LAS VEGAS -- The Chicago Rush took a page out of the
Pittsburgh Steelers' book.
Matt D'Orazio passed for six touchdowns and ran for two more,
and the Rush completed an unlikely run to the Arena Football League
championship Sunday by beating the Orlando Predators 69-61 in the
The Rush won three straight road playoff games to reach the
ArenaBowl -- just as the Steelers did last winter before beating
Seattle to win the Super Bowl.
After losing six of seven games at one point, it appeared the
Rush would miss the playoffs. But they won three of their final
four to qualify before their triumphant postseason run.
The Rush celebrated their first championship in six years of
existence in a sea of confetti at midfield of the Thomas & Mack
Center, where a crowd of 13,476 watched the second-highest scoring
It was also the first title for Mike Hohensee, who has played or
coached in the AFL in each of its 20 years. He has been a head
coach for 13 seasons, including six with the Rush.
Hohensee threw the league's first touchdown pass for the
Pittsburgh Gladiators in 1987, and played in the first ArenaBowl.
He hadn't been back since.
Mike Ditka, who coached the Bears to a Super Bowl victory
following the 1985 season, is a member of the Rush's ownership
Orlando coach Jay Gruden, younger brother of Tampa Bay Bucs coach Jon Gruden, failed in his quest to win a seventh
ArenaBowl championship. He entered having won four as a player and
two as a coach.
D'Orazio completed 26 of 36 passes for 250 yards. Bobby Sippio
had 10 receptions for 110 yards and three touchdowns, and DeJuan
Alfonzo caught eight for 61 yards and one TD.
Orlando's Joe Hamilton completed 23-of-35 for 291 yards and six
touchdowns. Javarus Dudley caught 10 for 117 yards and four TDs and
Jimmy Fryzel had 10 receptions for 98 yards and one score.
The Rush led 55-34 following a 31-yard touchdown pass from
D'Orazio to Sippio early in the fourth quarter.
Jake Eaton relieved Hamilton after the Orlando starter was
shaken up, and threw an 11-yard TD pass to Fryzel. Hamilton
returned to the game and scored on a 5-yard run with 4 minutes
left, but that was as close as the Predators would get.
Each team scored twice in the last two minutes.
D'Orazio scored on a 5-yard quarterback draw on the first
scrimmage play of the second half -- after Russell Shaw recovered
Chicago's kickoff deep in Orlando territory.
The Predators moved to the Chicago 8 before Dennison Robinson
picked off a pass by Hamilton in the right flat and, doing his best
Deion Sanders impression, returned it 44 yards for a touchdown to
make it 48-28.
It was Robinson's second interception return for a TD in the
Hamilton threw a 45-yard touchdown pass to Dudley before Jay
Taylor missed the conversion. He would miss another after
Hamilton's TD run.
D'Orazio scored on a 1-yard sneak and Dan Frantz added a 23-yard
field goal to give the Rush an early 10-0 lead.
Orlando, playing in a record seventh ArenaBowl, was blanked in
the opening quarter for the first time, but scored four touchdowns
in the second period. However, they trailed by six points at
halftime because the Rush put up 24 points in the quarter.
Hamilton threw touchdown passes of 4 and 7 yards to Dudley and a
30-yarder to a wide-open DeAndrew Rubin, and Khalil Carter matched
an ArenaBowl record by running 36 yards for another score.
D'Orazio teamed up with Etu Molden on a 24-yard scoring play,
and threw scoring passes of 3 and 8 yards to Sippio -- the latter
with 6 seconds left before halftime.
Taylor missed a 38-yard field goal before Frantz connected from
51 yards away for the second-longest field goal in ArenaBowl
history on the last play of the half. He also kicked field goals on
the final play of the half in Chicago's previous three playoff
The Predators, who reached the playoffs a record-tying 15th
straight time, beat Chicago 55-27 at Orlando in their
regular-season meeting April 2, holding the Rush to one touchdown
in the second half.