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Shock, Burn set for showdown

It’s been an interesting week of build-up to Saturday’s Spokane-Boise playoff game. Both sides traded barbs in newspapers, but the game finally takes center stage.

Read my unedited advance below.

 


By Jim Meehan

Staff writer

Two weeks ago, Spokane and Boise met to close the arenafootball2 regular season with nothing to gain in the standings or playoff seedings. The teams nevertheless waged an entertaining, full-throttle contest won by the Shock 56-51.

They collide again tonight at the Arena with a berth in the National Conference championship on the line. The top-ranked and top-seeded Shock (16-1) need a win to continue pursuit of their third ArenaCup appearance in four years. Fourth-seeded Boise (13-4), fresh from the first playoff win in its three-year history, is searching for its first victory against the Shock.

Spokane leads the all-time series 8-0, three of those wins coming this season.

“We knew it could come down to this,” Shock receiver Raul Vijil said. “We beat them in a couple of close games and they’re going to want to beat us pretty bad. It’s become a little bit physical, a little yelling back and forth.”

Facing fourth-and-goal at the Shock 3, Boise backup quarterback Mark Thorson was intercepted by Kevin McCullough with 53 seconds left, preserving Spokane’s road win two weeks ago. Spokane also won 64-62 in Spokane and 63-45 in Boise before the midpoint of the season.

“This is two teams that fought for the (West) division title all year,” Shock coach Adam Shackleford said. “They’re well coached and they do things well in all three phases. They obviously made the right decision in hiring coach (Brent) Winter. He’s taken them to another level. To secure a spot at the next level, they need to beat us.”

Both teams will have the benefit of a standout player that missed the game two weeks ago. Vijil attended a wedding while Boise defensive back/return specialist Terrance Sanders didn’t play after participating in an NFL tryout.

Vijil had 1,415 yards receiving and 36 touchdown catches in the regular season and was named first-team All-af2 for the second straight year. Sanders, who made af2’s All-Ironman team, had seven interceptions and scored 10 touchdowns on returns (seven via kickoffs, one on a missed field goal, one on a fumble and one on an interception).

“Sanders is their middle defensive back and he definitely makes them a better team,” Shackleford said. “And we’re a better team when Raul is on the field.”

The Burn forced eight turnovers and dismantled Arkansas 77-36 a week ago. Thorson was a winner in his first start after passing for 149 yards and five touchdowns with two interceptions. He took over when Taylor Tharp injured his shoulder in the second half of the Spokane game.

“(Thorson) likes to get the ball out really quick,” McCullough said. “The starter would hang on to it and let plays happen. We’ll have to make some adjustments. Really, we just want to get pressure on him.”

One of Spokane’s priorities is containing return specialists Sanders and Jomo Wilson. Two of Wilson’s three kick returns for touchdowns came against the Shock in the last meeting. Wilson is also the team’s leading receiver with 92 catches.

“Jomo is the best we’ve seen all year, but Terrance has more touchdowns,” Shackleford said. “Our goal is to tackle Jomo and Terrance. If we do that, then all the pressure is on Thorson to lead his team down the field.”

Notes

Boise signed former Everett and Tri-Cities defensive end Johnny Jackson.  He’s expected to play tonight. … Spokane has some bumps and bruises, but everyone is available. “We had our best week of practice all year. Our health is good and the energy level is terrific,” Shackleford said. … Montrell Jones has been added to the Shock roster, but won’t play tonight. … Plenty of tickets are available, including some in the 100 (lower) level.

 


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Jim Allen (@srjimallen) Sports reporter Jim Allen's primary coverage areas are Eastern Washington University football and men's basketball, and college and high school soccer. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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