PORTLAND, Ore. -- It was a college tandem that ignited San Jose to a blowout win over Arena Football League newcomer Portland on Monday night, but it wasn't until backup quarterback Nathan Stanley took over that the SaberCats put the Thunder away in the 2014 opener for both teams.
The 64-34 drubbing was the way a team with title aspirations wanted to start. "We want to be known as a good football team," said SaberCats coach Darren Arbet. "We took care of business."
San Jose starting quarterback Russ Michna, who went through concussion tests on the sideline and didn't play in the second half, whistled a 15-yard touchdown pass to former college teammate Reggie Gray to get San Jose on the board in the first quarter after Portland scored on its first possession.
After a San Jose stop on defense, Michna found Rod Harper for a go-ahead touchdown on the next drive, and the SaberCats never looked back.
Michna was 12 for 16 for 166 yards and five touchdowns -- three to Gray -- in the first half but didn't return after halftime for precautionary reasons, Arbet said.
"He got dinged, but the doc said he was OK," Arbet said, adding that he wanted to "err on the side of caution."
The SaberCats didn't miss a beat, however, as rookie Stanley took over and promptly led San Jose on back-to-back scoring drives, pushing their lead to 50-27 when Stanley found Gray in the left corner of the end zone.
"I definitely didn't think I'd get in this early," said Stanley.
But Arbet had confidence: "I have a lot of faith in Nathan," he said.
Stanley finished 8 for 14 for 89 yards and three touchdowns.
Gray, who was the 2013 AFL Playmaker of the Year for Utah, joined the SaberCats in the offseason, once again teaming up with fellow Western Illinois University alum Michna. He finished with six catches for 102 yards and four touchdowns.
The Portland Thunder's inaugural AFL game had a promising start when former University of Oregon standout Darron Thomas marched the Thunder down the field against 2013's third-ranked AFL defense to put the Thunder up 7-0.
But it was a combination of Michna and Stanley's passing and the SaberCats defense -- particularly in the second half -- that proved too much for the rookie-laden Thunder to overcome. Portland has 16 first-year players on its roster.
For the SaberCats, it was a businesslike approach to begin a season the team hopes will culminate in the franchise's first AFL title since 2007.
The SaberCats play their home opener Sunday at 5 p.m. against the Philadelphia Soul.
Philadelphia (0-1) at SaberCats (1-0), 5 p.m.