The third time will have to be a charm if the Utah Blaze want to continue the best season in franchise history.
The Utah Blaze (12-6) will head back to where its season began to take on the San Antonio Talons (14-4) in the first round of the 2012 playoffs.
The nationally-televised matchup will air live during the NFL Network's broadcast of NET10 Arena Football Friday, with kickoff scheduled for 6 p.m.
Utah and San Antonio have already squared off twice during the regular season. In both contests, San Antonio was able to squeak out narrow victories over the Blaze due to turnovers.
Utah took a 48-40 lead in the fourth quarter of a Week 1 matchup before an interception and a fourth-down incompletion allowed the Talons to score two unanswered touchdowns and edge the Blaze, 54-48.
Even more heartbreaking was a Week 12 contest in which Utah was poised to a take a three-score lead in the final frame. Having just recovered a fumble by Talons QB Aaron Garcia, Utah looked to convert the turnover into points before an interception gave the ball back to San Antonio.
The Talons outscored the Blaze 22-7 in the fourth quarter to escape with a 64-61 win.
Despite the loss, Utah's last battle with the Talons marked a turning point in the season. The Blaze continued on to win six of its final seven games, securing the fourth seed in the playoffs.
Utah hopes the lessons learned from previous games with the Talons will benefit the team this time around when they take on the top seed in the National Conference.
"San Antonio is a team filled with veterans," said President & Head Coach Ron James. "They aren't your typical expansion team and have a group of players that have been playoff tested. We will need a strong effort to battle to wire."
Veteran QB Aaron Garcia leads a San Antonio offense that doesn't necessarily light up the scoreboard, but is effective when it needs to be. The group finished 10th in total offense (283.5 ypg), seventh in scoring (57.9 ppg) and ninth in passing (273.0 ypg). However, the Talons scored on 86.4 percent of their red zone attempts in 2012, ranking atop the Arena Football League charts.
Garcia threw for 4,985 yards with 118 touchdowns and 16 interceptions on 405-of-610 passing (66.4 percent) in the regular season. His favorite target was WR Jason Willis, who registered 101 receptions for 1,179 yards and 25 touchdowns. WR Jomo Wilson is the team's leading scorer and top deep threat having hauled in 36 touchdowns on 83 catches for 1,284 yards.
The Blaze must play tight coverage in the secondary and allow the defensive front time to generate pressure on Garcia in order to create turnovers. In their previous two matchups combined, Utah caused five turnovers with two stops on downs, two fumble recoveries and an interception.
"Aaron Garcia is one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the Arena Football League," James said. "Every time you play him, you compete against a great quarterback and a great offensive mind.
"We need to play sound defensively and take advantage of opportunities when we have the chance to make plays."
The Talons defense is based around a strong group of pass rushers and physical defensive backs. The combination has allowed the unit to be especially effective in the red zone, where they've allowed opponents to score on just 78.3 percent of attempts - sixth-best in the AL.
San Antonio posted 39 sacks in the regular season, good for second-most in 2012. DL Victor DeGrate paced the front four with 9.5 sacks, while DB Fred Shaw led the secondary with 120.0 total tackles and eight interceptions.