Shock play at Arizona for berth in AFL title game
League’s top two teams split season-series
Spokane Shock head coach Andy Olson could be excused for wanting to exit the field immediately after a 59-42 loss to Arizona at US Airways Center in June.
It was the most lopsided loss of Spokane’s season and it came at the hands of a division rival.
Olson did just the opposite.
“I stood out there for a lot longer than I normally do after a loss,” Olson said. “Just kind of soaked it in, felt the pain and let it hurt a little bit, and realized we can beat that team on their turf. I really think we can.”
Third-seeded Spokane (15-4) gets its chance, facing No.1 Arizona (16-3) at 6:30 tonight for the National Conference title and a spot in ArenaBowl XXVI. Spokane has won six straight since falling to the defending champion Rattlers in Phoenix.
“I always look toward the big games,” Shock defensive end Diyral Briggs said. “This is where good guys become great.”
Spokane’s offense was stopped three times (twice on downs, once via interception) in the June meeting. Arizona played turnover-free, converted 6 of 8 third downs and was 8 of 8 in the red zone. In Week 4, Arizona committed the game’s only two turnovers as Spokane rolled to a 66-49 victory.
Both teams possess high-powered offenses. Spokane’s Erik Meyer and Arizona’s Nick Davila are generally considered the AFL’s top quarterbacks. They both have talented receivers and solid lines. The defenses are similar, too, in points allowed (Arizona 48.1, Spokane 49.8) and turnovers forced (Arizona 58, Spokane 54).
“When we played there (in June) we kind of lost our game,” offensive lineman Chris Pino said. “We have to play our game – no stupid mistakes, penalties, turnovers.”
In a matchup that appears even on paper, special teams play takes on added importance. Arizona’s Garrett Lindholm led the league in PAT percentage (94.6) and scoring (179 points), but missed two field-goal attempts in last week’s win over San Jose. Spokane’s Terrance Sanders set the AFL record for kick-return yardage.
“You’re definitely looking to minimize mistakes,” Sanders said. “You want to create a turnover because you know it’s going to be so huge. It’s going to be which defense can step up and make that play.”
Olson said the formula for disrupting Arizona’s offense remains the same – pressure Davila.
“I love our pass rush,” he said. “These guys are very dangerous. Nick gets rid of it quickly so we have to get back there as fast as possible. It’s not going to be easy but hopefully we can get to him.”