By Matt Leon
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – For a second straight year, the Philadelphia Soul will play for an Arena Football League championship. They will take on the Arizona Rattlers in Arena Bowl XXVI on Saturday in Orlando.
The Soul captured the American Conference title last weekend, beating Jacksonville, 75-59, down in Florida.
It has already been quite the journey for the Soul here in 2013. Hopes were high for the team coming out of training camp, but the first half of the season was an inconsistent journey.
“We definitely were struggling the first half of the season for a number of reasons,” Soul head coach Clint Dolezel tells KYW Newsradio. “New players, quarterback not playing great, but since week #9 or #10 we’ve really turned it on, playing good football. Great chemistry where the guys are getting along. I think that’s the biggest factor as to why we’re winning.”
Arizona has proven to be kryptonite for the Soul. In addition to beating Philadelphia in last year’s Arena Bowl, the Rattlers swept a pair of meetings from the Soul during the regular season.
“They’re a good football team,” Dolezel says. “They don’t have any weaknesses. They don’t have one spot where they’re weak at. They’re very similar to us. It’s always good football games. We feel like we really got the best of them the last time we played them, but didn’t come out on top. That just shows you how good they are. When you play some great football and have a big lead like we did and kind of squander it at the end.”
That last meeting was a June 1st game at the Center which dropped the Soul to 5-5. Philadelphia blew a 15-point, fourth quarter lead in a game they lost, 64-57. It was after that game that the Soul started the run that has landed them a game away from a title.
“We kind of reeled off some games after that (won 9 of 10 since),” Dolezel says. “(We)realized, you know what, if that’s the best team in Arena Football, than we can play with anybody. And we’ve shown it since then.”
The Soul will leave for Orlando on Wednesday and Dolezel likes the mindset of his squad heading into the biggest game of the season.
“The guys are hungry,” Dolezel says. “We’ve got, I think 12 guys from last year’s team (that lost the Arena Bowl to Arizona). They remembered that bitter taste all off-season long. So a lot more focus this year it seems like.”
Philadelphia and Arizona will kick-off at 1:00pm on Saturday in Orlando.
You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattleonkyw