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Blaze were hot, cold

The Utah Blaze had plenty of ups and downs during their inaugural season. Here are some of the highlights — was well as some lowlights:

BEST WIN: Blaze 52, Colorado Crush 40 on April 21 in Denver.

Certainly, Utah's franchise-opening victory over San Jose on the road was significant — Blaze coach Danny White said it ranked right up there with his first ArenaBowl win with the Arizona Rattlers — but in pure shock value, the win at Colorado was bigger. The Crush, after all, are the defending ArenaBowl champs and were once again the best team in the American Conference this season. No one could have expected the Blaze to go to Denver and dominate.

WORST LOSS: Chicago Rush 84, Blaze 48 on May 6 in Rosemont, Ill.

There were other tough losses to swallow — like the game at home the Blaze lost despite scoring 81 points against the New York Dragons. But everything went wrong right from the start in the loss to Chicago at a time when both teams were fighting for playoff position. The Rush led 35-0 in the second quarter and coasted the rest of the way. It ended Utah's three-game winning streak and, ultimately, cost Utah a home game in the playoffs.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Offensive specialist Siaha Burley. Utah's No. 1 free agent acquisition proved to be worth every dollar. He caught 136 passes for an all-time single season league best 1,934 yards and 44 touchdowns. In the playoff game against his former Arizona Rattlers teammates, Burley caught six passes for 116 yards and two scores.

BEST QUOTE: "It's nice to have Andy's hands back under my lap."

— Hans Olsen, Blaze lineman

Olsen, Utah's starting center, also snapped the ball to Andy Kelly the previous season when they both were playing for the New Orleans VooDoo.

BEST RELIEVER: Quarterback Andy Kelly

The AFL veteran found himself unemployed after being cut by the Kansas City Brigade at midseason, only to be quickly picked up by the struggling Blaze, losers of four straight after Joe Germaine's injury. Kelly was immediately thrown into the starting lineup and he led the team to three consecutive wins and four wins in his six games with the team.

WORST LUCK: Quarterback Jason Gesser

The AFL rookie was forced to start four games for the Blaze after Germaine's injury and prior to Kelly's arrival. The Blaze lost all four games.

But it certainly wasn't all Gesser's fault. He struggled in his first start — throwing five interceptions against Grand Rapids — but was pretty solid in his three other games. Gesser probably played well enough for Utah to have won two of the games, only to have minor breakdowns cost the Blaze in narrow losses. Gesser completed 61.4 percent of his passes with 23 touchdowns and only seven interceptions.

MOST PRODUCTIVE 13 SECONDS: Utah scored three — count 'em, three — touchdowns in the final 13 seconds of the second quarter in their 84-81 loss to the Dragons. Utah had a touchdown pass followed by two straight kickoffs recovered in the end zone for the scoring explosion.


E-mail: lojo@desnews.com