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The Arizona Rattlers ended the 2022 regular season with a 42-31 win on Sunday, but there was a lack of excitement after the game for a team that just locked up the top seed in the Western Conference.
“We have little things at every position that we need to work on,” coach Kevin Guy said. “The big thing for us is if we don’t turn the ball over, we’re a hard team to beat. [In] our last two outs in the championships, it can be attributed to penalties, turnovers or our defense didn’t come to play.”
The Vegas Knight Hawks are 6-10 and will miss the playoffs with the loss to Arizona. In the first matchup, Arizona won 67-20 in Las Vegas. And yet, the Knight Hawks were in the game until the middle of the fourth quarter. The Rattlers couldn’t get out of their own way.
Whether it was penalties, blown coverages or missed tackles, the Rattlers showed that the biggest hurdle in the playoffs will be themselves.
The penalties in particular were tough for Guy to swallow. The referees threw 12 flags on Arizona for 96 yards.
“[The Knight Hawks] got a lot better since the first time we saw them,” Guy said. “But to be frank, the penalties are what kept them in the game or we would’ve blown them out.”
In Arizona’s three losses this season, the team’s late-game self-inflicted wounds cost the unit wins. The Rattlers led late both times and couldn’t finish the job.
In Prescott Valley against the Wranglers, Rattlers quarterback Drew Powell fumbled with a minute left while they were up. The fumble stayed in Powell’s mind for several weeks.
Again against Vegas, Powell fumbled twice and recovered one. Both came in the first half and neither cost the game, but Vegas forced Powell and the Rattlers to sweat out the second half of a game they should have dominated.
“I tried to do too much instead of going down; I didn’t realize I had the first down, so I tried to cut back for three more yards,” Powell said. “But I was proud of the guys. The offensive line gave me protection, the receivers ran great routes and Shannon [Brooks] did his thing all night. We could’ve played better, but we played well as an offense.”
Coach Guy and defensive back Dillon Winfrey said the two big plays they gave up on defense came from blown assignments. Vegas scored its first touchdown after runningback Jord Cronkrite slipped behind a screen and weaved his way to the endzone.
“On their first touchdown of the game, we blew the coverage there,” Guy said. “The defensive end didn’t pick him up and he took off. After that, we settled down and took care of their [running] back.”
The Knight Hawks’ second touchdown came from a blown coverage in the secondary in cover two.
“If we’ve given up more than 28 points, I guarantee there are at least six missed assignments,” Winfrey said. “That’s the biggest thing we have to clean up. [We need to be] where you’re supposed to be, not trying to do other people’s jobs.”
The scars from the Rattlers’ 2019 and 2021 United Bowl losses are apparent. While the team has a history of championships and playoff wins, this group with Powell has yet to finish at the highest stage.
“Championship teams are built, and in the past three or four weeks, we built that character,” Powell said. “We locked in and became more of a team. [Plays] feel different, it feels like how it’s supposed to be, how we imagined it.”
Now that Arizona has locked up the Western Conference, they’ll remain at home until the championship game if the team gets there.
The positive for the Rattlers is that they have the best offense and second-best defense in the IFL. They have a bye week next week, which will give them time to work out the small stuff.
“It really comes down to how the players attack [the bye week],” Guy said. “We will come to get some lifts in and come together on Sunday [to] get ready for whoever we play.”