Only four teams remain in the running for ArenaBowl XXIV, and the Chicago Rush heads to Phoenix to take on the league-leading Arizona Rattlers on Saturday for the National Conference title and a spot in the ArenaBowl.
"The guys are definitely excited. This is what you work for all season," said starting quarterback JJ Raterink. "To get to this point is awfully difficult… I know that mentally and physically they're going to be as prepared as possible."
Chicago Rush game dayChicago Rush at Arizona Rattlers, 9 p.m. Saturday at US Airways Center, Phoenix
Scouting the Rush: QB JJ Raterink was name the Offensive Player of the Week for his performance in last week's game against the Dallas Vigilantes after completing 23-of-31 passes for 287-yards and 6 touchdowns, while also rushing for 22-yards and a touchdown. In his first game back after dealing with turf toe, DB Vic Hall racked up 10.5 tackles against Dallas. Last weekend was the Rush's first playoff victory since 2007.
Scouting the Rattlers: Arizona leads the league with a 17-2 record, but one of those losses was to the Rush. The team's only other loss was a 70-69 finish in favor of the Spokane Shock, the team that that the Rattlers destroyed 62-33 last weekend in the first round. DB Marquis Floyd was named the Defensive Player of the Week for his play against Spokane. The team holds a +36 turnover margin, which is by far the best in the league and may be an issue for the turnover-prone Rush.
How to watch: Fans can watch the game online at Nifty TV "AFL Live" or at Arenarush.com, or head to the Rush's official viewing party at the Ram Restaurant & Brewery, 9520 Higgins Road, Rosemont. Early arrivers will receive a free Chicago Rush t-shirt. The National Conference Championship game will be shown live on the bar's projection screen.
-- Jayna Johns
The Rattlers have lost only two games this season by a combined two points. One of those, however, was to the Rush in May, a 50-49 game that the Rush pulled out with a last-second field goal by Chris Gould.
"I'm sure there's a little bit of a revenge factor on their side because we went out and beat them (in front of) their home crowd, and they know what's at stake, too," head coach Bob McMillen said.
Keeping their minds on the task at hand and working to eliminate mistakes have been emphasized all week as the team prepared to face a tough team and a hostile crowd.
"We're just working on staying intense," said linebacker Kelvin Morris. "(We're) trying to stay focused and not messing up... We're kind of on edge, just coming out to practice being intense, keeping a level head, staying focused."
"(Arizona) is going to do what they've done all year," Raterink said. "They don't make very many mistakes so you can't make many mistakes… You want to stay within yourselves, and you control whatever you can control."
The Rush is coming off a 54-51 win in the opening round of the playoffs against the Dallas Vigilantes, a game in which they again came from behind in the final minutes to get the win -- a common occurrence all season.
"It's the character of every guy on the team. They always believe that they are never out of a football game no matter what the score is," said McMillen.
For two Rush players, this game may be their biggest of the year.
"This is our ArenaBowl game," said Morris, who played for the Rattlers last year along with fullback Johnie Kirton. "They've got Arizona on this pedestal saying nobody can beat them. We went to their house and beat them once before, and we think we're going to go down there and do it again."
McMillen said he believes the team is ready for the challenge.
"The guys worked really hard, they're focused, they're excited to go play," he said. "They're goal is right in front of them, and the only thing that stands in their way right now is Arizona."