PHOENIX — The Spokane Shock were nearly perfect for 30 minutes on Saturday in the Arena Football League National Conference championship game against the Arizona Rattlers.
But momentum changes very quickly in the indoor game and the Shock failed to convert a fourth down, fumbled and then threw an interception in a 5 ½-minute third-quarter stretch on their way to a 65-57 loss Saturday night at the US Airways Center. The defending champion Rattlers advanced to ArenaBowl XXVI next Saturday in Orlando, Fla., in a rematch of last year’s title game against Philadelphia.
“We dropped a bunch of passes to open up the drive and basically we just shot ourselves in the foot,” Spokane coach Andy Olson. “We were wide open pretty much the whole drive and just couldn’t catch the ball. Then we fumbled on the next series, so just a lot of mental mistakes.”
The third-seeded Shock (15-5) were up by two scores in the first half, scored on all five possessions and got pressure on Arizona quarterback Nick Davila, as Olson had said was the key. Spokane took a 35-31 lead at the break. But the third quarter was a different story.
“Coach told us all week this game is going to be about mistakes,” said defensive back Paul Stephens, who had several key breakups on the night. “We just made more mistakes than they did and that’s what happens when you make mistakes, you lose.”
Arizona (17-3) scored on the opening possession of the second half and got some pressure on Spokane quarterback Erik Meyer, sacking him for the first time on the night on the Shock’s first play from scrimmage of the half. After missing only one pass in the first half, Meyers threw four straight incompletions, although two were dropped. The second was by Adron Tennell on fourth down as he was cutting across the middle and could have converted a first down with 7:29 left in the quarter.
Arizona scored on the next play from scrimmage to go up 44-35. But when the Shock got the ball back they turned it over. Meyer hit Brandon Thompkins on the boards at the 11 but he fumbled and Arizona recovered. The Rattlers needed just two plays to score for a 51-35 lead with 4:14 left.
In the Shock’s last possession of the third quarter, Meyer overthrew Thompkins and Arizona’s Jeremy Tellem picked it off, all but ending Spokane’s title-game dreams with 2:13 left in the quarter. The Shock were shut out in the period, failing to score on any of their three possessions.
“The third quarter was all us,” Olson said. “We just made a lot of mistakes. You can’t expect to beat a team like this when you drop the football and you fumble the football in the third quarter.”
Spokane was nearly flawless in the first half as Meyer hit his first 10 passes and ended the half 11 of 12 for 191 yards and four touchdowns. He ran for the other touchdown. Meanwhile, the defense was big, sacking Davila three times, including a key fourth-down tackle by Jeremy Geathers with 1:03 left in the first quarter that helped Spokane go up by two scores.
However, the Rattlers recovered an onside kick in the final minute of the half and drove for a 27-yard field goal to cut the Shock’s halftime lead to 35-31.
“I had no doubt in my mind, I thought we were going to score on every possession,” Olson said. “We put ourselves in position to be wide open. (But) we didn’t make the plays that needed to be made at the end of the day. We didn’t take care of the football in the second half and that is why we lost.”
Still, the Shock held Davila, second in the league in TD passes behind Meyer, to 14 of 27 for 157 yards.
The top two scoring teams in the league with arguably the two best quarterbacks in Arena ball – statistically, at least – had split their regular season meetings, each winning at home. The Shock beat the Rattlers 66-49 on April 12 and lost 59-42 on June 15. Spokane had won six in a row since then.
Davila played for Spokane in its last two years in af2, leading the Shock to the 2009 Arena Cup title.
Meyer, who set single-season franchise marks in passing yards (4,667) and rushing touchdowns (15), finished the night 24 of 41 for 344 yards and seven touchdowns.
The Shock beat Chicago 69-47 on Aug. 1 in the first round. The Rattlers beat San Jose 59-49 in the conference semifinals a week ago.
The Shock won the league’s title in its first AFL year, 2010, while the Rattlers have reached the final the last two years, losing in 2011 and beating Philadelphia last season.
The Soul beat Jacksonville 75-59 in the American Conference championship earlier Saturday to return to the ArenaBowl.