The Spokane Shock are spending the Fourth of July with perhaps 10,000 of the Iowa Barnstormers’ closest friends.
No. 1 Spokane (12-0) tangles with No. 7 Iowa (8-4) tonight at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. Other than a few of Shock head coach Adam Shackleford’s relatives, the fans will be loud and pro-Iowa, though the holiday might trim the crowd count.
“We’ll be going into a hostile environment, but our team is built on and thrives on overcoming things,” fullback Harrison Nikolao said. “I really believe we’re going to feed off that energy. It’ll be a shocker for us, but it’s great.”
It’s an environment the Shock rarely see outside of home games. The Barnstormers, Midwest Division leaders by one-half game over Green Bay, average nearly 10,000 fans per arenafootball2 home game. A season-high 11,627 showed up to watch Iowa hand Tulsa one of its two losses three months ago. More than 9,200 witnessed the Barnstormers fall to Green Bay in overtime three weeks ago, Iowa’s second home loss of the season.
The largest audience for a Spokane road game this season was 4,640 in Boise. In its inaugural season of 2006, Spokane lost at Louisville – Shackleford was offensive coordinator for the Fire – in front of 8,058 and beat Stockton with 7,527 on hand. Those two are easily the largest road crowds in Shock history.
“The only way to silence a crowd is to get up on a team and keep pounding on them,” Shackleford said. “We hope we’re fortunate enough to get into that situation, but this isn’t the type of team that people get big leads on. It’s the kind of team you have to go toe-to-toe with and try to be the better team at the end.”
That’s what Spokane did in pulling away from the visiting Barnstormers for a 49-30 win in early May. The Shock outscored Iowa 21-6 in the second half, holding the Barnstormers to one touchdown on five possessions.
One of the keys was defensive back Stanley Franks, who contained veteran receiver Tim Dodge in the second half. Dodge had just one of his seven catches after intermission.
Dodge (81 catches, 1,001 yards, 17 touchdowns) and Walter McCown (80, 1,034, 18) are quarterback Brian Villanueva’s main targets. Spokane forced two turnovers, sacked Villanueva three times and held Iowa to just 1 of 8 third-down conversions.
Iowa has won five of six since losing in Spokane. The Barnstormers are plus-9 in turnovers and they’ve held opponents to less than 50 points in eight of 12 games.
Iowa coach John Gregory is a quick healer. He used a wheelchair in Spokane after suffering a broken leg and torn knee ligament during an April game. By mid-June, he was back on the golf course and shot an 84. … Shock offensive lineman Ryan Belcher recently obtained citizenship (U.S. and Great Britain) and qualified for af2’s international player exemption. Teams are limited to 19 on the active roster, 20 if one has international status. That number goes up one in the playoffs.