Spokane’s championship banner from the 2010 ArenaBowl was hoisted to the ceiling of the Arena just minutes before the start of Saturday night’s Arena Football League battle between the visiting Cleveland Gladiators.
It was an emotional reminder of last year’s magical title run as a first-year AFL franchise.
And what followed was a stark reminder of how difficult it is going to be to repeat that title run.
The Cleveland Gladiators, behind the heady leadership and strong right arm of veteran quarterback John
Dutton, tuned out a noisy crowd of 10,140 and took down the defending AFC champion Shock 61-55.
The loss from the second straight for Spokane (0-2), which dropped it season opener, 76-48, on the road against the San Jose SaberCats last weekend.
A visibly angry Shock coach Rob Keefe shook off interview requests immediately after the game, but his quarterback Kyle Rowley was quick to admit his disappointment over the loss.
“It’s tough,” said the former standout at Brown, who completed 29 of 45 passes for 313 yards and seven touchdowns in a losing effort. “One part of you thinks you’re the defending champions, but the other part knows this is a new team that still needs to learn.
“We just need to cut out some of the mistakes and figure out a way to win.”
The Gladiators (1-0), who had a first-week bye, made that a difficult proposition on this night as Dutton torched the Shock for 257 yards and six touchdowns through the air, completing 20 of 20 pass attempts. Four of his scoring tosses went to Troy Bergeron, who finished with six catches for 134 yards.
The Shock’s task was complicated by the absence of Raul Vijil, who missed the game because of illness. Vijil, who played collegiately at Eastern Washington University, caught 15 passes for 161 yards and a touchown in last Saturday’s season-opening loss.
“It obviously had an impact,” Rowley said. “He’s been one of our best players, and we would have loved to have him out there. But we’ve got great receivers on this team, and we’re as deep at receiver as we are at any other position.
“So that’s not the reason we didn’t come out with a win today.”
Despite falling behind 54-34 with less that six minutes left in the game, the Shock managed a spirited comeback that saw them cut Cleveland’s lead to 54-48 on Markee White’s leaping touchdown catch into the stands at the back of the end zone.
But they Kurt Rocco, who took over at quarterback when Dutton limped off the field with a little over a minute remaining, calmly hit Bergeron with a 12-yard touchdown pass that sealed it.
“We really wanted to bounce back this week,” said Spokane defensive lineman Mike Alston. “But we played a great team that was well coach and came out with their A Game. Being the defending champs, we’re going to get everyone’s A Game.
“We’ve just got to make correction, be on national TV against Iowa next week and fight strong to get our first victory.”