Given the same score, time, circumstances and options, Spokane Shock head coach Rob Keefe said he’d probably do the same thing.
The score: Spokane leads Cleveland 68-65. The time: 8.2 seconds left. The circumstances: Spokane had been outstanding in kick coverage most of the game, including scoring a touchdown on a fumble recovery in the end zone. Other than two on-side attempts and a 29-yard return in the first quarter, Cleveland’s best starting field position was its 6-yard line.
Among the options: kick deep, on-side kick, kick the ball out of bounds or squib kick.
Spokane elected to kick deep to Brent Holmes, who had returned two second-half kicks to Cleveland’s 1 and 2. It backfired when Holmes jetted up the middle for a 56-yard touchdown return to give Cleveland a 72-68 win Saturday.
“I’m kicking myself over and over because with hindsight you take it back, but you have to follow the scripts,” Keefe said. “We covered them all night. They used our aggressiveness against us.”
Cleveland also had a penalty hanging over its head from a previous play, meaning it would be backed up 10 yards after the kick return. However, that no longer applied when Holmes returned the kick for a touchdown and it was assessed on the next timed down.
“Say he gets back to the 25 and (the penalty) takes it back to the 15, but they’ve pretty much wasted most of the 8.2 seconds,” Keefe said. “They basically have to kick a 45-yard (or longer) field goal. I’ll take my odds on that all day long.
“What we didn’t want to have happen is kick the ball out of bounds, put it at the 20 (the 10 after the penalty). It’s just not very hard to get 15 yards with 8.2 seconds left and all three timeouts. We were worried they’d hit a dig route or something across the middle, fall down and call timeout and it’s at the same spot where (Cleveland kicker Matt Denny) hits the field goal at the end of the first half.”
That was a 41-yarder. It should be noted that Spokane kicked off with 21.3 seconds left and Cleveland ran three plays before Denny’s kick.
“There are so many what-ifs,” Keefe said. “If we would have made the tackle, there would have been maybe 3 seconds and they’re kicking from 50-plus.”
Highs and lows
Defensive back Travis Williams had an interesting night. He was beaten on Cleveland’s first three touchdown passes. He responded with two interceptions in the end zone before yielding Ben Nelson’s 23-yard TD catch with 35.3 seconds left. Williams also had a fumble recovery nullified by a penalty.
“If you get two interceptions and somebody scores six touchdowns, it’s a win,” said Keefe, a former af2/AFL defensive back. “You should be scoring if you’re running full speed at me constantly. You have to have a short memory in arena football.
“But I love Shock fans. They’re hard on us because they expect the best and so do we. I was happy with the way he bounced back, but it’s hard when you take stuff from your own fans.”
With Holmes’ return and the fact Spokane lost three potential possessions (penalties erased a fumble, interception and on-side kick recovery), Shock players were still coming to grips with the loss two days later.
“That’s the most upsetting loss I’ve had because it was so back-and-forth and at the end I just felt like, ‘What happened? How did we just lose that game?’ ” defensive end Ben McCombs said. “I think we all felt that way.”
Added receiver Raul Vijil: “We sat in film and it’s hard to watch some of the mistakes we were making.”
There was some concern that fullback Clay Harrell might face suspension after being ejected during a fourth quarter dust-up. “At this point, he will not be suspended,” Keefe said. “They (league office) understand it was a heat-of-the-moment thing.” … DB Alex Teems and OL Chris Pino made their season debuts against Cleveland. “They played great,” Keefe said.