On a night when a lot went wrong for the Spokane Shock, Terrance Sanders did a ton of things right.
Sanders picked off two passes – one in overtime – and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, helping Spokane escape with a 68-62 Arena Football League victory over New Orleans in front of an announced crowd of 8,918 Friday at the Arena.
Spokane improved to 4-4. New Orleans dropped to 3-5.
“That just replaced my best game, that’s my new favorite,” Sanders said. “We definitely found a way. I’ve been saying since Week 1 that I look into our guys’ eyes and nobody quits and we’re all hungry. That can take us through games like this.”
It was sloppily played throughout by both teams. They combined for five turnovers, a blocked field goal, 26 penalties (and several others that were declined) and Spokane botched a potential game-winning point-after attempt with 2.3 seconds left in regulation.
In overtime, Sanders stepped in front of a VooDoo receiver to intercept Kurt Rocco’s pass and returned the ball 31 yards to the New Orleans 1-yard line. Rowley plowed in for a touchdown on the next play.
“In the end all that matters is we won the game,” head coach Andy Olson said. “We didn’t play the way we wanted to. It was sloppy, ups and downs, but everybody persevered. We just have to be smarter in clutch situations, which is what I’ve been saying for weeks.”
The Shock pieced together a scoring drive in the final minute of regulation, capped by Rowley’s 6-yard touchdown pass to Steven Black to tie the score at 62. However, the snap on the PAT went through Rowley’s hands.
Spokane was stung by another faulty center-quarterback exchange. That’s happened several times since Rowley’s return five games ago. The latest miscue came early in the fourth quarter. The fumble was recovered by the VooDoo, who converted it into a touchdown and a 54-49 lead with 8:13 remaining.
Spokane regained the lead on fullback Andrew Nierman’s 1-yard run on fourth down, but New Orleans answered when Rocco floated a 20-yard scoring pass to Josh Bush with 54.8 seconds left.
Spokane’s offense struggled at times, once failing to score after three New Orleans penalties resulted in first downs. Three of Spokane’s touchdowns were supplied by special teams. The Shock scored by blocking a VooDoo field goal attempt and Sanders returned two kicks for touchdowns in the third quarter.
“Their kicker was doing a good job of kicking it away from me and hitting the bar, but he finally left one short and I seized the moment,” Sanders said. “Then he kicked another one to me.”
Rowley passed for 271 yards and four touchdowns. He threw interceptions on two of Spokane’s first three possessions as the Shock fell behind 14-7.
Then it was New Orleans’ turn to struggle on offense. The VooDoo was stopped on downs inside Spokane’s 10-yard line. On their next series, New Orleans was forced to try a 49-yard field goal. The ball barely got off the ground before being smothered by Shock defensive end Mike Alston. Kevin Ellison scooped the ball up at the 18 and raced into the end zone for the tying touchdown. Alston and Ellison signed earlier this week to fill openings created by injuries.
Spokane took its first lead, 28-21, on Rowley’s 16-yard TD pass to Steven Black with 12.2 seconds left in the second quarter. On the final play of the half, VooDoo receiver L.J. Castile scored on a 28-yard catch.