Blaze much better than in blowout loss in April
The Spokane Shock have played six Arena Football League games and the only one that didn’t have a suspenseful conclusion was when they crushed Utah 68-34 in early April.
Spokane isn’t expecting a repeat in the rematch tonight at the Arena.
Utah is 1-4 after playing five teams with a combined 18-12 record. Only one, Bossier-Shreveport, is under .500. A week ago, Utah had top-ranked Milwaukee on the ropes, but shaky clock management and an ill-timed penalty cost the Blaze a chance at a winning score in the closing seconds. The Iron won in overtime.
No. 4 Spokane sports a 4-2 record against foes with a combined 15-19 mark. Milwaukee was the lone opponent above .500. Cleveland was 0-3 before starting a three-game winning streak with a victory in Spokane.
“We’ve been in situations where the teams we’ve played had bad records,” Shock head coach Rob Keefe said. “We lost to Cleveland and barely beat Oklahoma City and they were a combined 2-6 when we played them.
“When you watch on film, we can all understand that Utah is a lot better. You see it, and that’s a good thing.”
Utah has settled on ex-Linfield Wildcat Brett Elliott at starting quarterback. Elliott, who came off the bench in the first meeting, has tossed 26 touchdown passes with just four interceptions. Still, Utah ranks last in the AFL at 49.6 points and 244.2 yards passing per game.
Aaron Boone (43 catches, 424 yards, 17 touchdowns) is Utah’s top receiver.
“They may not be the most intricate offense in the world, but they’re very physical,” Keefe said. “That’s one thing I’ve really noticed.”
Spokane is still looking for consistency on both sides of the ball. Keefe wants to see improved play from linebacker Kevin McCullough, the offensive line and defensive front. The defensive front has been banged up, but Keefe expects more production.
“We’re doing the roller coaster at a lot of positions – good one week, not so good the next,” Keefe said.
There’ll be a change on the offensive line. Branden Hall won’t start. Chris Pino, Antonio Narcisse and Ed Ta’amu are expected to start with Harrison Nikolao at fullback. Ta’amu made his season debut last week and played well after yielding an early sack.
McCullough, who had 10 interceptions last year and five in 2008, is still looking for his first pick this season.
Spokane signed two players this week, wide receiver Emery Sammons and linebacker Antwan Marsh. Marsh essentially has no arena football experience, but Keefe considers the rangy 6-foot-3, 210-pounder a “project” with good upside.
Sammons provides depth at receiver. Markee White was placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury that could keep him out 3-6 weeks. Mainstays Huey Whittaker and Raul Vijil will be joined by Quorey Payne and Shaun Kauleinamoku, who had a nice debut last week with two touchdown receptions against Oklahoma City.
Marsh and Sammons aren’t expected to play tonight.