Two regular-season meetings between Spokane and Arizona resulted in a pair of Shock wins and a number of indelible images.
Quorey Payne’s controversial touchdown reception off the dasherboards. Rod Windsor fumbling as he tried to stretch toward the goal line. Ben McCombs limping off the field with a knee injury. William Mulder intercepting Nick Davila’s pass on the game’s final play. And, of course, Rattlers coach Kevin Guy screaming at Shock counterpart Rob Keefe shortly after Spokane’s 63-56 win in Phoenix.
The top-ranked Shock (13-3) and No. 7 Rattlers (10-6) renew their burgeoning rivalry Friday at the Arena in the first round of the Arena Football League playoffs. The winner advances to the National Conference championship. The loser stows their equipment until training camp.
Both teams come in a bit testy after dropping regular-season finales a week ago. Throw in the fact that Arizona has several ex-Shock players, the white-knuckle finishes of the previous meetings and what’s at stake and there should be no shortage of intensity for Round 3.
“It’s good to get back to games that mean a lot and these mean everything,” Shock quarterback Kyle Rowley said. “It’s win or go home and we expect to win.”
Arizona, with a chance to earn a home playoff game with a victory last week, expected to win but ran into problems against visiting Iowa.
“We turned the ball over,” Guy said. “We just weren’t ready to play and that’s on me. Some of the guys felt like we’d just show up and win.”
Spokane hardly feels comfortable against the Rattlers, even with a 2-0 series edge.
“I expect a fistfight, four quarters of football, just like last time,” defensive coordinator Alex Sirianni said. “I know if we tackle well, get consistent pressure and don’t give up the one- or two-play drives, we should be fine.”
The teams sparred while recruiting players prior to the season. A handful of ex-Shock players, including Davila, Kyle Young and Kelvin Morris, play key roles for the Rattlers. The bad blood spilled over in May when Guy berated Keefe following the loss in Phoenix. The head coaches avoided each other prior to the rematch in Spokane.
“I got after him because they ran an illegal defense on the last play and we even heard them telling their guys that before the play,” Guy said. “We told the refs, but it’s still on the refs to make the call. I was over it the next day, obviously he hasn’t gotten over that.”
Keefe said he respects the Rattlers, but doesn’t plan on shaking Guy’s hand before or after the game.
“I think they’re damn good, I really do,” Keefe said. “We might not always get along, the coaches, and I don’t know if we ever will, but (offensive coordinator) Danny White is an innovator and he really understands what strains a defensive back.
“The team that wins this game is the one that dives on a fumble or if a ball hits a DB’s hands, which team is going to catch it.”
Spokane opened the arenafootball2 playoffs at home the last four years, but never sold out the Arena. As of late Thursday afternoon, plenty of tickets remained, including some in the lower level. … Spokane’s Antonio Narcisse, activated from injured-reserve earlier this week, will suit up, but probably won’t start. Mervin Brookins will be the fourth defensive back and probably return kicks. … Windsor set an AFL single-season record with 193 catches. Nobody else had more than 151. Spokane’s Huey Whittaker finished fourth with 144 receptions.