It’s hard to believe the Spokane Shock actually trailed in this Arena Football League game after one quarter.
All it took was a complete meltdown by Utah for the Shock to register their second blowout of the Blaze this season.
Utah gave up three possessions on special teams and the Blaze offense closed the first half by turning the ball over on downs, fumbling a center-quarterback exchange and throwing an interception. Those miscues helped Spokane to 35 unanswered points and eventually a 77-28 rout in front of 10,481 Saturday at the Arena.
Spokane’s victory sets up a showdown with Jacksonville Saturday at the Arena. Jacksonville and Milwaukee shared the No. 1 ranking entering the week, but Jacksonville defeated Cleveland while Milwaukee lost to Orlando. Jacksonville has the league’s best record at 6-1. No. 4 Spokane improved to 5-2.
Two of Spokane’s wins have come against the Blaze (1-5) by a combined 83 points.
Spokane trailed 16-14 after one quarter, but that changed with Harrison Nikolao’s 1-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second quarter.
Taylor Rowan’s ensuing kickoff hit the iron goal post and bounced out past the 5-yard line. As a Blaze player tried to grab the football, Kevin McCullough delivered a jarring hit and the ball was recovered by Spokane’s Quorey Payne. Kyle Rowley fired a short touchdown pass to Huey Whittaker and Spokane led 28-16.
“Those are especially big because for the road team, those are really tough plays to recover from,” McCullough said. “We actually had a game plan for him (kick returner Brandon Hampton). He’s one of the best in the league.”
On Utah’s next series, quarterback Brett Elliott was stopped 1 yard short on a fourth-down run and Spokane was back in business at the Blaze 11. Shaun Kauleinamoku made a nifty catch on a low throw for a touchdown and the Shock led by 19.
Utah coughed up the football on the ensuing kick return and Spokane capitalized on Raul Vijil’s touchdown reception. Michael Affleck replaced Elliott at quarterback, but he fumbled a snap and Shock defensive back Alex Teems recovered.
After another Vijil touchdown catch, Spokane led 49-16 at half. Spokane’s record for points scored in a half is 56 (versus Quad City in 2008).
The game started ominously for the Blaze, who nearly upset Milwaukee a week ago. The opening kickoff hit an upright and Teems’ well-timed hit forced a loose ball that teammate Aaron Robbins recovered at the 3. Robbins dove into the end zone and Spokane led 7-0.
“On the first kick I aimed down the middle, so if it hits the bar it’s a little bit fortunate,” Rowan said. “On the two that hit the lower crossbar, I kind of found out that’s where it was coming down on my shorter kicks. I’ve been getting some teasing from the guys because I’ve only hit the bar a couple times this season.”
Former Eastern Washington Eagle Erik Meyer replaced Rowley in the second half and, after being intercepted on his first possession, Meyer hit Vijil for a 31-yard touchdown to extend Spokane’s lead to 56-16.
“We’ve got to get him time,” head coach Rob Keefe said of Meyer, who had four touchdown passes in the second half. “If something happens to Kyle, he’s the guy and we’ve got to have him prepared as much as we can.”
Other than the two easy wins over Utah, every Shock game has been decided late.
“They were coming in after an emotional loss to Milwaukee and if they’d won that game they might have had a different mind-set,” Keefe said. “But regardless of the opponent, it’s about time we put together an ‘A’ game. I liked that we had a step-on-their-throat mentality.”
Shock 77, Blaze 28
SPK—Robbins 48 onside kick RET (Rowan kick)
UTH—Francies 6 pass from Elliott (kick fail)
SPK—Vijil 37 pass from Rowley (Rowan kick)
UTH—Francies 21 pass from Elliott (Scott kick)
UTH—FG Scott 19
SPK—Nikolao 1 run (Rowan kick)
SPK—Whittaker 3 pass from Rowley (Rowan kick)
SPK—Kauleinamoku 11 pass from Rowley (Rowan kick)
SPK—Vijil 8 pass from Rowley (Rowan kick)
SPK—Vijil 1 pass from Rowley (Rowan kick)
SPK—Vijil 31 pass from Meyer (Rowan kick)
UTH—Boon 1 pass from Affleck (pass fail)
SPL—Kauleinamoku 17 pass from Meyer (Rowan kick)
SPK—Payne 28 pass from Meyer (Rowan kick)
UTH—Boone 1 pass from Affleck (Boone pass from Affleck)
SPK—Kauleinamoku fumble recovery (Rowan kick)
Rushing–Utah, Elliot 1-7, Affleck 5-7, Walker 1-1. Spokane, Rowlet 1-4, Nikolao 2-2, Vijil 1-1, Meyer 1-0.
Passing–Utah, Elliott 6-11-0-75, Affleck 9-17-1-58. Spokane, Meyer 10-17-10197, Rowley 10-19-0-132.
Receiving–Utah, Aki 4-46, Francies 4-44, Boone 6-42, Walker 1-1. Spokane, Vijil 8-160, Pino 0-50, Whittaker 5-43, Kauleinamoku 4-40, Payne 3-36.