Shock, Rattlers in early AFL showdown
It’s only Week 4, but the 14-team Arena Football League is already down to three unbeatens and two of them collide tonight in Spokane.
Second-ranked Spokane opens its home schedule against No. 1 Arizona at 7 at the Arena. The defending ArenaBowl champion Rattlers have dominated the West Division and Spokane the last two years. The Shock won the first four series meetings but Arizona has claimed the last four, three by at least 22 points.
“This is a humongous game,” Shock offensive lineman Palauni Ma Sun said. “We’re both undefeated, division game, there’s bad blood between us anyway. They have a few of our ex-players (quarterbacks Nick Davila and Jason Murrietta and defensive back Virgil Gray). It’s our first home game and we want to come out and set the tone at home.”
Both teams are 3-0 with three relatively easy wins. Arizona opened the season by thumping Philadelphia in a rematch of ArenaBowl XXV. The Rattlers then blasted division rivals Utah and San Jose, both ranked No. 2 at the time.
“I was telling some of the guys this is going to test our skills to see how good we are,” said Spokane receiver Adron Tennell, who has 27 catches, 10 for touchdowns, in three games. “I know the teams we played before are good, but (Arizona) has won a championship. They’re a good team, a veteran team.”
The West Division appears to be strong again. Arizona’s toughest playoff tests en route to the 2012 title came against San Jose (51-48) and Utah (75-69).
“We can’t lose to division opponents at home,” Shock coach Andy Olson said. “We’re starting to figure out we’re a good team but we’re not there yet. This would put us over the hump.”
The teams have similar stats. Spokane has scored 209 points and given up 145. Arizona has scored a league-high 218 points and allowed 148. Spokane’s Erik Meyer, with 24 touchdown passes and no interceptions, leads the AFL in pass efficiency. Davila (20 TDs, two interceptions) is fourth.
The Rattlers will be without standout receiver Maurice Purify, but they have proven targets with Kerry Reed, Jared Perry, Rod Windsor and Tysson Poots. Arizona’s defense has snagged 10 interceptions, five more than any other team, and allows 49.3 points per game.
“They’re talented in every position but the biggest thing is they’re consistent,” Olson said. “They don’t break coverage a whole lot and they don’t make a lot of mistakes. They take care of the ball like we do, but they do a very good job of getting it back. Our offense is going to have to be near perfect to beat this team.”