Compared to the long hours required to put an arena football configuration on the Albi Stadium turf, Spokane Shock head coach Rob Keefe figured he had the easy job Saturday night.
On a balmy evening that started with sunshine and finished under the lights, the Shock took a big step toward making the playoffs with a 76-49 victory over the Utah Blaze in the first outdoor game in Arena Football League history. A crowd of 16,233 watched the Shock (8-8) move one game in front of Utah (7-9) for the last National Conference playoff berth.
“I loved it, the lights are on and our guys rose to the occasion,” Keefe said. “I’m very happy for the organization. A lot of people on the non-football side of it really made tonight go. We just played football. If you had seen this place at 11 a.m., you would have thought it wasn’t going to get finished, but everybody – from interns to front-office staff to ticket guys – was taping down walls and they did a great job.
“We had to do our part.”
They did more than their share. Alex Teems forced and recovered a fumble and Spokane worked the clock nearly to perfection in scoring with 2 seconds left in the second quarter to open up a 49-35 lead. The defense turned up the heat in the second half on 44-year-old quarterback Todd Hammel, who signed with the Blaze earlier this week.
Spokane had three sacks and forced three turnovers in the second half to pull away. Teems added an interception and 31-yard return to set up a Shock touchdown. Ruschard Dodd-Masters picked off a Hammel pass, and his 24-yard return set up another score as the Shock took a commanding 69-42 lead with 11:01 remaining.
Hammel played well in the first half, completing 14 of 16 attempts, but he cooled to 9 of 18 in the second half. Beau Bell, Micah King and Jon Williams recorded sacks.
“He was reading the zones pretty well, but we made an adjustment to throw in a little more man coverage to try to confuse him and make him hold the ball,” Teems said. “The defensive line started getting there.”
Quarterback Erik Meyer led Spokane to touchdowns on its first nine possessions. He exited after cramping up for the second straight week. Kyle Rowley tossed two touchdowns to Adron Tennell to keep Spokane comfortably ahead.
Meyer had six touchdown passes and ran for another. Tennell had five touchdown receptions, giving him eight in three games with the team.
“I woke up dancing in my room I was so excited,” Tennell said. “I was just pumped up to be playing outside. It was loud, it was fun and the fans got me excited.”
Spokane was turnover-free and didn’t allow a sack. The Shock scored on every possession, three made easier by long kick returns by Terrance Sanders and Dodd-Masters, before simply running out the final seconds with the ball inside the Blaze 10.