Tough second half starts for Shock
The Spokane Shock are rarely boring and they’ve proven as much with an interesting ride through the first half of their inaugural Arena Football League season.
Spokane is 6-2 and ranked No. 2. Other than two blowouts against Utah every game has essentially been decided in the final minute. The Shock have made numerous roster changes, many due to injuries, and they even made headlines during last week’s bye by trading fan favorite Kevin McCullough.
The second half begins with Spokane visiting eight-ranked Orlando (4-4) Saturday night. The Shock’s next eight foes are a combined record of 40-29.
“I don’t know who we’re playing next week, that’s how focused we are on one game at a time,” Shock coach Rob Keefe said. “We could care less about rankings. Really, it’s a challenge we’re looking forward to.”
Orlando lost its first three games but has won four of its last five, including victories over Milwaukee, co-leader of the Midwest Division, and Tulsa, first place in the Southwest Division.
“It’s a direct correlation to (Orlando coach) Pat (O’Hara) getting a late start,” Keefe said. “He didn’t get hired until mid January.”
The Predators rely on defense, holding opponents to 55 points, sixth in the AFL, despite having just eight sacks. They’ve forced 18 turnovers.
“Their defense is well coached and they have a lot of veterans, but sometimes I don’t think they’re on the same page,” Keefe said. “If we stick to what we do best and execute, we could have a lot of points on the board.”
The departure of Chris Pino for the CFL means Spokane will install another new starter, former Idaho Vandal Adam Juratovac, on the offensive line. He joins mainstay Ed Ta’amu and Brandon Leyritz, who took over at center two weeks ago after an injury to Antonio Narcisse.
The Predators have 36 touchdown passes, lowest in the AFL, and they’re averaging 52.6 points, 12th out of 15 teams. Quarterback Nick Hill has been intercepted 11 times. Still, Orlando has proven receivers in former Dallas Desperados and Chicago Rush standout Bobby Sippio, who missed part of last week’s win over Tulsa with a rib injury, and Antoine ‘T.T’ Toliver, who has 72 receptions and 14 touchdowns.
Antwan Marsh makes his debut at ‘Jack’ linebacker in place of McCullough. … Shock kicker Taylor Rowan, who lives pretty close to Orlando, will have 52 family and friends in attendance. Huey Whittaker, another Florida native, will have a large contingent. … Orlando also had to make a change to its offensive line after former Washington State Cougar Patrick Afif signed with a CFL team. … The Predators put ex-Shock lineman David Stanton on injured-reserve earlier this week.