SALT LAKE CITY -- With six games left in the season, the Utah Blaze find themselves in a precarious situation sitting three games behind San Jose at the bottom of the National Conference West Division.
With a playoff spot still within reach, the Blaze offense needs to find a rhythm that's been lacking most of the season, and they're running out of time.
Saturday's 62-55 win over the Jacksonville Sharks was mandatory to keep Utah's postseason hopes alive as the Blaze (5-7) face do-or-die division games, first today at Spokane then hosting San Jose on June 29.
Urgency of the situation is evident as head coach Ron James made a game-time decision on Saturday to bench last year's Arena Football League MVP quarterback Tommy Grady, opting instead for back-up Jason Boltus, who finished with 240 yards and seven touchdowns on a 20-of-35 performance.
"We had to change something," coach Ron James said. "The definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result. So we switched it up."
Boltus threw a trio of interceptions that kept Jacksonville in the game, but most importantly, he delivered a much-needed win. An all-around player who sees downs on special teams and at linebacker, James says Boltus is ready to do whatever it takes to get his squad to the postseason again.
"He does everything," James said. "He's an every-down, every-day player."
Led by DB David Hyland, the Blaze defense has carried the team throughout most of the season, sitting at second in the AFL for total defense.
Hyland logged seven tackles on Saturday and leads the team with 54 solo tackles and six interceptions. He nabbed the franchise single-season record for INTs with his sixth pick of the season on Saturday.
"I had no idea, but that's pretty neat," he said after Saturday's game. "It doesn't really matter what I do though, as long as we win. I'm just really happy we put it all together this week."
Maurice Leggett is also turning in big time performances at the DB spot with five picks on the year and 43 solo tackles.
One facet of Utah's defense that has declined since last year is sacks. After earning the moniker "Sack Lake City" in 2012, the Blaze have mustered a mediocre 19 sacks over 12 games this season.
One reason for the drop in production was the recent signing of defensive end Caesar Rayford with the Indianapolis Colts on May 24.
Rayford was the most successful pass rusher in Utah Blaze history and played in a franchise-record 55 games.
"Caesar Rayford has played an intricate role in this franchise," James said. "Over the past four seasons, I have watched him earn this opportunity through hard work. We're extremely proud to see Caesar sign with the Indianapolis Colts and we wish him the best as he enters the NFL."
Rayford registered 13.5 tackles with six sacks and seven tackles for loss while adding four forced fumbles, three blocked kicks, and one safety through eight games with the Blaze this season.
Over a four-year career with the Blaze, Rayford set franchise records for sacks (28.5) and tackles for loss (33.5). He is tied for third in Arena Football history with nine blocked kicks and ranks 20th in sacks. Rayford's most successful season came in 2011, when he earned All-Arena honors after posting a career-high10 sacks.
Rayford is the sixth member of the Blaze to sign an NFL contract during the 2013 season. In Indianapolis, he joins former Utah Blaze wide receiver Jeremy Kelley, who played eight games with the team as a rookie in 2012.
In a 2012 interview, Rayford explained why he enjoyed playing in Salt Lake.
"I love playing in Utah because the fans are crazy and they love us," he said. "We are big in the Salt Lake City community and there is a big group that supports us. There are great people here and it's a great place to play."
Despite Rayford's departure, it's the Blaze offense that needs to find an answer before time runs out and postseason hopes fall by the wayside.
Mario Urrutia has emerged as the receiving leader for the Blaze, racking up team-leading 1234 yards and 28 touchdowns on 102 receptions.
Last year's leader and home-crowd favorite, Aaron Lesue, has missed multiple games with nagging injuries but has still managed to log 748 yards and 16 TDs on 62 grabs.
The question remains: what will the Blaze do at the quarterback position on Friday?
James wouldn't confirm if Boltus would get the nod again on Friday saying, "we'll have to evaluate it as we do every week."
With Grady's completion rate so far this year 57.9 percent (compared to last year's rate of 68.2 percent) and his league-leading 25 interceptions, it will be interesting to see what the Blaze do at the QB spot, especially considering Boltus' performance on Saturday was the offense's third highest output of the season.
Despite the quandary, James says has faith in his team and says they're still in a position to make a run into the postseason ... if his guys can come together.
"We still have a lot of football left to play," James said. "We know our window is closing but we also recognize that we have to take every game as its own entity and if we can string some things together, you never know what could happen."