Beyond the point-fests and general madness that is the arena game, there is one truism at every level of football that figures to have the biggest impact on the Spokane Shock’s chances against the Tampa Bay Storm tonight in ArenaBowl XXIII.
“What makes them go around is their defensive line, it’s one of the best in the league,” Spokane coach Rob Keefe said. “We’ll have our hands full, but if we can protect (quarterback) Kyle (Rowley), I think we’ll win the game.”
Tampa Bay coach Tim Marcum believes in a similar formula.
“We’re pitching and catching the ball pretty good,” said Marcum, coaching in his 11th ArenaBowl and seeking his eighth championship ring. “When we’ve had success, just like in any kind of football, we’ve gotten after the other quarterback and protected (Storm QB) Brett (Dietz).”
Tampa Bay (13-5) had 30 sacks in the regular season but has won two postseason games without a sack. That doesn’t mean the line isn’t doing its job.
“We had two fumbled snaps that hurt us and that was all (nose guard) Tim McGill,” said Orlando coach Pat O’Hara, whose team lost 63-62 to Tampa Bay in the American Conference title game. “Their four pass rushers (McGill, Jermaine Smith, Kelvin Kinney and Cliff Dukes) can take over a game.”
Jacksonville offensive coordinator Chris Siegfried said McGill “is the best in the business.
“At the beginning of the season we had no problem blocking them,” said Siegfried, the former Shock head coach. “Each week as they got in better shape, they got scarier and scarier. They were so dominant against us in the second game, we literally had to throw a bunch of screens and quick passes because it took us a while to slow that pass rush down. They knocked (QB Aaron) Garcia out by absolutely bringing it.”
Shock offensive lineman Rob McMackin didn’t mince words.
“This game will be won up front,” he said. “McGill is probably one of the best nose guards in the league, along with (Anttaj) Hawthorne in Arizona. You couldn’t have a tougher road if you want to win a championship, but if you’re going to say you’re the best you want to go against the best.”
Rowley has 14 touchdowns passes and no interceptions in two playoff victories. He’s effective when afforded time (100 TDs, 11 interceptions during the regular season), but he’s also adept at buying time when he feels pressure and still finding receivers. Two of his touchdown passes against Milwaukee last week came with the pocket collapsing.
Both teams boast tall, talented receivers. Spokane (15-3) features 6-foot-7 Markee White, 6-5 Huey Whittaker and 6-3 Greg Orton.
Orton leads all receivers with 19 postseason catches. Whittaker has 17, including six for touchdowns, and White has 15, four for scores.
“Big sequoias,” Marcum said of Spokane’s receivers.
Tampa Bay’s Dietz, who was intercepted twice last week, tossed 106 touchdowns in the regular season. Hank Edwards (6-3), Tyrone Timmons (6-4) and speedy DeAndrew Rubin all surpassed 1,000 receiving yards.
“They keep it really simple,” Shock defensive back Alex Teems said. “They’re just good at what they do.”
Shutout on awards
Despite compiling the league’s best record, Spokane went 0 for 8 when the AFL announced winners of the individual awards (ironman, kicker, lineman, coach, assistant coach, rookie, offensive player and defensive player of the year honors).
Awards announced Thursday included Jacksonville’s Les Moss (coach), Arizona’s Danny White (assistant coach), Arizona’s Rod Windsor (rookie), Milwaukee’s Chris Greisen (offensive) and Tulsa’s Gabe Nyenhuis (defensive).
All-AFL first and second teams will be announced today.
The game is a sellout. … Shock defensive back William Mulder, who left last week’s game with a groin injury, won’t play tonight. He’ll be replaced by Mervin Brookins, who also returns kicks. Jack linebacker Antwan Marsh also can play DB and receiver Emery Sammons is capable of playing Jack linebacker.… Spokane is 8-2 in home playoff games, one of those losses to Tennessee Valley in the 2008 ArenaCup. The Shock won two arenafootball2 championships at neutral sites. The home team is 9-9 in ArenaBowls.