SALT LAKE CITY — Trailing by eight points late in the fourth quarter, the Utah Blaze had an opportunity to potentially force overtime.
Deep into scoring position, Blaze quarterback Jason Boltus mishandled the exchange on third down, setting up fourth-and-difficult. With 11 seconds remaining, Boltus once again lost possession under center and within a glimpse the Blaze had lost to San Jose, 57-49, and lost any hopes of advancing to the AFL playoffs.
“On the last fumble, clearly the nose guard jumped the snap count,” Utah coach Ron James explained. “He hit the center before the ball even arrived. We’ve had that in other games. It happened to us at Arizona. It wasn’t called. End of game.”
With the loss, Utah is officially eliminated from postseason contention.
The turning point occurred late in the second quarter. The Blaze maintained a one-possession lead throughout the majority of the first half and were in position to take that advantage into the locker room with 40 seconds left. However, San Jose successfully gambled with an onside kick and ultimately secured a 34-28 lead at the break when Jason Willis scampered into the end zone.
“It’s right up there,” James said when asked where the loss ranks among Utah's difficult setbacks this season. “What we preach all the time is having an opportunity to win and we had the opportunity to at least tie the game and possibly win the football game. The fact that we weren’t able to do that in scoring position is systematic of where we’ve been offensively all year long."
Utah had an opportunity to flip the clock in its favor in the third quarter once again when Antwan Marsh picked off a deflected pass at midfield, but an illegal block in the back negated his pick-six. The Blaze then sputtered on four straight downs, allowing San Jose to extend its cushion to 41-28 with 48 seconds remaining in the third.
“The defense answered and we’ve got to convert it into points. We came up empty in the third quarter,” James said. “We lose the third quarter 7-0. The end of the game actually played out pretty well for us. We were in control of the clock and we had all of our timeouts left. We managed it well getting ourselves to tie the game and we would have gone for two to force overtime.”
Utah eventually pulled within two, 51-49, on AJ Jackson’s touchdown before the SaberCats responded with a Willis score.
“We got a little better because we had a more opportunities to score, but we still didn’t put points up on the board,” James said. “There’s not a great sense of urgency when we’re in a scoring position for some reason. We don’t focus enough. We try and simulate that in practice, but practice is a fraction of what it is in the game. It’s been an Achilles' heel for sure.”