Boise quarterback Taylor Tharp was on cruise control, firing passes to open receivers behind airtight protection. He was 22 of 23 when he let loose his 24th attempt on the final play of the third quarter.
The ball went straight into the arms of Spokane defensive back Sergio Gilliam, who beat Boise’s receiver to the spot. Big play No. 1.
Later, with the Shock trying to hang on to a two-point lead, Tharp overthrew an open receiver and Gilliam hauled in his second interception with 41.4 seconds remaining. Big play No. 2.
Gilliam’s picks, coupled with a pair of momentum-changing plays in the first half, helped top-ranked Spokane outlast No. 7 Boise 64-62 in an arenafootball2 thriller watched by 10,557 Saturday at the Arena.
The victory moved Spokane to 6-0, two games in front of the Burn in the West Division. Both of Boise’s losses have been to Spokane, but this one was much closer than a 63-45 drubbing administered by the Shock three weeks ago.
“I just wanted to make a play,” said Gilliam, who had to sit out a series after he was shaken up early in the third quarter. “We had a rough game and they came to play. We made some mistakes, but we got a big turnover.”
Boise gave the Shock everything they could handle. Tharp was razor sharp most of the way, but two of his last nine passes found Gilliam’s hands.
Still, Tharp, who had four touchdown passes against Spokane three weeks ago, pitched eight touchdowns to talented receivers Jomo Wilson, Nichiren Flowers and Casey Allen.
Spokane, though, climbed out of two-touchdown deficits twice in the first half and finally collared the Burn’s offense in the second half.
“That’s a good team that came in here and they’re going to win a lot of games. For us to win the tiebreaker with them is a big deal,” Shock head coach Adam Shackleford said. “It’s nice to have offensive guys that are resilient and defensive guys that know at some point they’re going to make a play.”
Spokane’s offense ran off course briefly in the first half. At one point, Nick Davila tossed six straight incompletions as Boise took a 21-6 lead.
The Shock trailed at the half for the first time this season and could have easily been down by a couple of touchdowns if not for a couple of quirky scores.
One came on a Brian Jackson kickoff as the ball hit the bar at the bottom of the netting and bounced out to Spokane’s Kevin McCullough, who scooped it up in stride at the 10 and ran it in for a touchdown.
“It was just a lucky bounce and we were able to capitalize,” McCullough said.
The Shock went for two and it appeared doomed when Harrison Nikolao bobbled the pitch, but he smoothly recovered it after one bounce and dove into the left corner of the end zone, evening the score at 21.
Boise rebuilt its lead on Tharp’s 22-yard touchdown pass to Flowers and ex-Shock linebacker Levi Madarieta’s 14-yard interception return.
Spokane worked the clock down before Davila plunged in from 1 yard out with 11.2 seconds remaining. Boise attempted a 46-yard field goal on the last play of the half, but Ben Scott’s boot was wide left. Raul Vijil caught the ball out of the netting and weaved 55 yards through the Burn coverage for a touchdown. The two-point conversion failed, but Spokane was within 35-33 at halftime.
The lead changed hands a couple of times before Davila scored on a quarterback sneak to put Spokane on top 54-49. After Gilliam’s first interception, Jackson tacked on a field goal. Boise was within two when Gilliam nabbed his second interception and Davila zipped a touchdown pass to Vijil for a 64-55 lead. Boise scored on the final play of the game.
“I’m not sure if (Boise) coach (Brent) Winter had to do it again he’d kick it to Raul, but he’s done a great job with that team,” Shackleford said. “(Tharp) has really improved and down the stretch they’re going to be a team to beat. … We get pressure on everybody and didn’t get much pressure on them.”
Spokane visits Florida on Saturday.