our back pocket for that situation," Powell said. "Once we knew we had to score, we had our play ready to go so as soon as we scored we knew we were going to go ahead and go for two."
"I wasn't going to put that on our kicker, not after we lost last year," Guy said. "We want home-field advantage and we want it to go through the desert."
WR Dez Stewart led the Arizona receivers with 55 receiving yards and two touchdowns. WR Jarrod Harrington did not record a catch, but did have a 50-yard kickoff return touchdown that helped get the Rattlers comeback started.
"That kickoff return, that was a big play on our special teams unit that sparked us right back up," Harrington said.
Tucson QB Jake Medlock was 17-of-25 passing for 190 yards and two touchdowns, along with 66 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the ground. WR Jeremiah Harris had eight catches for 96 yards and a touchdown.
The Rattlers defense was led by DB Phillip Henry, would had nine solo tackles. LB Ryan Langford had a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss.
LB Zach Allen led the Sugar Skulls with six solo tackles. LB Dee Maggitt Jr. had an interception, while DL Rayshawn Henderson and DL Keith Jones Jr. combined for a sack.
The Rattlers got the ball first and immediately scored on the first play from scrimmage as Powell found Stewart for a 28-yard touchdown pass.
The Sugar Skulls answered as Medlock scored on an 8-yard run to tie the game 7-7.
Following a turnover on down by Arizona, Tucson took the lead on a 5-yard run by Medlock.
The Rattlers tied the game on the last play of the first quarter as Stewart punched it in from 2 yards out.
Medlock found Harris for a 40-yard touchdown pass to put the Sugar Skulls back on top 21-14.
After a Rattlers touchdown was erased by an offensive holding penalty on fourth down, K Jimmy Camacho missed a 29-yard field goal attempt, keeping the deficit at seven.
The Sugar Skulls extended their lead on a fake field goal try as QB Matt Behrendt completed a 5-yard pass to WR Shadrach Thornton for a touchdown. K Josh Gable made the point-after attempt to make the score 28-14.
Following an interception by Maggitt, Medlock connected with WR Rico Brown for an 8-yard touchdown to increase the Sugar Skulls lead to 21.
On the ensuing kickoff, Harrington returned the kickoff 50 yards to pull the Rattlers back to within 14.
After a Langford sack that resulted in a Sugar Skulls turnover on downs, Powell found RB Jabre Lolley for a 10-yard touchdown pass. Camacho missed the extra point, bringing the score to 35-27 Tucson.
Following another Rattlers stop, Harrington would score from 7 yards out to pull Arizona within two. The Rattlers lined up for a point-after kick, but Harrington took the snap and ran it in for the two-point conversion to tie the game.
Medlock rushed for his third touchdown of the game on the first play of the fourth quarter, a 28-yar carry, to give Tucson the lead again.
Arizona would answer on a 6-yard touchdown pass from Powell to WR Anthony Amos to tie the game, 42-42.
Tucson drove down the field on their next possession, getting as deep as the Arizona 2-yard line. However, the Rattlers would come up with another defensive stand and forced another turnover on downs, taking over on their own 9-yard line with 1:16 left in regulation.
Arizona faced a 3rd-and-20, where Powell completed a 19-yard pass to Lolley. However, the Rattlers could not convert on fourth down and the Sugar Skulls took over with nine seconds to play.
After a Medlock incompletion, Gable lined up for a 50-yard field goal attempt, which missed wide left, and forced the game into overtime.
Tucson got the ball first in overtime and scored on a 4-yard run by RB Mike Jones. Gable kicked the extra point to make the score 49-42 Tucson.
On Arizona's overtime possession, Powell hit Stewart for a 7-yard touchdown to make it 49-48. The Rattlers decided to go for the two-point conversion, and Powell successfully rushed it in to give Arizona the 50-49 win.
The Arizona Rattlers return home next Saturday for the regular season finale as they host the San Diego Strike Force (1-12). Kickoff is at 5:00 p.m. AZT and fans can catch the game on Your Phoenix CW and also live on YouTube.