Spokane has been on the verge of taking over the top spot in the Arena Football League coaches’ poll for several weeks. After a convincing win over No. 7 Tulsa and top-ranked Jacksonville’s 70-48 loss to Orlando, the Shock should finally ascend to No. 1 when the new poll is released Wednesday.
Kyle Rowley tossed seven touchdown passes, five to Raul Vijil, and Spokane’s defense came up with four turnovers to fuel the second-ranked Shock’s 63-42 victory over the Talons in front of 10,077 Friday at the Arena.
“You have to give all the credit to the guys, they’ve been working so hard to be No. 1,” head coach Rob Keefe said. “If we are No. 1, there’s a responsibility that comes with that. Everyone is going to be gunning for us. We can’t let up.”
Spokane (8-2) has had easier wins this season, but Friday’s may have been its most complete effort.
“Our guys are starting to understand what we expect of them, that non-stop aggressiveness, that inner drive. A lot of arena football is just being aware of what’s going on around you and having stamina. Our guys understand it’s four quarters, not two and a half.”
Rowley bounced back from a three-interception performance last week with 307 yards passing. Vijil had another big night with 11 catches for 103 yards. He has 1,029 yards receiving and 31 TD catches this season.
“Teams are giving it to us,” Rowley said. “Obviously Raul’s a great player and he keeps getting open. And we have one of the best receiving units in the game.”
Spokane’s Travis Williams and Antwan Marsh had interceptions. Marsh has two interceptions in two starts at “Jack” linebacker, and just like his pick last week, which came in the closing minute, this one was well-timed.
It came with the Talons (6-5), trailing 49-35, threatening to get back into the game after LaRico Stevenson’s interception early in the fourth quarter. Four plays later, Marsh picked off a Justin Allgood pass, giving the Shock possession at the Tulsa 7. On fourth down, Rowley found Vijil open near the right sideline. Vijil raced into the end zone for his fourth touchdown and Spokane led by 21.
“I think the interception was more fun (than his rushing touchdown),” Marsh said, “because it kind of changed the game in a big way.”
Spokane was solid on both sides of the ball in the first half. The Shock scored on five straight possessions and used a couple of late defensive stops to take a 35-21 lead.
Vijil broke away from defensive back Chris Royal and was wide open for a 15-yard touchdown pass from Rowley, giving Spokane a 28-21 lead.
The Talons converted on fourth down for a touchdown on their third possession, but they couldn’t do the same on their fourth series. On fourth-and-2 at the Shock 12, Allgood fired a quick pass into the right flat while receiver Donovan Morgan continued running his route downfield.
Spokane capitalized, with Rowley’s 2-yard scoring run bumping the lead to 14. Tulsa marched to Spokane’s 13, where Allgood tossed three straight incomplete passes. On fourth down, he fired into double coverage and Williams made his fourth interception of the season.
The Shock sacked Allgood twice. The Talons had allowed only two sacks in 10 previous games.
“When you’re playing a team that gets rid of the ball quick, it’s up to the defensive backs to take that quick throw away,” said defensive end Jerry Turner, who had a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. “We stressed that all week. If they could make (Allgood) hang onto the ball, the line can get back there and get some hits.”
Spokane visits Milwaukee, which is ranked No. 3 entering tonight’s game against No. 5 Chicago, next Saturday.