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Spokane Empire

Shock’s bye at right time

Spokane banged up after win over BattleWings

Spokane had a rough initiation into the Arena Football League, but the Shock have responded with a pair of convincing wins.

And now they get a break from the schedule-maker as the Shock can use a bye next week to heal up after Saturday’s 78-70 victory over fourth-ranked Bossier-Shreveport in front of 10,387 at the Arena. After dropping its season opener to Milwaukee, Spokane is 2-1 and leads the three-team West Division. Arizona is 1-1 and Utah is 0-2.

Bossier-Shreveport dropped to 2-1.

The Shock finished with receivers Raul Vijil and Eddie Thompson playing defensive back after fourth-quarter injuries to Rod Mosley and William Mulder. Offensive lineman Rob McMackin also left with an injury and fullback Clay Harrell was shaken up. Spokane has four players on injured reserve, including two offensive linemen and a defensive back, eligible to return before Spokane entertains Cleveland (1-2) on May 1.

“The bye week couldn’t come at a better time,” head coach Rob Keefe said. “I’m speculating that these are one-week injuries.”

Early in the fourth quarter, Spokane’s defense forced two key turnovers and suddenly the Shock owned a semi-comfortable lead in what had been a back-and-forth contest. Spokane was leading 51-47 when Bossier-Shreveport quarterback Raymond Philyaw, who finished with 10 touchdown passes, made a rare mistake. He fumbled and Spokane’s Kevin McCullough recovered at the BattleWings’ 13-yard line. It was the Shock’s first defensive stop since midway through the first quarter.

Kyle Rowley then tossed a 7-yard touchdown pass to Markee White and Spokane led 58-47.

“That was huge,” Shock receiver Huey Whittaker said. “We knew at that point as long as we stayed consistent on offense we would be all right.”

On the BattleWings’ next series, Philyaw was chased out of the pocket and linebacker Aaron Robbins interrupted his throwing motion. The ball floated to Mosley, who returned the interception 14 yards for a touchdown and a 65-47 lead.

“Our nose guard, I think it was (Richard) Clebert, opened it up for me,” Robbins said. “I caught (Philyaw’s) arm at the last second.”

Philyaw had three touchdown passes against Spokane’s injury-depleted secondary in the final 7 minutes, but the BattleWings’ last chance was extinguished when White fielded an onside kick with 30 seconds left.

“Raul and Eddie stepped up,” Keefe said. “We were getting ready to put Markee out there if we had to.”

Rowley had eight touchdown passes and ran for another score. White and Whittaker both had three TD catches and Vijil had two.

“We’re working together and trusting each other more,” Whittaker said. “We’re just getting comfortable with each other and it’s showing on the field.”

Spokane led 37-32 after an entertaining first half. Both teams scored on five of six possessions, but there were two differences. One, defensive end Ben McCombs sacked Philyaw in the end zone for a safety. Two, Spokane’s Taylor Rowan was 5 of 5 on PATs while counterpart Art Carmody missed two kicks and a botched hold foiled another attempt.

After Bossier-Shreveport took a 6-0 lead on the first of Randy Hymes’ three nifty one-handed catches, Spokane rattled off the next 16 points as White and Thompson sandwiched touchdown catches around McCombs’ safety.

Spokane led 23-20 midway through the second quarter, but Rowley’s pass was deflected into the arms of ex-Shock defensive back Roshawn Marshall, who returned the ball 30 yards before fumbling. The BattleWings recovered and went in front 26-23 on a Philyaw-to-PJ Berry connection.

Rowley hit Vijil in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown with 5.4 seconds left, giving Spokane a five-point edge at half.

Rowley finished with 316 passing yards, evenly distributed among White (9-100), Vijil (8-103) and Whittaker (8-98). Philyaw passed for 349 yards. Hymes had nine receptions for 174 yards and five touchdowns.

“They were 2-0 coming in and to get a win against a veteran AFL quarterback, a veteran coach and those receivers, they were awesome,” Keefe said. “Luckily we recruited very well and our guys understand what arena football is all about.”

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