When Mark Grieb tossed an 11-yard touchdown pass to James Roe to give San Jose a four-point lead with 3.9 seconds left, some in the crowd of 9,680 at the Arena headed for the exits.
What happened next will go down as one of the wildest finishes in the six-year history of the Spokane Shock – and they’ve had several thrillers from which to choose. Randy Hymes, signed last week and playing in his first game Saturday night, hauled in Kyle Rowley’s 34-yard pass in a crowd at the back of the end zone as the Shock pulled out a 63-61 victory over the SaberCats.
“Tell everybody that left I’m sorry, but this is arena football, baby,” jubilant Shock head coach Rob Keefe said. “We had a couple finishes like that in 2006, but I think we’ve been on the opposite end of those this season. You have to take everything negative that happens during the season and turn it into a positive.”
The win, Spokane’s fifth in six games, coupled with Tulsa’s loss to Orlando clinched a playoff berth. Spokane (9-8) will face top-seeded Arizona in two weeks. Spokane closes the regular season at Jacksonville.
Spokane trailed from the start as San Jose recovered the opening kickoff after it caromed off the iron goal posts. San Jose scored to take a 7-0 lead and the Shock answered, but they lost starting quarterback Erik Meyer in the process. He hurt his right (throwing) shoulder on a scramble. It appears to be a sprained AC joint –the same injury that sidelined Rowley for roughly six weeks earlier this season – but Keefe said he didn’t think it was as severe.
The SaberCats, behind clutch play from Grieb, led by two touchdowns in each half, but the Shock fought back each time.
Spokane trailed 41-40 after Brandon Thompkins’ touchdown catch, but Taylor Rowan’s PAT was blocked. The Shock finally tied it when Hymes pulled in a 1-yard TD pass and Thompkins made a couple of nifty moves on a reverse on the two-point conversion with 1 minute left.
The final 60 seconds were a parade of highlights. On Spokane’s kickoff, SaberCats returner Marco Thomas got out to the 1, but went back in the end zone and was brought down by Emery Sammons for a safety. Spokane had its first lead, 57-55.
San Jose kicker Juan Gamboa recovered his own onside kick after it hit the hands of Spokane’s Antwan Marsh at the 8. Grieb guided the SaberCats down field. On third-and-7 at the 11, he scrambled and found Roe for the touchdown. The two-point conversion failed and San Jose led 61-57.
Alex Teems fielded a squib kick and immediately fell to the turf. With 2.9 seconds left, Spokane sent Sammons, Hymes and Adron Tennell to the end zone and Rowley lofted a pass near the right upright. Tennell seemed to have the first crack at it, but it somehow ended up in Hymes’ adhesive hands, setting off a wild celebration.
“You’re taught as a receiver that it’s your ball when it’s in the air,” said Hymes, who finished with 12 catches and four touchdowns. “It was a little overthrown, but I came down with it.”
“I pulled it back in a little bit and it fell to Randy,” Tennell said.
The ending was so crazy that Rowley thought Tennell made the catch.
“Oh really, OK, I had the wrong guy there,” said Rowley, after being informed that Hymes made the game-winning catch. “It was supposed to happen the other way with Hymes tipping it to Tennell. That’s arena football right there.”
Rowley passed for 281 yards and eight touchdowns. Grieb had seven TDs and 315 yards passing.
“I feel comfortable with both (quarterbacks), they’re both leaders on this team and you’re only as strong as your depth,” Keefe said.