It usually takes more than one game for a rivalry to take root.
But the Spokane Shock and Arizona Rattlers are well on their way to a full-fledged rivalry after their back-and-forth Arena Football League battle in May.
After ties at 7, 14, 21, 28, 35, 42, 49 and 56, the Shock won that one 63-56 in Phoenix. Adding fuel to the fire was Rattlers coach Kevin Guy’s postgame rant directed at Shock counterpart Rob Keefe plus the fact that Arizona has several former Spokane players.
The rematch is at 8 tonight at the Arena.
“There is a little bit of a rivalry building up,” Spokane receiver Huey Whittaker said. “I know it’s going to be competitive, that’s what stood out last time.”
Both teams haven’t lost since that game. Top-ranked Spokane (9-2) has won seven straight and Arizona (8-3) has reeled off six in a row to stay one game behind in the West Division.
The only thing preventing this from being a 1-vs.-2 showdown was a bizarre change in the latest rankings. After soundly defeating No. 3 Jacksonville on the road, the Rattlers somehow dropped from second to fourth.
“We need to get this one,” Shock linebacker Aaron Robbins said.
The last one ended with Guy screaming at Keefe shortly after time expired. According to an Arizona newspaper, Guy was upset that Spokane wasn’t penalized for an illegal defense on the Rattlers’ final play, which resulted in William Mulder intercepting Nick Davila’s pass to seal Spokane’s win.
It was the culmination of a demanding week for Keefe. He had to take over play-calling duties because offensive coordinator Matt Sauk was serving a one-game suspension. Assistant coach Steve Emtman decided to concentrate on his numerous other interests. And Keefe’s father experienced chest pains shortly after flying into Phoenix the day before the game.
“There’s a lot bad blood (from) the last game,” Keefe said after Tuesday’s practice. “I know it’s July Fourth weekend, but we need the fans. July Fourth is Sunday. Why not come out and see maybe the best Shock game ever in the Arena? Both coaches don’t like each other, we’re not afraid to say that. It’s going to be a crazy game.”
The Shock will be without standout receiver Raul Vijil, who was placed on injured reserve after suffering a knee injury against Milwaukee last week. Initial exams showed he’s damaged his MCL, but there was too much swelling to determine if there are additional problems.
“Hopefully, we’ll get him back by the end of the season,” Keefe said.
Spokane will use four receivers – Whittaker, Emery Sammons, Quorey Payne and Shaun Kauleinamoku. The Shock also signed Greg Orton, a receiver who was cut late in training camp.
Arizona has several ex-Shock players, including Davila, fullback John Booker, offensive lineman Kyle Young and linebacker Kelvin Morris. Johnie Kirton is on inured reserve. … Shock quarterback Kyle Rowley and Davila have nearly identical stats. Rowley: 119.6 passer rating, 73 touchdowns, nine interceptions. Davila: 119.3 rating, 74 touchdowns, 12 interceptions. … Arizona’s Rod Windsor leads the AFL in receptions (138) and yards (1,660). … NFL Network will televise Spokane’s regular-season finale at Jacksonville on July 30 instead of the Tulsa-Oklahoma City game.