There were a number of firsts for the Spokane Shock on Friday night – first Arena Football League game, first contest of the 2010 season, first meeting with Milwaukee and one unwanted first.
For the first time in the franchise’s five-year history, Spokane lost a season opener. Milwaukee outplayed the Shock most of the way while building a 20-point lead, then held off Spokane’s furious fourth-quarter rally for a 74-62 victory at the Arena.
Spokane lost a regular-season home game for just the fifth time. In fact, Spokane has a losing record for the first time since it was 1-2 early in the 2007 season. Milwaukee and Spokane both made the move up to the new AFL from arenafootball2.
The Shock nearly dug out of a 55-35 hole early in the fourth quarter. Quorey Payne’s 57-yard kick return for a touchdown pulled Spokane within 14. Two plays later, the Iron fumbled and Shock linebacker Kevin McCullough recovered the ball and returned it to the Iron 9-yard line.
Shock quarterback Kyle Rowley connected with Huey Whittaker for a touchdown and Taylor Rowan’s point-after kick narrowed Milwaukee’s lead to 55-49 with 9:29 remaining.
The Iron responded with a 45-yard scoring drive that consumed nearly 7 minutes. Chris Greisen fired a 6-yard pass to AFL veteran receiver Damian Harrell on fourth-and-2 at the Shock 13. Tyre Young capped the possession with a 2-yard TD run.
Spokane scored again to close the deficit to 61-56 with 55.9 seconds left, but Milwaukee’s Nate Forse batted Rowan’s on-side kick out of bounds. Forse was flagged for illegal batting of the ball, but the Iron retained possession. Greisen fired a 17-yard TD pass to Forse on the ensuing play and Milwaukee led 68-55.
Marcus Everett intercepted Rowley’s pass on Spokane’s next play from scrimmage, sending fans to the exits.
There were five lead changes in the first half, but the Shock was stung by a Raul Vijil fumble on their first possession and a lateral that went awry on the last play of the half.
Trailing 27-21, Spokane had the ball at its 8 with 5 seconds left. Rowley hit Vijil over the middle and the receiver raced inside the Milwaukee 15. He tried to lateral to offensive lineman Antonio Narcisse, who barely got a hand on the ball and it was scooped up by Iron defensive back Tracy Belton, who raced 43 yards for a touchdown, boosting Milwaukee’s lead to 34-21.
Spokane scored on just 3 of 6 first-half possessions while the Iron converted on 4 of 5 and also had the defensive score to close the half. Greisen was 15 of 17 for 158 yards and had little trouble finding open receivers. All three Iron receivers had five catches in the first half.
It didn’t help matters that Milwaukee also got the ball first in the third quarter, but the Iron opened the door when they botched the center-quarterback exchange on their initial play. Spokane couldn’t capitalize as a sack and holding penalty forced a fourth-and-7 at the Milwaukee 9. Rowley’s pass was deflected at the line of scrimmage by Tyus Jackson.
Greisen fired nine touchdown passes. Rowley had seven touchdown passes, four to Whittaker, but he was intercepted three times.
Spokane visits Utah on Friday.