The SaberCats' push for the playoffs continues Saturday night when they host the surprisingly hot New Orleans Voodoo.
Last week in Chicago, in a win-or-go-home matchup with the Rush, San Jose played mistake-free football for only the second time this season and came away with a 75-61 victory. With two games left this year, the SaberCats can clinch a playoff spot with a win and losses by Chicago and Spokane.
Here is what to watch for this week:
The New Orleans Voodoo come to the Cats' Lair riding a three game winning streak that vaulted them into first place in the American Conference South division. Led by a stingy defense that is a staggering 21 in turnover differential, they lead the AFL with 33 interceptions. That mark is also third best in league history. Their main ball thieves are Alvin Ray Jackson who has 12 interceptions, and Jeremy Kellem who has picked off nine.
On offense, quarterback Kurt Rocco has been a gunslinger throwing an average 303 yards per game. That is only bested by San Jose's own Mark Grieb (326), and Utahs Tommy Grady (340). Rocco is also seven touchdowns and 99 yards away from setting franchise records in both categories. He has a link to SaberCats history: Rocco was behind center for the Cleveland Gladiators last season in game that saw San Jose lose by 61 points, 82-21. The loss was not only a franchise worst but was also the second worst defeat in league history. In that game Rocco threw for 235 yards and seven touchdowns. San Jose knows this will not be a walk in the park Saturday night.
As Coach Darren Arbet said this week to Chris Townsend on SaberCats Weekly, Our playoffs started last week in Chicago, this is our second playoff game.
Mark Grieb is one touchdown pass away from 100 for the season. Grieb has never thrown for more that 100 in a season, and should do so by the end of Saturday nights game. The last two years Grieb has thrown 100 touchdowns (2007 & 2008), San Jose has ended up in the Arena Bowl. Grieb also needs 96 yards to surpass his AFL record of 5,312 passing yards, which he set last season. He is the only player in league history to set back-to-back 5,000 passing yard seasons.
Joe Sykes is still sitting a half sack away from setting the new single season sack record at 16. He is currently tied with teammate Gabe Nyenhuis who set the record of 15.5 sacks back in 2010 while with Tulsa.
Right Said Fred
A new threat for a team with many emerged last week in Chicago. With family and friends in attendance, rookie Fred Williams had arguably the best game ever by a San Jose SaberCat. Williams racked up 269 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns, along with a forced fumble and three solo tackles on special teams. He also scored three receiving touchdowns (on 11 catches for 164 yards) ran in another TD, and on his fifth and final kick return of the night filling in for an injured Rodney Wright, he took it 57 yards for a score. Having that kind of night gets you noticed as Williams was named AFL Ironman of the Week. Look for more of the same this week as he has helped San Jose with its depth during this long stretch of games.
Home Sweet Home
San Jose has two games left on a stretch of 17 straight games. The sliver lining is that they will be at home where they are 6-1. Last weeks win gave San Jose its ninth season of ten or more wins, second in league history only to Orlando's 11.
Since 2000, the SaberCats are No. 1 in most ten-win seasons -- despite not playing in 2009 -- and are an amazing 78-12 at home. If San Jose wins out and Arizona losses their remaining three games, the SaberCats will clinch the West Division and the No. 2 seed in the National Conference. Protect their home turf and San Jose will be in a prime position to play for an Arena Bowl Title.