Arizona Rattlers QB Drew Powell back to MVP form, heading into season's biggest game

Rattlers quarterback Drew Powell (1) takes the field against the Wranglers during a game at Footprint Center in Phoenix on May 20, 2023.

It's the biggest game of the season. A showdown at home with first-place Bay Area Panthers. And it's time for Drew Powell to make a statement.

The Rattlers quarterback was hampered in the early-season meeting in San Jose, where he fractured a bone in his hand in the third quarter and was limited the rest of the game in a 47-46 loss. It was Bay Area's first game and jump-started them to go 7-3 to this point and in first place in the Western Conference of the Indoor Football League.

Meanwhile, the two-time reigning MVP was out for the next six weeks, and the Rattlers have had to scramble out of a 2-4 hole to get to 6-4.

With Powell looking like his MVP self the last two weeks, the Rattlers (6-4) are ready to strike revenge Sunday when they play host to the Dalton Sneed-led Panthers in Footprint Center with first place on the line.

"I know they're a physical football team," Powell said. "I know they're going to be coming to play. I know the last game, they were ready for us."

Despite the injury, Powell stayed in the game against Bay Area and scored on a 17-yard run with 23 seconds to play to pull within a point. But on the two-point try, Powell was smothered and his pass intended to running back Jager Gardner had no chance.

Game over.

The Rattlers have shown in recent weeks they can come up clutch down the stretch.

A defensive touchdown with four seconds left gave the Rattlers a 53-46 win at Tulsa on April 29. But that was followed by a one-point loss at the Vegas Knight Hawks, Powell's first game back from the injury. Powell threw an interception on the Rattlers' last drive in that game.

Since then, the Rattlers have won three consecutive games, starting with a 60-34 home rout of Northern Arizona, followed by a 63-39 payback win at home against Vegas, then 63-62 double-overtime win over Northern Arizona last week in Prescott Valley.

In that last win, Powell's only turnover was caused by a referee that got tangled up and trying to brace himself stuck his hand out, which popped the ball loose from Powell. All good. Powell ended up rushing for three touchdowns, giving him the franchise record for all-time TDs with 82. He also threw five TD passes. And his two-point conversion run in the first overtime forced NAZ to do the same thing. Powell won it in the second OT with a scoring run that was followed by Shane McInerney's game-winning extra point.

The Rattlers' defense will be challenged by the dual threat Sneed, who set Phoenix Horizon High School passing records. Sneed has passed for 1,461 yards and 32 TDs with only three interceptions, completing 67% of his passes. He has run for 351 yards and 10 scores.

"He's a tough kid," coach Kevin Guy said. "He's having a good year. They're running an offense that he understands. They do a good job of putting their players in a position to make plays."

In the six games Powell has played this year, he has 15 rushing TDs and a league-best 6.6 yards a carry. He has thrown for 23 TDs with two interceptions, completing 66% of his 128 passing attempts.

"This game excites me, being able to play against these guys," Powell said. "Just the attention to detail that they have. They're different from a lot of other teams in this league. It will be a fun challenge for us."

Coach Kevin Guy has been on his team hard during this three-game winning stretch, making every game a must win.

He is facing coach Dixie Wooten, whom he hired, along with his wife Cathy, when they became co-owners of the Tucson Sugar Skulls. Wooten, who has won championship at Iowa, the last one coming when he had Powell has his quarterback, always has his teams play their best against the Rattlers.

"Dixie always does a good job," Guy said. "It's going to be a tough game. We need to keep the focus on us. We need Rattler Nation to have a lot of energy in the building. This is going to have a lot of implications for the playoffs. We need to make sure we're dialed in and ready to go."

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Rattlers QB Drew Powell back to MVP form heading into Bay Area showdown