The Chicago Rush made its case for moving into the top spot in the Arena Football League coaches’ poll with a 54-41 victory over the previously top-seeded San Jose SaberCats on Friday night at Allstate Arena.
The Rush (3-0) used halftime to correct some sloppiness and mental mistakes that gave Chicago fans eye twitches, acid reflux, and heartburn during the first two quarters. Going for it on fourth down on their own four-yard-line (yeah, how often do you see that in the NFL?!), Rush QB Russ Michna hit WR Reggie Gray on a 46-yard touchdown strike to stake Chicago to a quick 6-0 lead on their first possession.
Disaster struck on the ensuing extra point attempt, though, with the snap going awry, the holder (I’m not saying his name, and you can’t make me!) scrambling for his life and throwing a desperation pass that was intercepted by SaberCats DB Dwight McLean and returned for a safety.
Had you been listening to the audio broadcast of the game on the Rush’s website, as I was, you’d have heard about that flippin’ botched extra point about eleventy-seven gazillion more times throughout the game. It was like getting poked in the eye every time.
As it turned out, San Jose (2-1) needed that safety because their kicker, Juan Gamboa, missed the extra points on the next two SaberCats touchdowns (plus one in the fourth quarter).
Chicago couldn’t get out of its own way for most of the first half. Missed tackles and mental-lapse penalties (illegal defense, offsides, false start, etc.) were commonplace for the Rush, but Michna kept the home team in the game with a 17-yard scramble for a touchdown, and another long scoring pass to Gray–this one for 39 yards–before the defense came up with a stop on a San Jose drive as the half expired.
As the teams headed into the locker room, the SaberCats led 21-20, and Rush head coach Bob McMillen couldn’t have been happy with the team’s performance.
Whatever he said to the squad during intermission, though, worked.
Asked after the game about what was going on in the first half, Coach McMillen said, “We came back to the locker room to find our actual players tied up and stuffed into their lockers. As it turns out, those were alien impostors playing the first half in our uniforms. After we got that situation, um, ‘corrected’ we got our guys back out there for the second half, and you saw what happened.” What appeared to be fluorescent green blood spatter could be seen on Coach Mac’s pants.
(Editor’s note: That last paragraph may not be entirely true. We’re still trying to confirm this report with the Men in Black.)
San Jose received the kick to start the second half, but the Rush defense stopped the Cats on four consecutive plays and took over on downs. Michna immediately dumped a short pass to Gray, who turned on the afterburners and scored his third touchdown of the night. After a missed extra point, the Rush led 26-21–a lead they would never relinquish.
The “old” Chicago Rush were back in the second half, convincingly moving the ball on offense, and stifling San Jose’s efforts on defense. Michna ran a score in from seven yards out and then hit WR Charles Dillon with a seven-yarder for a score.
Sharing the wealth in the fourth quarter, Michna brought WR Micah Rucker in on the action with a four-yard touchdown pass, and with 4:41 left in the game, FB Johnnie Kirton pounded it in on 4th and goal from inside the one-yard-line to give the Rush its final margin of victory.
Offensive Player of the Game QB Russ Michna earned his honor by going 15-for-21 for 229 passing yards, 38 rushing yards, five passing touchdowns, and two rushing touchdowns. Not bad for a night’s work.
Gray was the Rush’s leading receiver with eight receptions for 149 yards and three touchdowns. Rucker finished with four receptions, 56 yards, and a score, while Dillon added three receptions for 24 yards and a touchdown.
On the other side of the ball, Ironman of the Game DB Jason Simpson pulled down two interceptions, made eight tackles, knocked down a pass, and returned three kickoffs for a total of 53 yards.
DB Vic Hall tallied nine tackles, including one for a loss, and an assist. He also picked off a pass and broke another one up. DB Greg James added four tackles and an assist. DL Quartez Vickerson sacked the quarterback for a loss of seven yards.
San Jose QB Mark Grieb came into the game as the league’s most efficient passer, having completed 75% of his passes and throwing no interceptions. He went 28-for-46 against the Rush (60.9%) and threw three interceptions.
Of the AFL teams that had played two games so far, San Jose boasted the highest-scoring offense in the league (68 points per game), while Chicago was home to the stingiest scoring defense, giving up only 34.5 points a game. The Rush defense is likely to retain its top spot. The SaberCat offense? Not so much.
Ranked #3 this week by AFL coaches, the Rush certainly made its case to move into the top spot after beating the #1 SaberCats. The #2 Arizona Rattlers travel to Tulsa to take on the Talons (0-2) on Monday night. Surely, though, convincingly beating the #1 team will mean more than a probable win over a winless team. I look for Chicago to take over the top spot in the coaches’ poll next week.
Next up for the Rush is a road trip to Cleveland to take on the Gladiators (1-0 and playing against the Tampa Bay Storm on Sunday) on Saturday, April 2, at 3:00 p.m. Central Time on NiFTyTV. In fact, it’ll be awhile before the Rush returns to the Windy City. Two road games and a bye week mean that we won’t see the Rush back at Allstate Arena until April 22.
Until next Saturday, bask in the glory of a 3-0 record and a likely #1 ranking for your…… Chicagooooo……… RRRRRRRRRRUSH!