On the bad feelings scale, it was somewhere between a Joe Shogun council meeting and “Kill Bill,” either volume.
A lot of bluster, not so much blood.
You’ve heard of grudge matches? This wound up being a grunge match.
Consider: Early in the second quarter Friday night, the Spokane Shock lost standout defensive lineman Ben McCombs, and generated pretty much nothing in the way of a pass rush thereafter. In the second half, they had the ball for only two possessions that lasted longer than a single snap, and one of those resulted in a mere field goal – the forgotten stepchild of indoor football. They put together just seven plays after halftime that went for longer than two yards.
And they won, 37-36, over their bitter rivals the Arizona Rattlers, if two-thirds of the second inaugural season of the Arena Football League is long enough to distill either bitterness or a rivalry. Which, given the number of flags, flaps and personal fouls witnessed by 10,268 at the Spokane Arena, it most certainly is.
You could call it another statement game by the Shock, or maybe just a rhetorical question game.
That question being, “What the hell?”
It wasn’t so much that the Shock had no business winning the game – they do, after all, have the best record in the AFL – but that circumstances and their own play seemed to be trending so heavily against it.
And the anything-can-happen indoor game? Well, it turns out anything can, including an evening that produces only 73 points – despite there being just one defensive stop. Well, two, if you count a desperation long-distance field goal that sailed wide in the second before halftime.
Whatever respect issues the Shock are still stewing over 12 games into the season – and, yes, they still are – some of it should abate not because this game was won in spectacular fashion, but because it was won with the kind of grit all the outdoor purists contend doesn’t exist on the short rug.
“We’ve got a bunch of good guys,” said defensive lineman Jerry Turner, “and a lot of bullets in the gun.
“If one guy goes down, the next picks up the rifle and keeps shooting. We have a lot of faith on this team.”
OK, if his analogy is a little unfortunate, it’s nonetheless true. Having lost scads of lineman over the course of the season and franchise icon Raul Vijil to a knee injury just this past week, the Shock’s ability to overcome seemed to be fraying. Then down went McCombs in the second quarter – although by that time, the singular game-turning play had occurred.
With Arizona poised to punch one in, receiver Rod Windsor stretched to get the football over the goal line, only to have it slapped loose by Spokane’s Alex Teems. It was an impossible bang-bang play – was Windsor down, or did the ball break the plane? – but Teems recovered for that lone defensive stop, and the Shock turned it into six points at the other end.
This set the stage for the bizarre drama of the second half, when the quick-strike theatrics of the arena game suddenly took a holiday – and yet, remarkably, no one in the crowd dozed off.
The Shock needed nine snaps – and two timeouts – to salvage that deciding field goal. Then they needed 17 plays – 12 snaps, five penalties – to produce their final touchdown, which may or may not have been one – Quorey Payne controlling a fourth-down pass from Kyle Rowley possibly with the help of a nice, undetected hop off the dasherboards.
But more remarkable was the play of the Shock defense that somehow managed to make the Rattlers use up more than four full minutes on their last possession – that started at the Spokane 15-yard line. Five different Arizona running plays from inside the 2-yard line were foiled.
“I told my boys, if they score, it ain’t going to be running,” Turner said. “They’re going to have to throw it in there. They took such a long time to get into the end zone that all we had to do was secure the onside kick.”
In the end, Spokane held the Rattlers to just one play all evening longer than 15 yards – and bottled up former teammate Nick Davila to just 4-of-11 passing after an 18-of-22 start.
And now they have a two-game lead over the Rattlers in their division, though they may have to suit up Monty Python’s ever-willing Black Knight before the season’s over.
“Things get thrown at you every week,” Turner said. “No one was respecting us early, so we have to earn it every week. And next week it continues.”