LAS VEGAS – If it isn’t already on the 2009 Spokane Shock highlight tape, it will be soon.
Sergio Gilliam, known more for interceptions than big hits, leveled Wilkes-Barre/Scranton receiver Irving Campbell, a collision that sent the football floating to Shock defensive back Stanley Franks.
Franks weaved 48 yards, picking up a crushing block from Johnie Kirton, and the Shock had their third touchdown in a game-changing third quarter.
And next on that highlight reel: Defensive end Ben McCombs drilling Pioneers quarterback Ryan Vena, forcing a fumble that Kirton nearly ran back for another score.
The No. 1 team in arenafootball2 left no doubt Saturday night, riding a huge second half to a 74-27 victory in front of an announced crowd of 5,846 at the Orleans Arena, giving the Shock their second ArenaCup title in four years and easing some of the pain of last year’s loss in the championship game.
“It’s kind of surreal right now, especially the way we handled that team,” said Shock receiver Raul Vijil, the only remaining player from the 2006 championship team. “They’re a great team, No. 1 in their conference, but I couldn’t be more proud, especially the way Spokane came out and supported us here.
“We came into the locker room (at halftime) and said, ‘We’re giving it to them, we’re beating ourselves, let’s go out and play the way we know how.’ We seem to be a second-half team and we showed it. We showed why we’re champions.”
The 47-point margin was easily the largest in ArenaCup history. Spokane’s 23-point win in 2006 is the second largest. The Shock beat the Pioneers 56-52 in Spokane on July 11 this season.
Spokane (19-1) had a chance to build a comfortable lead in the first half and didn’t capitalize. The Shock didn’t let a second chance slip through their fingers in the second half.
The Shock rattled off 20 straight points in the third quarter to quickly erase a 21-20 halftime deficit. It started with quarterback Nick Davila finding Vijil for a 9-yard touchdown.
Then Spokane’s defense took over. Caesar Rayford knocked the ball loose while sacking Vena and Kevin McCullough recovered. Vijil hauled in another touchdown and Spokane led 34-21.
Gilliam followed with his perfectly timed hit on Campbell over the middle and Franks’ return hiked Spokane’s lead to 40-21.
“It’s a big-time game, we had to show up,” Gilliam said. “The defense had to get turnovers and we did it.”
The rout was on. Spokane added three more scores before the halfway point of the fourth quarter, concluding a stunning run of 41 unanswered points that made the score 61-21.
In addition to McCombs’ fumble-forcing sack, Virgil Gray intercepted a Vena pass and Charles Dillon pounced on the ball in the end zone after the Pioneers botched a kickoff return.
“I didn’t expect to come out and score 54 points and hold them to six in the second half,” head coach Adam Shackleford said. “We played a first half like last year’s (title game). We missed some opportunities and missed a chance to put them away early.
“The defense is the backbone of the team and they came through. What a half, what a half.”
Vijil finished with three touchdown catches and Andy Olson had two. Davila passed for 287 yards and seven touchdowns. More importantly, he wasn’t intercepted and Spokane had no turnovers.
Vena was picked off four times and the Shock also recovered three fumbles.
“We knew they had a lot of options and talent, but we also know what we’re capable of,” said McCullough, who had an interception and fumble recovery. “We knew this could happen.
“We felt like we were playing well, especially on defense, but we gave them too many opportunities with penalties in the first half. We just looked at each other and all we said is, ‘They don’t belong on the same field as us. Let’s go prove it.’ That’s what we did.”
The Shock couldn’t have asked for a better start. They made two defensive stops and jumped in front 14-0 on Harrison’s Nikolao’s 2-yard run and Vijil’s first TD catch.
Spokane was in command until Davila missed an open Vijil for a probable touchdown on third-and-17. Brian Jackson’s ensuing 40-yard field goal attempt was smothered by 6-foot-9 Troy Blackwell and Royce Morgan returned the ball 15 yards for a touchdown, knotting the score at 14.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (16-4) took its first lead, 21-20, late in the second quarter. Jackson missed a 25-yard field goal on the final play of the half, but the Pioneers’ momentum stayed in the locker room.
“We came out and physically dominated up front and played sound coverage,” defensive coordinator Alex Sirianni said. “I couldn’t be more proud of our guys.”
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