The Spokane Shock closed one of the most disjointed weeks in franchise history Friday night with an equally unhinged performance on the field.
And in the end, with midweek roster addition Casey Hansen struggling at quarterback, they simply weren’t able to cobble together enough offense in suffering a 51-42 loss to visiting Tampa Bay in an Arena Football League showdown witnessed by an Arena crowd of 9,320.
Hansen earned the right to start under center earlier in the week by beating out two other candidates during auditions that were held to find replacements for Kyle Rowley (shoulder) and Bill Stull (knee), who were both injured in last Saturday’s 71-49 win over Dallas.
A backup quarterback for the Shock in 2009, the 6-foot-5 Hansen was out of football and working at his brother’s data communication business in California when he got to call to try out. And the effects of the layoff were obvious as he completed just 25 of 43 passes for 288 yards and four touchdowns, while fumbling the ball away twice and throwing an interception that was returned for a late-game score.
“A little rusty,” Hansen said. “I’ve got some work to do, for sure. I was missing reads, missing receivers and missing some throws. I guess it should be expected, but I didn’t really want it to be that way.”
Tampa Bay, on the other hand, got a decent performance from its emergency quarterback, Brian Zbydniewski, another former Shock player and backup to Rowley on last year’s Arena Bowl Championship team.
Zbydniewski, who took over as the Storm’s starter just three weeks ago – also because of an injury – completed 23 of 33 passes for 223 yards and six touchdowns as Tampa Bay (4-6) won the rematch of the 2010 ArenaBowl participants.
Huey Whittaker, a key member of the Spokane’s title team, caught three of Zbydniewski’s scoring passes and finished the contest with 11 catches for 123 yards.
Spokane (4-6) got two touchdown catches from Raul Vijil, but struggled to find any offensive rhythm the entire night – an obvious result of Hansen’s inexperience.
“It’s a lot to ask for a young guy in a good professional sports league to be on fire,” Shock coach Rob Keefe said of Hansen’s performance. “You can see how much of a quarterback league this is.”
The game started horribly for Spokane, which fumbled away the opening kickoff on its 3-yard line to give the Storm an early easy touchdown. The Shock answered with 55-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Ruschard Dodd-Masters, but produced little else in the way of first-half highlights.
“Those two first-half turnovers killed us,” Keefe said. “And then we had to give them the ball back to start the second half.”
Hansen, who was pressured unmercifully by Tampa Bay’s defensive front, finished the half 10 for 16 for 125 yards and two touchdowns. He struggled with the center exchange on several plays, however, and lost a fumble that set up the Storm’s third touchdown late in second quarter.
“They got a lot of pressure on me all night,” Hansen, who was sacked four times, said of Tampa Bay’s pass rush. “But our line held up and did its job. I’ve just got to find receivers and get rid of the ball quicker. I can’t take those sacks.
“It was a learning experience and we’ve got to move on from here.”
Vijil finished with 14 catches for 146 yards for the Shock, who play again next Saturday at Kansas City.