LAS VEGAS – For veteran Spokane Shock players, it’s a second chance to get the ending right. For first-year Shock players such as Ben McCombs, it’s the reason why they signed with the 4-year-old franchise that has made winning a habit.
For Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, it’s an opportunity to avenge a regular-season loss to the Shock and for six holdovers to win a championship after experiencing a narrow loss in the 2007 ArenaCup.
Redemption will be on the minds of many of the participants tonight when ArenaCup X kicks off at 7 at the Orleans Arena. Spokane has the same ranking (No. 1) and record (18-1) as it did a year ago when it was stunned at home by fourth-seeded Tennessee Valley 56-55 in arenafootball2’s championship game.
“That one play (Tennessee Valley’s successful two-point conversion in overtime) has been a huge motivating factor the whole season,” said Shock linebacker Kevin McCullough, who mentioned the play at a team meeting earlier this week. “In life you don’t get many chances to right a wrong and I explained that to some of the new guys, even a guy like McCombs, who is an outstanding player but wasn’t in that situation last year.
“I wanted to let them know how I was feeling and how the rest of the guys from that team are feeling. We can’t afford to let that happen again.”
For different reasons, the Pioneers (16-3) feel the same way.
“We learned a lot from that game out there (in July),” coach Rich Ingold said. “No. 1, in a big game you can’t turn the ball over and we turned it over four times. I’m glad we get to go to a neutral site because home field is huge in arena football, especially when you draw like they do.”
Spokane’s lineup is roughly the same as it was for the July 11 contest. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton will have two standouts back on defense – end Justin Parrish and linebacker Darius Leak. Parrish was suspended for two games because of his involvement in a bar scuffle. Leak was attending a funeral.
Parrish has three sacks in three playoff wins to go with 11 in 14 regular-season games. Leak had 43 tackles, six sacks and four forced fumbles in the regular season.
“We add more bulk, speed and power to the pass rush,” said Parrish, who apologized for the July incident for “being selfish and putting myself in that situation.”
Spokane has yielded just seven sacks in 19 games.
“If both quarterbacks are able to sit back and not feel pressured, it could be a lot higher-scoring game than people think,” Shock coach Adam Shackleford said. “If that happens, it’s really going to put pressure on the defensive backs to play well.”
Pass rush was one of the deciding factors in the first meeting. Spokane’s heat forced Pioneers quarterback Ryan Vena into four interceptions. McCombs, who led af2 with 15.5 sacks, wasn’t at full strength for that game because of a leg injury.
“This game is why I came up here,” McCombs said. “I’ve been in this league a long time and this is my first shot at the ArenaCup. It would be a huge accomplishment to a huge year.”
For that to happen, defensive coordinator Alex Sirianni said the Shock must prevent quick-strike touchdowns and find a way to pressure Vena.
“Our defensive line works like Novocain,” he said. “Sometimes it takes a while, but pretty soon it’s going to hit you.”
Spokane’s Nick Davila was picked off twice by W-B/S, his only game with more than one interception. One of the picks was on an outstanding play by Micheaux Robinson, who was af2’s defensive player of the year.
“The most important thing in this game is whoever makes the least mistakes is going to win,” Davila said.
In that regard, the Shock must feel confident, having led af2 in turnover margin (plus-34). The Pioneers were third at plus-21.
“For the guys that came back, I definitely don’t want to lose that ring two years in a row,” Spokane receiver Andy Olson said