SUNNYVALE -- The San Jose SaberCats have every reason to feel confident heading into Sunday's National Conference championship against the host Arizona Rattlers, with the winner advancing to the ArenaBowl.
But SaberCats coach/co-owner Darren Arbet, whose team crushed Arizona by 29 points on June 27, is keeping things in perspective.
"The regular season was the regular season, and now it's the playoffs," Arbet said. "It's a whole different tempo. They're the champions, and we have a great opportunity to play the champions."
Indeed, the top-seeded Rattlers have dominated the league for three years running, winning the last two ArenaBowl titles.
SaberCats fullback Odie Armstrong knows what it takes to win it all. He rushed for a combined 41 touchdowns for Arizona over the past two seasons before coming to San Jose.
"Everybody's anxious and ready to get going," Armstrong said. "We're tired of hearing how good Arizona is, and we want to show the world that we're the best team in this league."
The Pacific Division champion SaberCats (13-5), seeking their first ArenaBowl berth since 2008, looked like a champion in last weekend's 55-28 demolition of the Spokane Shock in the AFL quarterfinals. Conversely, Arizona, (15-3) which was 2-1 against San Jose this season, survived lowly Portland 52-48.
Arbet likes the completeness of his now-healthy team, which is thriving on offense, defense and special teams.
He said the Rattlers have the league's best quarterback in Nick Davila and the best coach in Kevin Guy, Arbet's former defensive coordinator in San Jose.
But the Rattlers limped into the playoffs, finishing the regular season 1-3, a slide touched off by a humbling 62-33 loss to the SaberCats in San Jose.
The SaberCats and Rattlers have met twice in the ArenaBowl and 44 times overall in their history, but never in a conference championship game.
Arizona aims to try to rattle San Jose rookie quarterback Nathan Stanley, who has completed 60 percent of his passes for 2,436 yards and 50 touchdowns in 15 games.
He's been pretty unflappable so far.
"There's always those nerves going into a semifinal game like this against a good team," Stanley said. "But you've just got to remind yourself that it's still football. You've just got go out and play. Don't get too high. Don't get too low."
Arbet loves his young gunslinger's attitude.
"The thing I like about Nate is it means a lot to him," Arbet said. "He's here early, stays late. The guys see that and they're following him right now. They want to give him an opportunity to show what he can do."
Wideout Reggie "Big Play" Gray, who was nicked up early in his debut season in San Jose, has taken it up a notch the past two weeks. His quickness inside the 10-yard line on pass plays is a unique quality. Plus, he's a game-breaker on special teams.
Along with Armstrong, San Jose's offensive line limited the Shock to no sacks, after Spokane led the league in that department. Arbet said the line is taking it "personally" to keep Stanley upright. "They're playing phenomenal right now," Stanley said of the line.
Jason Stewart had 31/2 sacks against the Shock, upping his season total to 121/2, second-best in the league. Stewart says the defense rises together.
"We always preach family before we break every huddle," Stewart said. "We hold each other accountable. We're brothers."
SaberCats at Arizona, 5 p.m. ESPN2