Photo: David McGregor. Georgia's Jerry Turner grabs Chicago's T.J. Watkins by the face as Referee Chris Snead tries to break them up during the Force's 51-41 loss to the Rush on Saturday night at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
DULUTH — Coming off a bye week rested and ready to lock down a possible playoff berth in the Arena Football League, the Georgia Force picked a bad time to play poorly in a 51-41 loss to the Chicago Rush on Saturday night in front of 9,723 fans at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
Georgia (9-7) now needs wins in its final two games — on the road next Saturday at Tampa Bay and July 23 at Iowa — to nail down a playoff spot.
Chicago, meanwhile, continued to roll as the Rush won for the seventh time in their last eight games to move to 12-4 on the season and remain in first place of the National Conference’s Central Division.
Chicago jumped out to a 28-14 lead at the end of the first quarter, thanks primarily to a great defense effort.
A Kelvin Morris interception eventually resulted in a 13-yard touchdown pass from J.J. Raterink to Charles Dillon to start the scoring for Chicago.
Morris then returned a fumble 12 yards for a score and Chicago was off and running with a 14-0 lead less than four minutes into the game.
It was a miserable night for Force starting quarterback Brett Elliott, who was picked off five times and only managed 10 completions on 20 attempts before being benched in the second half.
Elliott came into the game as the leader of the AFL’s fifth-best passing offense at 286.4 yards per game and was also sixth-best in passing efficiency (116.7) and passing TDs (88).
But the night didn’t start well as Chicago intercepted Elliott’s third pass of the game and he and the Force never recovered.
Elliott did connect with Alonzo Nix for 30 yards and Larry Shipp for 22 yards for the two Georgia scores. But the mistakes were too much to overcome as Chicago’s pass rush kept constant pressure on all night long.
After trailing 38-14 at the half, Georgia closed the gap to 38-21 on Eric Crosby’s 12-yard interception return for a TD early in the second half.
But Chicago came back with a Raterink-to-Reggie Gray 7-yard TD toss midway through the third quarter to give the Rush a 44-21 advantage.
Gray led Chicago with 11 catches for 113 yards and a TD.
Darnell Kennedy, who was 15 of 23 with two TDs on the season, came in for Elliott to start the second half and drove the Force down the field late in the third quarter.
But the sixth interception of the game — the second by Chicago’s Perry Kyles — stopped another drive and all but killed any hopes of a Force comeback.
Credit Kennedy, however, for hanging in there in the fourth quarter as the seldom used signal-caller threw for three TDs in the final 15 minutes — completing scoring passes to C.J. Johnson for 5 yards, Michael Johnson for 3 yards and Nix for 3 yards.
Kennedy finished the contest 15-for-25 with one interception.
C.J. Johnson led the Georgia receiving corps with 11 catches for 111 yards and a TD.
The Force did play the game without top receiver Maurice Purify, who had caught 123 passes for 1,525 yards and 43 TDs.
Purify signed this past week with the Omaha Nighthawks of the UFL and it showed as the Force couldn’t get the passing game going on a night when the stakes were high.