Matt D'Orazio turned out to be one of the best insurance policies in Arena League history. Brought in as a backup quarterback before the season, he capped off an MVP season by leading the Philadelphia Soul to a championship.
D'Orazio threw seven touchdown passes and ran for another score as the Soul won its first ArenaBowl, beating defending champion San Jose 59-56 on Sunday.
Philadelphia scored on all six of its first-half possessions and took the lead for good with three consecutive touchdowns in the second quarter, then survived a frantic San Jose rally in the final minute to hold on in the 22nd ArenaBowl.
D'Orazio replaced injured starter Tony Graziani in the third game of the regular season and threw 72 touchdowns with only four interceptions the rest of the way. The Soul, which went 0-6 when Graziani was out of the lineup in 2007, finished with the best record in the league (13-3) behind D'Orazio.
He hooked up for three scores with wide receiver Chris Jackson, the offensive player of the year, against San Jose. Jackson finished with 146 yards on 11 catches, and D'Orazio threw for 302 yards. Both players earned the same awards for the ArenaBowl _ D'Orazio the MVP, Jackson the offensive player of the game.
"I just really wanted to have fun and keep a smile on my face the whole game and enjoy this," D'Orazio said. "Not everyone gets to do this, and I did."
San Jose, which hoped to become the first repeat champion since Tampa Bay in 1995-96, lost for the first time in four ArenaBowl appearances.
"Absolutely this stings," San Jose coach Darren Arbet said. "We came here expecting to win the game."
Philadelphia, in its fifth year, has become the league's marquee team thanks to rock-star owner Jon Bon Jovi and team president Ron Jaworski, an ESPN analyst and former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback.
"We felt like we could move the ball on San Jose," Jaworski said. "We felt the team that could get two or three stops would win the game."
San Jose scored touchdowns on its first three series, but Philadelphia made two key stops to turn a 20-14 deficit into a 34-20 advantage. The SaberCats turned the ball over on downs to stop one possession, and defensive back Eddie Moten picked off quarterback Mark Grieb on the next.
Grieb had tossed a league-high 18 interceptions during the regular season.
Philadelphia capitalized. Jackson tied the score at 20 on a 13-yard reception, Larry Brackins scored on a 20-yard catch on the Soul's next offensive play as Philadelphia went ahead 27-20, and D'Orazio scrambled for an 8-yard touchdown with 54 seconds left in the half.
Philadelphia extended a 37-27 halftime lead to 44-27 on Jackson's 32-yard touchdown catch and added a safety when Grieb fumbled into his own end zone.
That mistake, plus 11 penalties for 65 yards, slowed down San Jose for most of the day.
"We had chances," Grieb said. "We just made too many mistakes, and it cost us."
The Soul appeared to be in total control when Phil Bogle caught a touchdown pass to make the score 59-42 with 39 seconds left, but San Jose made the last half-minute interesting, scoring 16 points in 11 seconds with the help of a onside kick they caught on the hop and returned to the Philadelphia 14.
Philadelphia, which rallied from a 33-7 deficit on the road to beat San Jose 58-57 in the regular season, finally sealed the win by recovering a second onside kick.
San Jose's Rodney Wright set an ArenaBowl record with 13 catches, including seven in the first quarter. Jason Geathers, a linebacker subbing for injured wide receiver James Roe, added five touchdown receptions.
Philadelphia, which survived a replay review after scoring a touchdown on the final play of its Eastern Conference semifinal victory over New York, came out on the good end of all three reviews against San Jose. The league adopted the review system for the first time at the start of the playoffs.
The SaberCats challenged two calls that were upheld. Philadelphia challenged one call and got it overturned _ a wild play in the fourth quarter when Wright intercepted a pass off a botched field goal snap and fumbled at his 8-yard line. After ruling Wright down initially, referees reversed the call, and Philadelphia scored to go ahead 52-36 a few plays later.