Spokane quarterback Kyle Rowley has played arena football for a long time and he’s learned to soak in the special times when they surface.
Friday’s game was one of those times.
In a seesaw battle with Chicago that played out before the largest crowd to see a Shock home game – and a national television audience on NFL Network – Spokane pulled away late in the fourth quarter for a 63-49 Arena Football League victory that wrapped up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The injury-depleted Rush (10-6) gave top-ranked Spokane (13-2) everything it could handle in front of 10,778 at the Arena.
“It felt like a playoff game in a playoff atmosphere,” said Rowley, who tossed seven touchdown passes. “By nature, I don’t usually enjoy it during the process, but I’ve kind of learned to stay in the moment and enjoy the crowd and the amazing gift I’ve been given to play in front of these fans. Every once in a while I take a snapshot.”
The lasting images of this one will be of the Shock scoring on every possession except their last one – and that was by design as they were simply running out the final few seconds.
And the defining pictures: Spokane’s defense holding off Chicago on four straight plays inside the 5-yard line. The Shock had just taken a 56-49 lead early in the fourth quarter when Chicago overcame a Jeremy Geathers sack and a fourth-and-18 to march to Spokane’s 4.
Two running plays nudged the ball to the 1 and Syvelle Newton was stuffed as he tried the middle of the Shock defense. On fourth down, quarterback J.J. Raterink pump-faked a couple of times before firing a pass that sailed high and into the crowd with 3:47 left.
Rowley hit Greg Orton for 31 yards, and then connected with Orton on a 16-yard touchdown pass that hiked Spokane’s lead to 63-49. The Shock added another stop on Antwan Marsh’s interception to seal their 11th consecutive win.
“We talked at halftime and we talked about it midway through the fourth quarter: Who is going to break first?” Spokane coach Rob Keefe said. “You saw that tonight when Chicago stuttered at the end. I don’t care if it’s the first minute of the game or the last minute, it’s not going to be us.”
Raterink, filling in for the injured Russ Michna, passed for 294 yards and six touchdowns. He didn’t throw an incompletion until the second quarter. Chicago scored on every possession until going 0 for 2 in the fourth quarter.
Spokane’s offense was in a similar groove. All four receivers had touchdown grabs, led by Huey Whittaker’s three, and 350-pound lineman Ed Ta’amu scored on a nifty 12-yard catch-and-run. Clay Harrell had a rushing touchdown and Mervin Brookins returned a kickoff for a touchdown.
“Chicago came out and played their hardest, but we were clicking,” said receiver Markee White, who had nine catches for 114 yards. “We haven’t been scoring these past couple weeks but we had 63 points – back to what we were doing before Raul (Vijil) and I got hurt.”
Both offenses lit it up in the first half. Raterink zipped a 4-yard scoring pass to Nichiren Flowers with 17.3 seconds left in the second quarter, but the receiver spiked the ball toward defensive back Travis Williams and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. Brookins returned the ensuing kickoff to the 21, and after the penalty was enforced, Spokane took over at the Rush 19. White beat defensive back Josh Ferguson and hauled in Rowley’s rainbow pass for a touchdown, giving Spokane a 42-35 lead at half.
Spokane closes the regular season at Jacksonville on Friday. The Shock could see Chicago again in two weeks in the opening round of the National Conference playoffs.