There is no such thing as a sure thing in arena football, as Spokane found out the hard way Saturday night.
Spokane blew a 13-point lead — with possession of the ball — in the final minute. The result: The Shock lost a game it seemingly had won as Orlando pulled out an 83-82 victory at the Arena.
My unedited game story is below.
By Jim Meehan
An Arena Football League game that had the look of an easy Spokane victory turned into a nightmare loss.
The Shock had possession of the ball and a 13-point lead with less than 1 minute remaining, but a turnover and the inability to recover an onside kick allowed Orlando to pull out a stunning 83-82 victory in front of 8,370 Saturday night at the Arena.
Spokane (5-3) dropped its third straight, and this one had to rank among the most disappointing in franchise history. Orlando improved to 2-5.
“This is the worst feeling ever, losing on a last-second play,” Spokane receiver Adron Tennell said. “We had it. We had the lead and we just gave it up at the end.”
Spokane, leading 82-69, seemed to secure the win when it made a defensive stop with 53.5 seconds left. The Shock turned it over on the next play as Jeffrey Solomon lost control of an Erik Meyer pass and the ball was gathered in by Predators’ defensive back Travis Coleman.
“If we had ran it, they had three timeouts and we had to get a first down to win the game,” Shock coach Andy Olson said. “They played off man. It was the easiest thing in the world to throw a quick four-yard route, catch the ball and go to your knees. It’s about as basic as gets in this game. That’s a catch that’s made 99 percent of the time.”
Orlando quarterback Aaron Garcia found Jason Geathers for a 15-yard touchdown pass, trimming Spokane’s lead to 82-76 with 28.7 seconds left. Spokane had a couple of chances to recover the onside kick but the ball was pulled in by Coleman at Orlando’s 11-yard line.
“I swear I had (the ball) underneath on the ground,” Tennell said. “Doesn’t the ball go to the offense if you (both) get it at the same time? We both had it, but the refs gave it to him.”
Garcia zipped a 5-yard scoring pass to T.T. Toliver and Mark Lewis’ PAT gave Orlando its first lead of the game with 5.7 seconds left. Kenny Spencer’s 44-yard field goal sailed wide right as time expired.
Garcia, who tossed five interceptions against the Shock as a member of the San Jose SaberCats three weeks ago, passed for 442 yards and 11 touchdowns with no interceptions. Toliver had 18 catches for 251 yards and six scores.
“He’s one of the best in the game,” Olson said. “You give a guy like that any sort of momentum and that’s what he’s going to do to you. We didn’t put enough pressure on him. I don’t know if we touched him in the second half.”
Spokane’s offense scored on all seven first-half possessions. Terrance Sanders returned a kick for a touchdown and also set up another score with a return to Orlando’s 1-yard line. Defensive lineman Terrance Taylor pounced on a fumble in the end zone – one of Orlando’s two botched center-quarterback exchanges – to put Spokane up 48-27 midway through the second quarter.
The Shock drained all but seven seconds off the clock before Meyer’s 4-yard touchdown run, giving Spokane a 62-41 halftime lead. The 103 points set an AFL record for combined points in a half.
Spokane seemed to lose momentum when a third-quarter drive stalled inside Orlando’s 5-yard line. Spencer’s 24-yard field goal attempt hit the right upright and the Predators took advantage. Garcia’s touchdown pass made it a one-possession game.
“We’ve given all three of them away,” Olson said of the team’s three losses, “but that one is by far the worst.”
Meyer finished with seven touchdown passes, four to Tennell and two to Solomon.
Spokane entertains New Orleans (1-6), a 62-16 loser to Iowa, on Friday.