Mere moments away from winning ArenaBowl XXIV at US Airways Center earlier tonight (and thus, capturing their third title in 19 years) the Rattlers lost to the Jacksonville Sharks, 73-70, after last-second touchdown snatched defeat away from the jaws of victory.
Here's how it went down: With Arizona clinging to a three-point lead with only two seconds left, Jacksonville quarterback Aaron Garcia hurled a 10-yard desperation pass for the winning touchdown. A raucous crowd of 14,320 Valley football fans became instantaneously quiet as the team was robbed of the ArenaBowl title after staging their best season in franchise history.
Heartbreak, thy name is the Arizona Rattlers.
Much like their season-opening contest back in March, which the Rattlers won 55-52, tonight's game was a back-and-forth affair. Arizona scored first when quarterback Nick Davilla hit Odie Armstrong within the opening minute of the game. (For the uninitiated, in most Arena Football League games - where football is played on a 50-yard field - the points come fast and furious.) Jacksonville came back in the second quarter to top their opponents, however, beginning a game-long seesaw battle that saw the lead change seven times.
Davilla kept hitting touchdown after touchdown, as did Garcia, resulting in the highest-scoring ArenaBowl game in history. After wide receiver Kerry Reed caught a pass in the end zone with only 21 seconds left, the Rattlers looked to have the game won. The Sharks, however, unleashed a 17-yard play in the closing moments to set the stage for the game-winning toss by Garcia.
Afterwards, Jacksonville celebrated their win while Rattlers players and their fans watched on in stunned silence. There would be no third title banner adorning the walls of US Airways Center to go along with the ones marking the ArenaBowl wins in 1994 and 1997. Just dashed hopes, thoughts of what could've been, and tainted memories of what had been a glorious season up to that point.
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Arizona went 16-2 this year, was riding a 11-game winning streak into the ArenaBowl, and had the AFL's best quarterback in Davilla (who also won the league's MVP trophy) leading them on the field. But while momentum was on their side, Lady Luck most definitely wasn't.
There's always next year, Rattlers fans.
UPDATE: Looks like the game-ending TD was SportsCenter's "Top Play" of the night. Relive the pain by checking out the video below.