SAN JOSE, Calif. – The defending ArenaBowl champion Spokane Shock opened the 2011 Arena Football League season with a blowout road loss.
San Jose, behind veteran quarterback Mark Grieb’s six touchdown passes and a pair of first-half interception returns for touchdowns, rolled to a 76-48 victory over the top-ranked Shock on Friday at HP Pavilion.
San Jose, which won three titles from 2002-07 and lost in the 2008 ArenaBowl, looked sharp in its return after two idle seasons.
The second-ranked SaberCats didn’t commit a turnover and scored on every possession before running out the clock on their last series. Grieb was 21 of 25 – he intentionally threw the ball into the crowd for an incompletion on the final play – for 222 yards.
“Apparently I didn’t have them prepared,” Shock head coach Rob Keefe said in a postgame interview on the Shock radio network. “Turnovers, uncharacteristic of our team, personal fouls, offsides, mental breakdowns … we had a lot of plays where somebody was doing something wrong.”
Spokane started last season with a loss, falling to savvy quarterback Chris Greisen and Milwaukee 74-62.
The Shock lost two games the rest of the season and defeated Milwaukee twice en route to the title.
Grieb, No. 1 in AFL history in passer rating, was 10 of 12 for 135 yards and four touchdowns in the first half.
“Good quarterback,” Shock defensive back Alex Teems said. “He was on tonight.”
Meanwhile, Spokane’s offense misfired from the start. Trailing 7-0, Shock quarterback Kyle Rowley’s third pass attempt hit Greg Orton in the hands, but he couldn’t make the catch. The ball was picked out of the air by San Jose’s Courtney Smith, who returned it 16 yards for a touchdown.
Grieb’s third TD pass put San Jose in front 27-14 on the final play of the first quarter. Spokane drove deep into SaberCats’ territory, but Rowley threw behind Raul Vijil into the arms of defensive back Dwight McLean, who raced 46 yards for a touchdown.
Spokane was stopped on downs on its next possession and Chad Cook’s second-effort 1-yard touchdown plunge extended San Jose’s lead to 41-14.
The Shock scored with 2 seconds left in the half on Rowley’s 1-yard run, but still trailed 48-27 at the half.
San Jose’s Rodney Wright had 12 receptions for 123 yards. Nichiren Flowers had four TD catches.
Vijil was one of Spokane’s bright spots. The former Eastern Washington Eagle, returning from a torn ACL last June, had 13 catches for 161 yards and one touchdown. Rowley passed for 364 yards and five TDs.
Spokane entertains Cleveland on Saturday.