Unbeaten Shock take down No. 1 Rattlers in home opener
When an Arena Football League game is tied at 7, 14, 21, 28, 35, 42 and 49, it becomes clear a defensive stop will probably make the difference.
Spokane got a stop, then another and the Shock never slowed down on offense behind quarterback Erik Meyer in posting perhaps their biggest win in a couple of seasons, toppling No. 1-ranked Arizona 66-49 in front of 10,358 fans Friday night at the Arena.
The second-ranked Shock (4-0) will move into the top spot when the coaches’ poll is released next week. More importantly, Spokane collected a win over the defending champion Rattlers (3-1) and moved into first place in the West Division.
“We needed it more for our confidence than anything,” head coach Andy Olson said. “We have a lot of guys back (from last season), but we’re still young. That’s the first time we had a dogfight and the response in the fourth quarter was just fantastic from our defense.
“Our pass rush was finally starting to get through and that’s one of the best lines we’re going to see all year. There was so much heart out there.”
After three relatively easy road wins, Spokane found itself tied at 49 with 8:11 remaining. Meyer threw a long pass that appeared to be out of Adron Tennell’s reach, but the 6-foot-5 receiver made a one-handed catch while crashing into the dasherboard in the corner of the end zone to put Spokane on top 56-49.
“I just stuck my arm out there and it stuck to my brand-new gloves,” said Tennell, who finished with 10 receptions for 138 yards and four touchdowns. “Fresh out of the pack so they were sticky.”
Then it was the defense’s turn. Arizona quarterback Nick Davila, who led Spokane to an arenafootball2 title in 2009, tossed four straight incompletions. Shock defensive backs Patrick Stoudamire and Terrance Sanders broke up passes on second and third down, respectively, and receiver Rod Windsor slipped trying to corral Davila’s pass on fourth down.
Spokane took possession at the Rattlers’ 5-yard line with 3:45 left but went nowhere. Kenny Spencer, who made all nine of his PATs, hit an 18-yard field goal to bump Spokane’s lead to 59-49.
Linebacker Beau Bell, who had the game’s lone sack, produced the game’s lone turnover with an interception to seal Spokane’s victory. For good measure, Tennell wrestled the ball away from ex-Shock defensive back Virgil Gray for a 23-yard touchdown in the closing seconds.
Meyer has 32 touchdown passes and hasn’t been intercepted in 153 attempts this season. Rookies Kamar Jorden (eight receptions, 95 yards, three touchdowns) and Duane Brooks (nine catches, 118 yards and one touchdown) joined Tennell in filling up the stat sheet. Brooks’ first AFL reception resulted in a 35-yard touchdown on Spokane’s first series.
“Sometimes there’s nothing and you throw it up to them and they make plays,” said Meyer, who was in scramble mode to avoid Arizona’s rush for a good portion of the second and third quarters. “For being a rookie, Kamar is really coming along fast. I honestly think we have the two best receivers (Jorden and Tennell) in the AFL.”
Davila passed for 341 yards and five touchdowns. Windsor had three TD catches and Kerry Reed and Jared Perry each had one.
“We know they were No. 1 in the league and they won it all last year,” Tennell said. “We know if we can compete with them it shows how good we are. We still have a long season ahead of us. We’re just looking to build on it.”