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 in front of 10,500 at the Arena.
“Milwaukee came in here and played hard and played very veteran-like,” Shock first-year head coach Rob Keefe said. “They took advantage of our mistakes and in return we couldn’t do that to them.”
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 13. 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 onside 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 68-56.
Marcus Everett intercepted Rowley’s pass on Spokane’s next play from scrimmage, ending Spokane’s final hope.
“We moved the ball fairly well, we sputtered at times, but the real thing was we put the ball on the turf and I threw a pick in the fourth quarter,” said Rowley, who was 25 of 39 for 259 yards. “Those are the things that definitely hurt you, when you give the ball to the other team.”
There were five lead changes in the first half, but the Shock were 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 three of six first-half possessions while the Iron converted on four of five.
“We made too many mental mistakes early,” McCullough said. “The way we were fighting back and clawing at the end to have a chance to win says a lot about our team, as poorly as we played. Defensively, we maybe have some soul-searching to do, but I was happy with the way we battled at the end.”
Milwaukee botched the center-quarterback exchange on its first play of the third quarter. 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.
Greisen finished 29 of 35 for 317 yards and nine touchdown passes. Rowley had seven TD passes, four to Whittaker and two to Markee White, but he was intercepted three times.
“We probably only hit (Greisen) five times,” Keefe said. “It’s not that our guys are bad or their line is exceptional. It’s because the quarterback knows how to get rid of the ball. Because of that, our defensive backs have to adjust to how quickly they break (on the ball). It was a big eye-opener for some of our DBs.”
Spokane visits Utah on Friday.