The hard thing – this week’s truism be damned – isn’t beating a good team four times in the same season.
It’s beating them once.
This is the lesson the Boise Burn takes back home this morning, losers to the Spokane Shock for the fourth time this season – this time a 59-35 drubbing in the second round of the af2 playoffs Saturday night in front of an announced crowd of 8,041 at the Spokane Arena.
So does this make them the Boise Burned?
Perhaps, though this time Boise coach Brent Winter – who last week said his players believed “we’ve been robbed twice this year by the football gods” against the Shock – wasn’t cursing the heavens.
“This loss is solely on me,” said the first-year Burn coach. “I got outcoached tonight. Our football players came to play and gave it all they had and I put them in bad positions to be successful. It’s that simple.”
His players evidently agreed.
“At the beginning of the game when they couldn’t drive down the field,” said Shock nose guard Frank Morton Jr., “we overheard their offensive linemen and wide receivers talking about the coaches blowing the game. When the players start going against the coach, it’s going to be a long day for them. So we appreciate them having a little internal problem.”
In any event, outside of some brief fourth-quarter hiccups, the Shock dominated in every facet of the game while cruising into Saturday’s National Conference final in Spokane against the Tulsa Talons, easy winners over Bossier-Shreveport in the other semifinal.
In particular, the Shock made it a tough night on rookie Boise quarterback Mark Thorson – though no one was victimized more critically than the Burn’s best player, Terrance Sanders.
Missing from Boise’s last narrow loss to Spokane two weeks ago while at an NFL tryout, the all-af2 defensive back and return specialist had a chance to be a difference-maker on back-to-back plays early in the second quarter and whiffed both times.
With Spokane up 7-3 but facing fourth-and-10, Burn lineman Johnny Jackson jumped offside – and the free play the Shock received turned into a 34-yard Nick Davila touchdown pass when Sanders bit and froze on Raul Vijil’s stutter step. Brian Jackson then put the ensuing kickoff into the screen and Sanders had the ball carom off his shoulder pads and into the hands of Markee White as Spokane took a 21-3 lead.
Boise is the af2’s best kickoff return team – Jomo Wilson ran two back for touchdowns in a previous game against the Shock, which Spokane coach Adam Shackleford attributed simply to poor tackling. But this time Wilson and Sanders managed just 77 yards between them on five runbacks.
“Basically, it’s an attitude,” said the Shock’s Johnie Kirton. “We just weren’t going to allow them to get off the way they did last time. If I’m correct, they’re the only team that’s returned any on us the whole year, so it was a personal thing and we took it to heart.”
That was part of Shackleford’s mission to make Thorson “drive them the whole field – and we didn’t think he could do it.”
Sometimes he couldn’t even drive the short field.
A backup until starter Taylor Tharp was injured against the Shock two weeks ago, Thorson threw an interception to Sergio Gilliam off the screen from the Spokane 6-yard line to start the game and couldn’t get the Burn in from the Shock 9 on the next possession. He also launched four straight deep incompletions from his 5-yard line in the last minute of the first half, which was either questionable play-calling or poor decision-making, and took a safety with an intentional grounding call in the end zone – giving Spokane a 39-16 halftime lead.
His night ended when Morton sacked him on a play from the Spokane 10-yard line and Kirton scooped up the fumble, running it back 22 yards for a touchdown.
“It was a good mix – we had a great pass rush, but there weren’t a lot of people open tonight,” Shackleford said. “Nichiren Flowers made two great catches for touchdowns, but he was well-covered on both.”
The Shock weren’t particularly crisp on offense, starting with a four-and-out opening series, but Davila – who completed 13 of 24 passes for 151 yards and three TDs – still got them on the scoreboard on every possession until the beginning of the fourth quarter.