In the Spokane Shock’s brief time in the Arena Football League, they’ve developed healthy rivalries with Utah and San Jose, but nothing compares to their annual showdowns with Arizona.
Spokane defeated Arizona three times, once in the playoffs, en route to the 2010 championship. The Rattlers returned the favor with a playoff victory over Spokane last season before eventually losing to Jacksonville in the ArenaBowl.
The teams collide tonight at 8 at the Arena with the Shock (8-6) trying to keep their playoff hopes alive and the top-ranked Rattlers (11-3) trying to take another step toward repeating as West Division champions.
“All of our division opponents are very tough,” Spokane coach Andy Olson said, “but Arizona seems to be our biggest rival and gives us the most trouble. It’s a game we’re looking forward to.”
In part because of the sting of looking back at the last meeting in April. Spokane had the lead and the ball at Arizona’s 5-yard line, but a botched quarterback-center exchange led to a turnover. The Rattlers scored with 5 seconds remaining for a 57-53 win.
“We felt like we let one go in Arizona and I’m pretty sure they know that, too,” offensive lineman Ryan Cave said.
Sixth-ranked Spokane is coming off a 90-63 dismantling of San Jose, fueled by quarterback Kyle Rowley’s AFL single-game record 12 touchdown passes. Defensive end Jeremy Geathers, with a team-high 6.5 sacks despite playing in just seven games, returns to the lineup after being released by the CFL B.C. Lions.
Arizona has won its last six and ranks second in scoring offense (64.3 ppg) and scoring defense (49.9). Olson called Arizona’s defense “probably the best we’ve seen.” The Rattlers have held seven of their last nine opponents to 48 points or less.
The Rattlers are stocked with ex-Shock players, including quarterback Nick Davila, linebacker Kevin McCullough, defensive back Virgil Gray and receiver Markee White. Davila ranks second in passer rating (127.5) behind Chicago’s Russ Michna (127.7).
“We have to get to him and make him uncomfortable,” Olson said.