Kyle Rowley tossed seven touchdown passes to Raul Vijil as the Spokane Shock defeated Jacksonville 67-57 in an AFL thriller Saturday night.
Vijil's seven TD receptions is one short of Antwone Savage's franchise record, set in 2007. The two connected three times in the fourth quarter alone as Spokane erased a 50-47 deficit.
The victory, Spokane's fourth in a row, could move the Shock into the top spot in next week's poll. Spokane entered the game No. 3 while Jacksonville was No. 1. Milwaukee was No. 2 and the Iron routed Dallas to improve to 6-2.
You can read my unedited game story below.
By Jim Meehan
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Four years have passed since Chris Siegfried coached arena football in Spokane, but what he witnessed Saturday night must have looked familiar.
Raul Vijil is still catching touchdown passes and Kyle Rowley is still throwing them. The two Spokane players connected for seven touchdowns, helping the third-ranked Shock outlast No. 1 Jacksonville 67-57 in an Arena Football League showdown watched by 10,460 at the Arena.
Spokane improved to 6-2 entering a bye week. The Shock are 1.5 games ahead of Arizona in the West Division. The Sharks dropped to 6-2.
Siegfried, currently the Sharks’ offensive coordinator, coached Spokane to the arenafootball2 title in 2006 with Rowley and Vijil playing key roles.
“They have a good offense,” Siegfried said. “Vijil has always been a great player and he didn’t disappoint tonight.”
Vijil finished with 11 catches for 130 yards. Rowley, despite absorbing some big hits from Jacksonville’s top-ranked defense, was 20 of 27 for 210 yards and eight touchdowns.
“They have a great pass rush and I think they have one of the top defenses in the league,” Rowley said. “The key was we knew what we were up against and we were prepared and we executed.”
Spokane took its first lead early in the third quarter on a Rowley-to-Vijil touchdown pass. The lead traded hands until Rowley tossed a 7-yard scoring pass to Vijil with 14:03 left, putting Spokane on top 53-50.
On Jacksonville’s ensuing possession, Kirby Griffin took a screen pass and made a nifty move to fake out two defenders before he was tackled by Alex Teems. The ball squirted loose as Griffin landed and Spokane’s Ben McCombs recovered near the dasherboards.
“The tide really turned when they gave the ball to Spokane on the play where the ground caused the fumble,” Siegfried said. “I have to see it on film, but it certainly looked like the ground caused it. We made more mistakes than Spokane. It’s a tough way to lose a game, with self-inflicted mistakes.”
Rowley fired another touchdown pass to Vijil to hike Spokane’s lead to 60-50 with 8:13 left. Jacksonville pulled within three on Griffin’s 1-yard touchdown run with 55.2 seconds remaining, but Spokane’s William Mulder snagged the ensuing onside kick. The last of Rowley’s seven TD passes to Vijil restored the Shock’s 10-point lead and Teems’ interception sealed Spokane’s fourth straight victory.
“When teams go man, we try to put our smaller guys in motion and let them run,” Rowley said. “The good thing is we have different types of receivers. In the red zone, Huey (Whittaker) can box guys out and go up high for the ball and when we’re backed up we can let our little guys fly and make plays.”
Jacksonville quarterback Aaron Garcia had six touchdown passes, but was picked off twice. The Sharks finished with three turnovers to Spokane’s one.
The 39-year-old Garcia, who played two seasons at Washington State University, had five TD passes in the first half as Jacksonville led 35-33. The difference was two missed PATs by Shock kicker Taylor Rowan, who came in with a 91-percent accuracy rate. The Shock trailed 14-0 midway through the first quarter after Jacksonville’s Dee Webb’s forced a Vijil fumble that the Sharks eventually converted into a touchdown.
But Vijil bounced back with three touchdown catches in the first half and Spokane showed its opportunistic side to keep pace with the Sharks. Linebacker Kevin McCullough, who intercepted 10 passes last season, made a one-handed snag of a Garcia pass and ran it back 7 yards for a score. Quorey Payne returned a kickoff 54 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter.
“It’s been a while,” a smiling McCullough said of his interception. “Alex Teems was talking to me earlier this week and gave me some good motivation. He said, ‘It’s going to come, just keep working hard and play like you practice and the plays will come your way.’ ”
Spokane visits Orlando on June 12.