After all the twists and turns, a demotion and injury, Kyle Rowley is back at the helm of the offense and his play will go a long way in determining if Spokane can defend their Arena Football League title.
It’s an opportunity for a smooth landing after a bumpy regular season which concludes with No. 8 Spokane (9-8) visiting No. 2 Jacksonville (13-4) tonight at Jacksonville (Fla.) Veterans Memorial Arena.
Rowley struggled out of the gate, lost his starting job at midseason and just after getting back on the field he went down with a shoulder injury. When he returned, Spokane had acquired Erik Meyer, who beat out Rowley for the starting position and sparked the team’s late-season surge.
But Meyer couldn’t stay healthy and he’s out for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury. Enter Rowley, who isn’t so much new and improved as hardened and appreciative.
“It’s given me a glimpse into what a lot of guys go through from week to week,” Rowley said. “It’s such a short roster that everyone’s on the bubble if they’re playing, if they’re starting. So I had to go through that. Big deal. It made me more of a team player and hopefully shaped me into the type of leader that can lead us to another championship.”
Rowley tossed eight touchdowns in relief of Meyer, the last a 34-yard Hail Mary to Randy Hymes that gave Spokane a victory over San Jose and a playoff berth. Alongside posts praising Rowley’s perseverance, one commenter on Rowley’s Facebook page offered: “I take it all back what I’ve said all season…..u got the RIGHT stuff, and u were a BEAST tonight!!!”
“A lot of times people that voice opinions in negative times are negative people,” Rowley said. “I try to remember that probably 90 percent of the people out there believe in me and recognize that I’ve helped this team win multiple championships (2006, 2010).”
He doesn’t hide from the fact it’s been a trying season.
“There was a time when the thought (of moving on) crossed my mind, if they don’t want me to play quarterback I leave,” Rowley said. “But I didn’t want to do that to my teammates or the city or the people that have stock and faith in me.”
Receiver Raul Vijil, returning from a hamstring injury, will play. … Head coach Rob Keefe said the flow of the game will dictate whether he rests key players. Both teams have clinched playoff spots, so the only things at stake are momentum and the possibility of improving their chances of hosting the title game. … Jacksonville has three former Spokane players: linebacker/fullback Aaron Robbins, defensive lineman Richard Clebert and offensive lineman Vladimir Richard. … Former WSU quarterback Aaron Garcia leads the AFL in touchdown passes (112) and completion percentage (72). … Jacksonville has lost three straight after a 13-game winning streak.