SALT LAKE CITY - When you have a team desperate to win a game, desperate measures may be required.
Playing with a sense of urgency, the New Orleans VooDoo left the Utah Blaze desperate, searching for answers and the football as New Orleans downed Utah 72-57 at EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City Saturday night in a game heard on Rush Radio 99.5, WRNO and seen on Cox 4.
The VooDoo forced seven Blaze turnovers, including five interceptions, and committed none in a superlative performance.
The VooDoo trailed 14-7 through one quarter but a strong second quarter gave New Orleans a 34-28 halftime lead. The VooDoo extended the lead to 54-44 after three quarters. After Utah scored to cut the lead to 69-67 with 7:57 remaining, Kurt Rocco connected with Skyler Green on a 39-yard touchdown pass to make it 66-57. In the final minute, New Orleans put the game away when Gladel Brutus picked off a Michael Ward pass in the end zone and returned it 54 yards for a score.
In the tradition of Joe Namath, New Orleans Jack linebacker Alvin Ray Jackson lived up to his guarantee.
At halftime, Jackson gave a spirited speech to his teammates about how they were simply not going to lose. His teammates took note. Jackson made sure of his guarantee.
Jackson set a franchise record with three interceptions and led VooDoo with 4.5 tackles in a brilliant performance.
"We lost too much last year," said Jackson. "I just said we are not going to lose this game and we are not going to lose this season. This is a different year, a different team. I remember being here last year; going into the locker room with a lead and then leaving with a loss. I swore that would not happen this time. We won this one as a team. Now it is time to do it at home for our fans."
While the VooDoo defense took the ball away all night long, the VooDoo offense put the Blaze away with the precision passing of Rocco.
The New Orleans quarterback connected on 23-of-40 passes for 373 yards and nine touchdowns with no interceptions. He rushed for a tenth score and displayed toughness all night long. Rocco was sacked four times and hit frequently but he simply kept getting up and leading his team on scoring drives. Rocco now has 20 touchdown passes with just two interceptions on the season.
In fact, New Orleans had long drives for scores all night long, including drives of 12 plays, seven plays, four plays, five plays and five plays, dominating time of possession. New Orleans had the ball for 36:51 to just 23:09 for Utah.
Greg Ellingson had his second consecutive outstanding game, catching 11 passes for 167 yards and four touchdowns while L.J. Castile added six catches for 84 yards and three touchdowns.
In an extremely physical game, New Orleans, which entered the game shorthanded, fought off a slew of injuries to collect a big win. Ellingson injured a shoulder and played hurt much of the night. Rocco was shaken up several times but stayed in the game. Defensive back Jerron Wishom left the game with a groin injury and did not return.
That prompted a return to the origins of Arena Football.
For close to two decades, the AFL featured two-way performers, Iron-Man football. Josh Bush, who entered the game as the leading receiver for New Orleans, replaced Wishom at defensive back while continuing to take snaps on offense. Given that the VooDoo were playing at altitude, Bush turned in a gutsy, needed, excellent performance.
It was the first win for first-year VooDoo coach Pat O' Hara and he gave all of the credit to his players.
"This was truly a team effort," said O' Hara. "We fought through a lot of adversity to win. I can't tell you how proud I am of these guys. They did a great job."
The Salt Lake City Tribune had a game preview story on Saturday which stated that the Voodoo "shouldn't be quite as tough as the SaberCats (San Jose)--New Orleans has started out winless and has a defense that has struggled to make stops." The story added that "Utah's goal against New Orleans (0-2) Saturday night is to show it can win comfortably."
While the story lines came from the Tribune writer, the New Orleans coaches were aware of the thought process, providing a tad of motivation.
With the win, New Orleans moved to 1-2 on the season while Utah fell to 2-2. The VooDoo return home to host division rival Tampa Bay Friday night. Taking a cue from a holy day, a team called the VooDoo hope to make it a "Good Friday" for the home team, a team in search of its first home win since returning to New Orleans in 2011.
New Orleans won largely due to a linebacker who "jacked up" Utah and a quarterback who was solid as a "rock."
If the VooDoo can summon the kind of spirited, all-out effort given at Salt Lake City, it will be a good Friday, indeed.
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