PHOENIX — It’s quite appropriate the “Snake Pit” is now officially named the Footprint Center considering the way Arizona Rattlers quarterback Drew Powell ran all over the Sioux Falls Storm on Saturday night.
Powell rushed for 88 yards and five scores while throwing for another, combining with a swarming Arizona defense to deal rival Sioux Falls a 59-33 defeat.
“The message all week was that we had to respond — come out and play Rattlers football,” said Arizona Head Coach Kevin Guy, referring to a lackluster defeat to the Massachusetts Pirates the previous week. “I’m proud of the way we executed tonight. We brought a physical brand of football and that was exactly what we needed.”
A week after that disappointing effort in Massachusetts, Arizona was focused and determined to get back on the winning track. They needed no extra motivation, considering it was Sioux Falls who has knocked Arizona out of the playoffs the past two seasons. In 2018, it was a semifinal loss at home that left the fans shellshocked. A year later, the Storm narrowly beat the Rattlers in a 2019 United Bowl many fans believe was influenced by some very questionable officiating.
The Rattlers’ defense started Saturday’s game fairly strong, allowing just a 31-yard field goal by Chase Vinatieri on the first series. The kick was tipped by the defensive line but still slipped through the uprights to give Sioux Falls a 3-0 lead.
Powell, emerging as a league MVP candidate, scrambled in on the next series from 3 yards out for his 20th rushing TD of the season. Ernesto Lacayo added the PAT to give the Rattlers a 7-3 lead with 5:58 left in the first.
The teams began to trade scores with each defense looking for a coveted stop.
Storm QB and Rattler nemesis Lorenzo Brown Jr. found Alonzo Moore with an 18-yard touchdown pass to give Sioux Falls the lead again but Powell responded with a 34-yard laser to a wide-open Jamal Miles. The Rattlers led 14-10 after one quarter.
Brown found Brandon Sheperd with a 13-yard TD pass and Vinatieri made the PAT to give the Storm a 17-14 advantage.
That was short-lived as Rattlers running back Nick LaSane exploded through the line for a 16-yard score.
Leading 21-17, Arizona’s defense dug in for the rest of the first half. Brown threw an ill-advised pass that was easily picked off by Dillion Winfrey as the home crowd of 5,460 roared its approval.
“We got hit in the mouth last week. We took that personally,” Winfrey said after the game. “Everyone stepped up tonight in terms of intensity and execution.”
LaSane trucked a defender on a run to the right sideboards, knocking his opponent’s helmet off before getting pushed out of the bounds inside the 5.
Powell did the honors from there, walking in from 2 yards out. Lacayo was good to put the Rattlers up 28-17 with 48 seconds left before halftime.
“It felt good to win this one,” Powell admitted following the game. “It’s great to get five rushing scores but I’m most proud of the fact we took care of the football — no turnovers on offense.”
Arizona (8-2) wasn’t done on defense in the first half, forcing a 4th and 5 for Sioux Falls at the Storm 17. Craig Evans blasted through the line and sacked a scrambling Brown as Guy pumped his fist near the sideboards.
“We got decent pressure pretty much all night,” said Guy. “We had a good night up front on defense.”
Powell managed to kill nearly all of the clock before diving in from 2 yards out with three seconds left in the first half. The ensuing kickoff flew beyond the endboards allowing Vinatieri to kick a 35-yard field goal at the buzzer but the Rattlers still led 35-20 at the break.
“We wanted the deuce there at the end of the half,” Guy explained. “That one was on me — not a great call.”
The IFL’s deuce rule allows the kicking team to score 2 points in the final minute of a half if they can successfully kick the ball through the far goalposts from their own goal line — a distance of 58 yards.
Only two scores occurred in a quickly moving third quarter.
Powell cashed in his fourth rushing TD of the night at the 10:49 mark. Lacayo’s PAT made it 42-20.
“Drew’s a playmaker,” Guy said of his dual-threat quarterback who now leads the IFL with 661 rushing yards and 24 rushing TDs. “We had the lead at that point so we were just gonna keep pounding the ball and being physical.”
Sioux Falls (5-5) stayed within striking distance by executing their own version of the “Philly Special.”
On fourth and goal at the 1, Moore ended up with the ball in his hands and lofted a lazy pass to Brown who fell into the end zone for the score. Vinatieri connected but the Storm still trailed 42-27 entering the fourth quarter.
Powell then capped his big night on the ground with a 6-yard scamper. That was countered by a Brown-to-Moore 5-yard TD pass but the PAT was blocked and Rattlers held a 49-33 lead.
Lacayo came up clutch on the next series, drilling a 20-yard field goal to extend the lead back to 52-33 at the 5:19 mark of the final quarter.
Any hope of a Storm comeback was doused when Winfrey stripped Sheperd near the goal line with under 2 minutes to go. Arizona’s Tyrell Pearson recovered the loose ball along the boards.
The scoring was capped by Jarrod Harrington, who jetted through the Storm defense for a 16-yard TD with a minute left. Harrington handed the ball to his father in the front row of the stands after the score.
Fittingly, the game ended when Arizona’s Josh Gordon recovered another Sioux Falls fumble on a botched snap.
“We ended up with five or six stops, including the turnovers,” Guy said. “The energy was there.”
The Rattlers rushed for seven touchdowns in the game, led by Powell’s 5. LaSane (35 yards rushing) and Harrington had one TD each on the ground. Miles recorded 45 yards receiving and one score,
Defensively, Winfrey and Ricky Wyatt Jr. led Arizona with 7.5 tackles each.
Sioux Falls’ Brown threw for 118 yards and three scores but was intercepted once. He added 46 yards rushing.
The Rattlers, who sit atop the IFL standings by a half-game over 7-2 Frisco, have not lost consecutive games since February 2017.
They return to the “Snake Pit” on Saturday, July 31 for a 6:05 p.m. matchup against the Duke City Gladiators (5-5).
“We’re going to get back on the practice field and in the film room and work hard,” Winfrey said. “We won’t take Duke City lightly.”