The injuries are piling up to key players, but the Spokane Shock continue to accumulate something to ease the pain: wins.
The latest was a grind-it-out 37-36 victory over Arizona in front of 10,268 Friday at the Arena that strengthened Spokane’s grip on the West Division lead over its closest competitor.
The top-ranked Shock improved to 10-2 with their eighth consecutive win. They have a two-game lead and own the tiebreaker over No. 4 Arizona (8-4).
Already playing without standout receiver Raul Vijil, Spokane starting defensive back William Mulder didn’t play because of an illness and defensive end Ben McCombs went down with a knee injury in the second quarter. He didn’t return.
“That’s adversity,” Shock coach Rob Keefe said. “When you stub your toe, you have that initial 3-second shock and then you move on. There are people, if they stub their toe, their whole day is ruined. That’s not how I am or how our team or organization is.”
The top two scoring teams in the Arena Football League were held to way less than their per-game point averages (Spokane 66.3, Arizona 65.0).
It wasn’t because there were numerous defensive stops. It was the fact that both defenses forced the offenses into time-consuming drives.
Arizona, which had only one play gain more than 15 yards, was limited to two second-half possessions.
The Shock had the ball just three times, the last requiring a single play to run out the clock.
“When you’ve played someone already, both teams get familiar with the schemes so the defenses have that advantage,” said fullback Clay Harrell, referring to Spokane’s 63-56 win over the Rattlers in May. “Our defense played great. We did just enough to win.”
Arizona pulled within 30-28 on a 1-yard keeper by ex-Shock quarterback Nick Davila late in the third quarter.
Spokane answered with a disjointed drive that included a sack and five penalties – including one on the Rattlers on fourth down that prolonged the possession – before Quorey Payne hauled in a 6-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Rowley in the back of the end zone. Arizona defenders and coaches protested that the ball touched the ground, but the call stood and Spokane led 37-28 with 5:11 left.
“It hit the dasherboards,” Payne said. “I say it was a catch, but it was real close.”
Arizona took over at Spokane’s 15 and was at the 10 after a penalty on the Shock.
From there, the Rattlers ran 12 plays before Rod Windsor’s 4-yard touchdown catch. They converted on one fourth down and made another when Spokane was penalized for holding.
The extra plays left just 33 seconds on the clock. The Rattlers’ only option was an onside kick that was easily fielded by Spokane’s Alex Teems.
“Arena football at its finest is, don’t get beat and when things get into the red zone, 10 yards and in, everything is condensed and it’s very hard to score,” Keefe said. “You keep everything in front of you and tackle, tackle, tackle.”
Spokane scored on all four of its first-half possessions to take a 27-21 lead at the break. Harrell tallied twice on sweeps, the latter a 1-yarder that came after Spokane smartly worked the clock to less than10 seconds. By doing so, Arizona only had time for Fabrizio Scaccia’s 36-yard field goal, which sailed wide right.
Arizona moved the ball efficiently, but a heads-up play by Teems forced the game’s only turnover.
On the Rattlers’ second possession, Davila hit Windsor, who tried to reach for the goal line with the football as he was being tackled. Teems raced in and jarred the ball loose.
“Fortunately, I turned around and saw (Windsor),” Teems said. “It was a close call, but I was able to pop the ball loose.”
Rowley passed for 209 yards and three touchdowns. Davila threw for 200 yards, but only 44 in the second half. He had four TD passes.
Spokane visits Cleveland while Arizona is at Chicago next week.