The San Jose SaberCats took the field Friday Night in Chicago trying to defend a 2-0 record and the No. 1 ranking in the AFL. The 2-0 Chicago Rush wanted to improve on the No. 3 ranking they entered the game with. As time expired, the SaberCats head home to lick their wounds as the Rush won going away, 54-41.
The game looked like a heavyweight boxing match for most of the first half. The teams delivered blows to one another and neither team looked comfortable. Many miscues and penalties kept either team from getting into rhythm.
After scoring on their first possession, the Rush had a bad snap on the extra point attempt which ended with the SaberCats intercepting a desperate throw and returning it for a two-point conversion, cutting the Rush lead to 6-2.
The SaberCats tried to keep the dominating defensive line at bay by running short passes and many screens. The first offensive drive for San Jose was capped by a tackle eligible screen for a touchdown giving the SaberCats their first lead at 8-6, the extra point attempt was missed.
The Rush struggled on their next possession and missed a 37-yard field goal attempt giving the SaberCats the ball back and they turned it into a touchdown on Chad Cook's run giving the SaberCats a 14-6 lead, extra point missed again. The Rush and SaberCats exchanged touchdowns before Russ Michna hooked up with Reggie Gray to cut the lead to 21-20.
The momentum finally started to point to the Rush as they stopped San Jose as time ran out of the first half keeping the score 21-20, and it was the first defensive stop for the Rush defense.
The third quarter was then dominated by the Rush. It started with the defense, forcing the SaberCats to turn the ball over on downs as a tremendous push into the face of San Jose QB Mark Grieb by defensive lineman Mark Weivoda caused the ball to sail over the head of the intended receiver. The very next play Michna hooked up again with Gray to give the Rush a 26-21 lead, one that they would not give back.
Weivoda and the defensive line again put great pressure on Grieb, causing a poor throw and a great interception by Jason Simpson. Michna followed that up with an unintentional fumble rooskie play for a touchdown giving the Rush a commanding 33-21 lead. The Rush ended the third with an interception by Vic Hall and a 40-28 lead.
The SaberCats tried to keep it close, getting a defensive touchdown and a touchdown pass cutting the Rush lead to 47-41.
The ball control offense then went on a five minute, 30 second drive (very long in AFL terms) capped off by a Johnnie Kirton touchdown run on fourth down stretching the lead back to 54-41. The defense stopped the SaberCats on their final drive, ended by Simpson's second interception after another unstoppable pass rush by Weivoda and company.
The defense once again proved that it is capable of controlling the game and the offense was the best they have been all season. Michna is getting comfortable with his wideouts and that is going to make the rest of the league worry about the best team in the AFL, the Chicago Rush.