More ho-hum stuff for Team Drama.
Would you believe another quarterback injured – this one red-hot replacement Erik Meyer? How about four second-half turnovers, normally the kiss of death in the Arena Football League? Or seeing a 22-point lead wilt to the point that a field goal would have sent things into overtime?
No matter. The Spokane Shock survived yet another encounter crucial to their playoff hopes, using a pair of late-first half defensive turnovers and hanging on for a 63-60 victory over the Chicago Rush in front of 9,499 fans at the Spokane Arena on Saturday night.
The victory ran the Shock’s record to 6-7 and allowed them to keep pace with Utah and Tulsa in the battle for the AFL National Conference’s second wild-card spot – those three teams two full games behind the other non-division leader, Dallas.
But it also suggested that the Shock may have finally tapped into a well of resiliency that could sustain them beyond this single win.
“Welcome to the soap opera,” said Shock coach Rob Keefe. “But, to be honest, it’s something we prepare for.”
Having already lost two starters at quarterback to injury a month ago, Spokane’s backup plans were tested again when Meyer threw an interception and took a hard shot upending Chicago’s Perry Kyles on the return – saving a touchdown, but forcing Keefe to turn to rookie Steven Sheffield.
The rookie from Texas Tech didn’t dazzle – his first two passes were incomplete, the third intercepted, and he would later fuel Chicago’s comeback with a fumbled snap. But he also threw a pair of touchdown passes and kept the Shock’s lead at three scores before those turnovers made things interesting.
“That’s the defense helping us out,” said Sheffield. “They stepped up big and the D-line especially – causing that pressure and knocking their starting quarterback out. They provided a lot of spark to the offense to keep going and hold them off.”
The Rush contributed to their demise – kicker Bob Forstrom missing three PATs and failing on a 2-pointer when Ruschard Dodd-Masters knocked down a pass.
If the game wasn’t decided in the last minute of the first half, it certainly turned there.
After routine – but entertaining – touchdown swapping through the first half, the Rush were driving for what would have been a go-ahead touchdown when Spokane’s Antwan Marsh jumped Charles Dillon’s slant route for an interception, returning it 26 yards. Marsh got the call for the go-ahead score a few plays later, running it in from a yard out with 26.6 seconds left left.
On the next snap, Jon Williams sacked Chicago quarterback Russ Michna and the ball went skittering toward the back wall, Jonathan Williams falling on it to give the Shock a 42-27 halftime lead.
Michna did not return for the second half and Meyer found Greg Orton on a 37-yard post corner to push the gap to 22 points. Rush backup Dominic Randolph threw an ugly pick on his second snap and the Shock appeared to be ready to cruise – only to see Meyer, who completed 15 of 19 passes for 202 yards and five touchdowns, hurt on the next play.
The Rush closed the gap to 49-39 – Dillon catching a ball deflected off the net for a touchdown – before Sheffield connected on his first AFL touchdown pass, a 43-yarder to Orton.
And the lead once again reached 18 points on his 32-yarder to Shane Kauleinamoku. Dodd-Masters had with a fourth-down knockdown that had the Shock exhaling in relief – but the fumbles by Sheffield and Clay Harrell on successive possessions revived the drama.