With an emphatic whipping unsurpassed in franchise history, the Arizona Rattlers are back in the playoffs after a one-year absence.
The Rattlers clinched a postseason berth by shredding the Las Vegas Gladiators, 75-28, at US Airways Center Friday night, the 47-point margin of victory a team record.
Arizona had lost two straight games in its quest to clinch a playoff spot. But with one game left in the regular season, the Rattlers (8-7) now know they will host their first playoff game, and still have a slim chance of winning the Western Division.
“(The playoffs) are something for a while we took for granted around here,” quarterback Sherdrick Bonner said. “Then last year (missing the postseason) and this year, putting ourselves in that position to almost have the rug pulled out from under us, it’s just good to get this win.”
Bonner, who might have played his final regular-season home game as he considers retirement, was as sharp as he had ever been. He threw only 13 passes, but completed 11 (one incompletion was a drop) for 187 yards and seven touchdowns before sitting down late in the third quarter.
Receiver/defensive back Randy Gatewood had five catches for 68 yards and four touchdowns, in addition to running in a fumble for a touchdown. Offensive specialist Damien Groce, benched the previous week against Dallas, had five catches for 111 yards and three touchdowns, all in the first half.
Defensively, linebacker Wilson Thomas picked off two passes, including one on the last play of the first half that he returned 27 yards for a touchdown. The score capped a Rattlers’ outburst of three touchdowns in the final 27 seconds of the second quarter.
The Rattlers also set a franchise record with their 47 points in the first half, leading 47-14 at the break.
“I just think we got into a zone and we started clicking,” Thomas said. “Some games it happens like that.”
The Rattlers’ previous record margin of victory was 43 points, a 69-26 pounding of Las Vegas in the same building during a first-round playoff win in 2003. The regular-season record 42 points had been accomplished three times in franchise history.
“I don’t keep track of that kind of stuff,” coach Gene Nudo said. “To worry about Sherdrick’s last game possibly at home, or whatever distractions, we put all that on the back burner.
“I think they had a lot of fun.”