Spokane had gone four-plus games since losing a fumble, five games since throwing an interception and 11 games since losing an Arena Football League contest.
Those streaks came to end as the top-ranked Shock fell to No. 3 Jacksonville 64-49 in the regular-season finale Friday at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. The teams could meet for a third time – Spokane beat the Sharks 67-57 in May – in the Arena Bowl on Aug. 20.
The Shock (13-3), who had already clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, will entertain Arizona on Friday in the first round of the National Conference playoffs. Jacksonville (12-4) earned the American Conference’s top seed and will play host to Orlando.
Spokane committed a season-high four turnovers. Kyle Rowley’s streak of 176 passes without an interception ended with Micheaux Robinson’s pick late in the first quarter.
“They out-physicaled us,” head coach Rob Keefe said in a postgame interview on the Shock radio broadcast. “They made plays when they needed to and we weren’t opportunistic. The turnovers in the first half killed us.”
Jacksonville’s Aaron Garcia, who separated his shoulder and suffered a concussion two weeks ago, passed for 293 yards and seven touchdowns. One of his few mistakes came on the Sharks’ opening series when defensive end Jeremy Geathers stripped the football from Garcia and William Mulder recovered.
Spokane scored on the first of Rowley’s four touchdown passes to take its only lead of the game. Jacksonville led 21-14 after Garcia hit Jason Willis for a touchdown on fourth-and-goal at the 3.
The Shock appeared poised to tie it, but fullback Clay Harrell fumbled inside the 5-yard line and 315-pound nose guard Jeff Littlejohn rambled 47 yards for a touchdown.
Jacksonville stretched its lead to 47-28, capitalizing on Rowley’s second interception with a Garcia-to-Jeron Harvey touchdown connection late in the third quarter.
Spokane had two starters, Harrell and linebacker Antwan Marsh, leave with injuries. Keefe said both wanted to return, but the coach elected to rest them with a playoff game in seven days. For similar reasons, Keefe took Rowley out and inserted backup quarterback Brian Zbydniewski at the outset of the fourth quarter.
Zbydniewski led the Shock on three scoring drives, the latter two pulling Spokane within 7 and 8 points, respectively. Both times the Sharks answered with touchdowns and Zbydniewski was intercepted in the closing seconds.
Markee White had five touchdown catches and 174 yards receiving. Huey Whittaker had two TD receptions and 175 yards.
“This game meant a lot to us because we wanted to have momentum going into the playoffs,” White said. “Turnovers hurt us. We fought back but we couldn’t finish at the end.”