San Jose Thwarts Chicago's Bid to Win Back to Back Arena Bowl Titles.

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) -- There was only one champagne bottle in the San Jose SaberCats' locker room, and that fit the spirit of the celebration.

The Arena Football League's most consistent winners were thrilled to reach another ArenaBowl, but they won't get really excited unless they can raise another championship trophy in two weeks.

Mark Grieb threw for 291 yards and six touchdowns, and the SaberCats advanced to their third title game in six seasons with a 61-49 victory over the defending champion Chicago Rush on Saturday.

Ben Nelson caught four TD passes, and James Roe had 10 catches for 108 yards for the top-seeded SaberCats (15-3), who won their 12th straight game and completed an unbeaten home season. But San Jose depended largely on its defense, which forced turnovers and a quarterback change for the beleaguered Rush (13-5).

"Everybody talks about offense in this sport, but the defense won the game for us," said Grieb, the SaberCats' dependable starting quarterback since 2000. "We played OK on offense, but our defense really got it done."

Rodney Wright had nine catches for 106 yards for the SaberCats, who will go for their third league title against surprising Columbus in the ArenaBowl in New Orleans on July 29. The sixth-seeded Destroyers (10-9) advanced from the National Conference with a 66-56 upset win over Georgia earlier Saturday.

Consistency is the SaberCats' hallmark under coach Darren Arbet. San Jose has made eight straight postseason appearances, playing among the league's final four teams in six of seven campaigns.

San Jose won ArenaBowl titles in 2002 and 2004, but Chicago beat the SaberCats 59-56 in last season's conference title game before going on to win its first championship. Chicago had won four straight in the Western Conference's most consistent rivalry -- and that didn't sit well with the SaberCats.

"Our guys wanted to play Chicago," Arbet said. "They were focused and played hard. And any time you can play in our building, as loud as it was today, I like our chances."

The SaberCats tied a team playoff record with four interceptions, limiting star Chicago receiver Bobby Sippio's effectiveness and forcing the Rush to bench starting quarterback Matt D'Orazio, who threw a career-worst three interceptions while nursing a sore back.

"He knew he was hurt, and we said all week that we've got to just get after him, get after him," said defensive back Marquis Floyd, who had two interceptions. "He couldn't really get it going."

Backup quarterback Russ Michna threw the first five touchdown passes of his career for the Rush, who made the AFL's fewest turnovers during the regular season. Sippio had 15 catches for 194 yards and five TDs, but Chicago fell irretrievably behind when San Jose scored 28 straight points in the first half.

Grieb played his usual solid game in the town where he went to high school. He came up smiling and waving after Chicago's Joe Peters pushed him over the boards on a scramble with 1:40 to play, shaking it off and hitting Nelson for one last score moments later.

Led by linebacker Phil Glover and a standout secondary, San Jose forced five turnovers -- a fumble, three interceptions and a turnover on downs -- and blocked a field goal attempt during Chicago's first six possessions. Rush coach Mike Hohensee then benched D'Orazio, who threw six TD passes in last season's conference final against San Jose.

"Once we got the pressure on him, that was it," said defensive back Clevan Thomas, who had San Jose's other two interceptions.

The SaberCats led 34-14 after scoring on their first possession of the second half, but fumbled at the goal line on their next possession. Chicago scored twice to pull within six points, but Grieb hit Wright with a 33-yard TD pass to open the fourth quarter.

San Jose's Julius Gant, a 314-pound lineman, then returned an onside kick for a touchdown with 5:50 to play.

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