PHOENIX -- The SaberCats had to make up for a couple of early miscues and couldn't stop the rival Arizona Rattlers with a berth in the Arena Football League championship game on the line.
The SaberCats never did stop Arizona in falling 72-56 on Sunday in the National Conference final.
With the win, the Rattlers (17-3) will return to the ArenaBowl for the fourth consecutive year. They have won the title the last two seasons and have eliminated San Jose three years in a row.
"Just didn't get it done tonight; starts with me, and I take full responsibility for it," SaberCats coach Darren Arbet said. "They beat us in every phase of the game tonight. They deserve a shot to defend their title."
San Jose (14-6) was stopped on its first possession and had an interception on its third, and the defense couldn't stop a near-perfect Arizona, which scored on all 11 possessions, all but one being touchdowns.
The SaberCats fell behind 58-35 late in the third after a drive stalled at the Arizona 21. Russ Michna was sacked three times on the possession, once when he was tripped by his own lineman, and twice by the Rattlers defense, the second by Anttaj Hawthorne as Michna tried to scramble on a fourth-down play.
San Jose got within 65-49 and was driving when Michna fumbled with 2:08 left at the Arizona 19, ending any last-minute hopes before 8,581 at the US Airways Center.
"There's a reason they have been in that situation for four years in a row now," Michna said.
Michna replaced starter Nathan Stanley after Stanley threw an interception late in the first quarter that led to Arizona going up by two scores with 2:23 left in the opening period.
"We were trying to change some things up and see what we could do to get a shot in the arm and see if we could get something going," Arbet said.
Arizona faces the Cleveland Gladiators on Aug. 23 in the ArenaBowl. Cleveland beat Orlando 56-46 earlier Sunday.
The Rattlers got some revenge for the SaberCats' 62-33 rout on June 27 after Arizona had started the season 14-0.
Michna, playing for the first time since May 31 after a collarbone injury, completed 57 percent of his passes for 269 yards and six touchdowns.
The SaberCats were looking for their first ArenaBowl berth since 2008, when they lost to Philadelphia.
San Jose sputtered at the outset, when Stanley had his foot stepped on by a lineman and he fell on a fourth-down play. The SaberCats got in a deeper hole when Kerry Reed leapt high for a one-handed interception of Stanley at the Arizona 18.
The SaberCats tried to make up for the early mistakes with an onside kick that kicker Nich Pertuit recovered himself near the end of the first half. But on first down at midfield, Michna threw an interception to Marquis Floyd at the Arizona goal line. The Rattlers drove for a score to take a 42-28 lead at the break.