Featuring an offense that took care of the football and a strong second-half defense, the host Chicago Rush turned a close game into an easy 52-35 win to clinch a playoff berth at the Allstate Arena on Friday night.
Led by new quarterback JJ Raterink in his first start for the first-place Rush (11-5) this season, the offense did not commit a turnover -- and the defense collected 3 interceptions to set an Arena Football League record. The Rush had averaged almost 2½ turnovers a game and allowed a season-high 7 in the ninth week against Tulsa.
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"We harped on it all week, just doing doing your job and not turning the ball over," said Rush coach Bob McMillen. "If you don't turn over the ball, you're going to stay in every game. We know our defense is going to create turnovers, so everyone just needs to do their job."
The Rush's final interception came with a little over a minute to play. Defensive back Jason Simpson returned the pick 27 yards to the 3-yard line of the Blaze (7-8). Fullback Johnie Kirton finished the job with his third touchdown of the game that sealed the outcome.
After putting up 28 points in the first half, the Blaze offense -- considered the best in the AFL -- was held to 1 touchdown after intermission.
The game was tied at the half. The Blaze scored a TD and kicked a field goal in the third quarter before the Rush engineered a 28-point scoring streak.
The Rush defense was playing without star defensive back Vic Hall, who was put on injured reserve last week because of turf toe and is not expected back until the playoffs in four weeks.
McMillen said he thought Raterink played well and will likely start when the Rush visits the Georgia Force on July 9.