SAN ANTONIO — It was the Blaze secondary that came to the rescue and helped give Utah its first Arnea Football League playoff win in franchise history, preserving a 35-34 road victory over the San Antonio Talons on Friday night.
Utah DB William Mulder and the Blaze defense found their rhythm late in the second quarter and didn’t look back, holding the one-point lead to the final whistle.
Quarterback Tommy Grady was 35-of-50 for 326 yards and five touchdowns as the Blaze will face the winner of tonight’s Arizona-San Jose matchup for the Conference title.
Utah wide receiver Aaron Lesue earned MVP honors with his 132 yards and three scores on 14 catches.
“This was our first time in the playoffs,” Lesue said. “They (San Antonio) had beaten us twice before and we had a bad taste in our mouth.”
The Utah State alumnus recognized the extraordinary effort the team has put forth during the season and explained how good it felt to bring the first playoff win to Utah.
“This was definitely for Salt Lake City and our fans.”
San Antonio nabbed a 20-7 advantage early on after forcing a Utah turnover on downs as the Talon secondary smothered any chance Grady had to complete a pass.
The Talons rode the lead into the second quarter until Utah logged a pair of consecutive defensive stops, capitalizing on both, giving the Blaze a 21-20 lead and a big momentum shift.
The momentum shifted even further with 1:26 left in the half as Mulder picked off San Antonio QB Aaron Garcia in the end zone, preserving Utah’s one-point lead into the locker room.
Utah extended the lead to eight during the opening drive of the second half as Grady and the Blaze offense found success with short routes culminating in a 9-yard touchdown pass to Lesue.
Another big fourth down stop on the ensuing San Antonio drive and subsequent Grady score to Tysson Poots gave the Blaze a 35-20 lead.
San Antonio got back to within one at the beginning of the fourth quarter after Garcia capitalized on a Grady interception and made it 35-34.
Things deteriorated for the Blaze in the fourth as Poots left the game with 8 minutes to go after injuring his left ankle during his 14th catch of the night. The play was followed by a fourth and goal interception by San Antonio DB Kenneth Fontenette and put the Talon’s in possession for the go-ahead drive.
San Antonio marched down the field but stalled in the red zone with a just under three minutes remaining.
In a final show of defensive force, middle linebacker Joe Mortensen sacked Garcia on 4th and goal, preserving the one-point Blaze lead and advancing the team to the conference title.
“Our defense played a great game tonight,” Grady said of the support he got. “We weren’t executing on offense but our defense really came through.”