Blaze to Battle South Division Leader
SALT LAKE CITY – Following a successful road trip, the Utah Blaze (9-5) returns home looking to build on a three-game winning streak against the South Division leading Georgia Force (7-7). Kickoff from Tim Dahle Field at EnergySolutions Arena is scheduled for 7:00 PM MT on Saturday, June 23rd.
Utah retained its status as the fourth and final playoff team after a dramatic last-minute triumph over the Spokane Shock. The 58-55 victory gives the Blaze nine wins on the season, tying as the most in franchise history with four games remaining on the schedule. Meanwhile, the Force suffered a 62-27 defeat at the hands of the Chicago Rush. Despite the loss, Georgia remains in first place in the American Conference’s South Division.
The Blaze passing attack continues to pace the Arena Football League (334.7 ypg) behind QB Tommy Grady, who is now just eight scores shy of setting the all-time single-season mark for touchdown passes. The six-foot-seven gunslinger has tossed an unprecedented 110 touchdowns on the year to shatter the previous franchise record.
Grady always has a dangerous corps of receivers at his disposal, including WR Aaron Lesue, who leads the AFL with 47 touchdown receptions on the year. WR Tysson Poots has emerged as a big, physical receiving threat, and has recorded 44 receptions for 451 yards and 12 scores over the past three contests. Last but certainly not least, WR Shaun Kauleinamoku gives the Blaze a fleet-footed wideout who is capable of changing a game both with his receiving skills and his prowess as a kickoff returner.
That group will go head-to-head with one of the AFL’s most effective secondary units, as Georgia has allowed just 253.9 aerial yards per games to place fourth in the League. The Force also features the AFL’s second-best scoring defense, surrendering a mere 50.2 points per contest. Georgia has a knack for getting its hands on the football and ranks third in the AFL with 25 interceptions on season. Utah must limit turnovers in order to achieve its usual level of offensive success.
“Georgia has a ball hawking defense,” said President & Head Coach Ron James. “We have to be efficient on offense and make the most of our opportunities this week.”
What was once Utah’s biggest weakness has rapidly transformed into one of its strengths. The Blaze defense continues to forge a remarkable turnaround and has given up just over 42 points per game during its last three contests. That bodes well for Utah, as Georgia employs the AFL’s 15th-ranked scoring offense (44.4 ppg) and passing offense (231.1 ypg). Blaze DB William Mulder has the hot hand in the secondary, having registered two interceptions over the past two weeks.
“We have been improving defensively over the past few weeks,” said James. “Georgia has a strong receiver corps and a very solid quarterback. We will need a tremendous effort from our defensive front to apply pressure to their offense.”
On special teams, Georgia boasts one of Arena Football’s top kickoff returners in C.J. Johnson. Johnson has already returned three kickoffs for touchdowns, and places fourth in the League with an average of 21.9 yards per attempt. Utah constantly stresses the importance of special teams and will need a disciplined performance from its coverage unit to take the advantage this week.
“The strength of their special teams unit has certainly been their kickoff return. They have been able to consistently gain good field position based on their returns. Limiting C.J. Johnson has been problematic for most teams this year.”
The Utah Blaze vs. Georgia Force will air live in high definition on KUTV (channel 2) and in standard definition on KMYU (Dish/DirecTV channel 12, Comcast channel 22) beginning at 7:00 PM MT. As always, Mychal Clanton (play-by-play), Kevin White (color commentary), and Dave Fox (sideline reporting) will call all the action!
You can also view the game online through the Arena Football League’s exclusive partnership with Ustream, the leader in live and interactive video streaming. Visit www.UTBlaze.com/LIVE to stream the game live and at no cost! Game coverage can be heard in the Salt Lake City area on The Zone 1280 AM/97.5 FM, the radio home of the Utah Blaze.
PHOTO CREDIT: Al Walters
ABOUT THE BLAZE
The Utah Blaze (9-5) returns home to Tim Dahle Field at EnergySolutions Arena on Saturday, June 23rd to take on the Georgia Force. Tickets are still available for purchase by calling 1-888-99BLAZE, or online at www.utblaze.com. Follow the Utah Blaze on Facebook (facebook.com/utahblaze) and Twitter (@utblaze) for all the latest news and updates.