SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Blaze hardly looked underdogs Saturday night at EnergySolutions Arena, handling first-place Jacksonville 62-55.
On the shoulders of new quarterback Jason Boltus, the Blaze controlled the game from the opening kickoff until the final minute.
Utah coach Ron James decided to pull starter and former AFL MVP Tommy Grady in favor of Boltus just prior to the game.
“(Tommy Grady) was throwing too many interceptions — giving up two possessions per game — and we can’t afford that,” James said about the switch at quarterback. “Boltus, like (Grady), is well-respected by our team and he does everything. ... Our team rallied around the fact that he was going to get the chance to show what he could do.”
Boltus finished 20 of 35 for 240 passing yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions. He also rushed the ball six times for 31 yards and a touchdown.
Things started and ended well for the Blaze in the first half. A Boltus quarterback sneak and a key turnover on downs by Jacksonville deep in its own territory provided Utah with a 14-0 lead with 9:56 left in the first quarter.
The teams traded scores until the final minutes of the second quarter when the Blaze again capitalized on the Sharks turning it over on downs — this time with 1:20 remaining. Boltus marched Utah down the field, eventually finding Braylon Bell in the end zone from 19 yards out with just 9.9 seconds left to give his team a commanding 42-20 lead entering halftime.
Boltus finished the half going 10-18 for 144 yards and four touchdowns with Bell adding three receptions for 88 yards and two touchdowns. But the difference was the 3-1 turnover margin.
“Our defense has been playing lights out for a number of games and we finally got the offense to respond,” James said. “(Turnovers were) the difference in the first half.”
Utah kept Jacksonville at bay for most of the second half and appeared to all but put the game on ice, driving deep into Shark territory at the start of the fourth quarter up 48-34. However, a Boltus interception led to a Shark score and a precarious 48-41 lead with just under eight minutes remaining.
Boltus responded immediately — engineering a two-play scoring drive that was topped off with a 14-yard completion to Bell to make the score 55-41 with 5:41 left to play.
Following a Jacksonville score and failed onsides kick, Boltus again saw his team into the end zone — connecting with Mario Urrutia from 4 yards out to give his team a 62-48 lead with 57 seconds remaining. The Sharks managed another touchdown with just eight seconds left, but an errant onsides kick caused them to come up short.
“It’s a good win for us and good for our young players to show them that if they play together that they can beat anybody,” James said. “We have a lot of football to play and we know our window of opportunity is closing … but we also recognize that every game is its own entity and that anything can happen.”
Kyle Rowley led the Sharks with 24-40 passing for 306 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions.
Win the win the Blaze improve to 5-7 on the year and will now hit the road to take on the Spokane Shock on June 21.