Hunkie Cooper has spent enough time in the Arena Football League to have a sense when his Arizona Rattlers are going right.
So he didn’t hesitate when asked Saturday night, after the Rattlers’ 80-63 victory over Las Vegas, if it was too early to tell if his team was finally ready for a playoff run.
"It’s not too early, it’s too late (for us)," Cooper said. "We don’t have a choice."
The Rattlers (5-5) have made it to .500. With six games remaining, losses are an unaffordable luxury.
But Arizona might not have to worry about losses if they can torch teams like they did on Saturday. The Rattlers scorched an opponent for which they have little fondness, totaling a season high in points.
It wasn’t perfect. Coach Danny White was disappointed in the multiple easy touchdowns the Gladiators (3-7) were able to score, forcing the Rattlers to pile up points themselves.
"That’s nerve-wracking for (our) offense," White said.
Las Vegas receiver Marcus Nash was dominant, tying an AFL record with seven touchdown receptions among his 15 catches for 145 yards. Gladiators quarterback Clint Dolezel threw nine TD passes without an interception, completing 29-of-37 passes.
But Rattlers quarterback Sherdrick Bonner also had nine TD passes in a game White said was among the finest Bonner has played.
Five different Rattlers caught TD passes, including rookie Justin Taplin’s first. And Cooper’s five catches gave him 23 receiving yards, helping him become the second AFL player ever with 20,000 total yards.
Cooper has 20,002 yards, 478 behind retired George LeFrance.
The defense did just enough. They forced a fumble on the opening kickoff, and later had a fourth-down stand inside the Arizona 5. The swing was plenty for the Rattlers’ in-sync offense.
The other storyline of the game — former Rattlerturned-Gladiator Maurice Bryant, who ripped the team and Cooper recently — never materialized because Bryant sat out with an injury.
Bryant engaged in some good-natured trash-talking at the end of the game with some of the 12,641 fans in attendance at America West Arena, repeatedly saying "I didn’t play, I didn’t play."
Many Rattlers were itching for Bryant.
"There is a little animosity," said Arizona receiver Randy Gatewood, who had three TDs. "But . . . we came out on top, and that’s the No. 1 goal."