It looked like the good old days for the new-look Spokane Shock.
New starting quarterback Erik Meyer tossed seven touchdown passes, the defense converted two interceptions into points and Taylor Rowan delivered two successful onside kicks as Spokane defeated Philadelphia 75-54 in front of 8,972 Friday at the Arena, the smallest regular-season crowd in franchise history.
Meyer, acquired from Utah in a trade last week, fired four touchdown passes in the first quarter and had a string of 10 consecutive completions. The former Eastern Washington University standout dropped a perfectly thrown 39-yarder onto Greg Orton’s hands for Spokane’s second touchdown.
“It was an unbelievable feeling, especially coming out with a win,” said Meyer, who was 26 of 36 for 332 yards in his first start since directing the Cologne Centurions in NFL Europe in 2007. “This team has had a few bad breaks, that’s the reason we were 4-7 before this one. So the thing is we have to change our luck, go make plays and see what happens.”
What happened Friday ended a two-game losing streak and put defending AFL champion Spokane in the middle of the playoff chase. If Tulsa (4-7) defeats Utah (5-6) tonight, those teams would join Spokane (5-7) and San Jose (5-7) in a four-way tie for the last National Conference playoff berth.
Three of Meyer’s touchdown passes went to Markee White, who returned after missing nine games with a foot injury.
“I’m probably about 90, 95 percent, but I’m good enough to play,” White said. “Everybody is battling in this league and it’s tough. As long as we keep playing ball, we’re in the playoff hunt.”
Sitting in his hotel room in Kansas City after a loss two weeks ago, Shock coach Rob Keefe made the decision that he was going to try an onside kick at the outset of Spokane’s next game.
The move paid off – twice. After Spokane scored on its opening possession, Rowan’s onside kick was bobbled by Brandon Perkins and the Shock recovered. Following a Meyer TD pass, Rowan tried another onside kick and Spokane’s Emery Sammons recovered.
Meyer connected with White for the touchdown and Spokane led 20-0 just six minutes into the game.
“When you’re 4-7 it’s very difficult to let the game come to you,” Keefe said. “You have to take control of your future and make things happen. That’s what we say: ‘Don’t talk about it, be about it.’”
Philadelphia (5-8) battled back to tie it at 34 on Ryan Vena’s touchdown pass to Larry Brackins early in the third quarter. Antwan Marsh’s touchdown run gave Spokane the lead and the Shock defense took care of the rest.
Vena has struggled against the Shock, committing 10 turnovers while going 0-3 against as the QB at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2009 and Iowa last season. Vena tried to hit Brackins in the corner of the end zone, but Terrance Standers stepped in front for the interception and raced down the sidelines.
“They had a big lineman that was hanging on my leg (at about the Soul 20-yard line) and he wasn’t going to let go,” Sanders said. “I had two guys with me and if I could pitch it to one of them I knew they had a good chance to score.”
Sanders flipped the ball to Beau Bell, who took it in for the touchdown.
On Philadelphia’s next play from scrimmage, Vena threw the ball to defensive back Ruschard Dodd-Masters, who went 14 yards for a TD and a 55-34 lead early in the fourth quarter.