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Spokane Empire

Shock may be forced to change their changes

Sat., May 14, 2011, 11:46 p.m.

Well, maybe you could call this a jump start.

That’s probably not what Bill Stull would call it. Nor Kyle Rowley. But the scoreboard suggested as much.

As long as the entire engine doesn’t have to be rebuilt this week.

The best-laid motivational gimmicks, it seems, often go limping off with a sprained knee or a wincing with a dead arm. When Stull made a nifty, swerving touchdown run late in the first quarter, it appeared that Spokane Shock coach Rob Keefe hadn’t just stirred the pot this week in naming a new starting quarterback for his Arena Football League team but potentially cranked the dial from simmer to boil.

But when Stull crumpled to the Spokane Arena turf twice trying to get himself upright, well, welcome to yesterday.

For a couple of quarters, anyway.

In came the incumbent, Rowley. Up rose the Shock defense. Out the door went the Dallas Vigilantes, who often looked as overmatched as one of the Shock’s old af2 tomato cans.

And back into the AFL playoff picture inched the Shock, with a 71-49 wipeout that veered from the cartoonish late – multiple personal fouls, fumbles, inept onside kicks and a few things that simply made no sense at all – to the ominous.

Or didn’t anyone notice wide receivers Chas Gessner and Emery Sammons taking turns at quarterback in the last 6 minutes?

They were out there because the game was well in hand – even for the inconsistent Shock, whose instincts this season have been somewhat less than killer – but also because someone had to play the position.

Stull couldn’t – he was rocking on a pair of crutches with what was termed, for the time being, a sprained knee.

Rowley couldn’t – after taking some nasty knocks and crashing one too many times to the unforgiving rug, he’d lost sensation in his passing arm and “just couldn’t throw.”

That left it first to Gessner, never a quarterback in his life “at any level – well, my backyard,” and then Sammons, the Shock’s own Swiss Army knife, to kill off the clock. Not that the Vigilantes showed much of a notion of being able to win even if they’d been given another quarter or two.

Now what?

Well, in all likelihood, a walk through the waiver wire in search of quarterback reinforcements, depending on what the doctor bill is this week.

We’ll probably never really know what Keefe’s shakeup might have produced – whether Stull would have played lights-out enough to make it dicey to go back to Rowley, as the coach seemed to suggest was going to happen anyway.

Stull, at least, tried to prepare as if he was going to be a permanent solution and not just an inspirational tool.

“I was very excited,” said the Pittsburgh graduate, who was cut from Kansas City’s NFL camp last August. “Absolutely, it was an opportunity for myself to play well and get some film out there, because I want to get back to where I was. At the same time, from the team standpoint, I wanted to do anything I could to help get us going in the right direction.”

It may have been a tougher assignment for Rowley, the hero of both of Spokane’s first championships in the af2 and AFL and one of the faces of the franchise.

“The first couple of days,” he admitted, “it was tough for me to wrap my head around, but I’m behind these coaches no matter what they do.

“I just came back in wanting to continue to play football the way I know how. I’ve been doing this for a long time.

“We haven’t had the best first eight games, I know, but I just needed to be me.”

And he was pretty much who he’d been this season – capable (five touchdowns), but not as efficient as he’s been in the past, though the scoreboard didn’t necessarily agree.

“It’s been an emotional week,” Rowley said. “It was my turn to take a break and gather my thoughts a little bit.”

And come up with different ones.

There were elements both comic and inspirational in the emergency relief at game’s end. Gessner, Rowley’s old Brown University teammate, launched an unlikely 36-yard bomb to Sammons that caught the Vigilantes completely off guard. And Sammons, running out of an 8-man wildcat formation, took shot after brutal shot from defenders who knew nothing else was coming.

“And before each one,” he said, laughing, “I kept thinking, ‘How is this going to feel in the morning?’”

Like a victory, and maybe more.

“A win like this, when we all have to come together and do more than what’s expected,” said Gessner, who joined the team just 10 days ago, “is the kind of thing that can really build momentum and trust.”

Noted Rowley, “It gave me chills a little bit.”

And that’s a start, if not a jump start.

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