The wake-up call took 30 minutes to reach the Spokane Shock.
Spokane overcame one of its worst halves of the season by dominating Pittsburgh in the second half en route to a 61-43 Arena Football League win Friday in front of 9,341 at the Arena.
The Shock (14-4) closed the regular season with five straight wins and, in a surprising development, found out that they still might have a shot at the No. 1 seed in the National Conference.
The Shock said all the right things during the week about not overlooking Pittsburgh (4-14), but when they took the field it didn’t appear they heard their own warnings.
“We thought we won the game before it started, plain and simple,” Shock coach Andy Olson said. “We got two turnovers at the start and led 20-7 and everyone thought, ‘This is going to be easy.’ I’m glad we responded in the second half but playing like that in the first half is going to get us beat in the playoffs.”
Spokane scored three touchdowns in 2 minutes, not easy to do with a running clock, to take a 20-7 lead midway through the first quarter. Adron Tennell, who finished with five touchdown receptions, was 25 yards clear of the nearest defender when he caught a 37-yard scoring pass from Erik Meyer.
Taylor Rowan’s ensuing kickoff got away from Pittsburgh’s return man and was hauled in by Spokane’s Kamar Jorden for a touchdown. On the Power’s next play from scrimmage, Jeremy Geathers hit quarterback Shane Austin’s arm and the ball floated toward Shock nose guard Terrance Taylor, who caught it at the 2-yard line.
“That was mostly pressure from (Geathers),” Taylor said. “I had to wrestle the center for the ball and then I finally got it over the goal line.”
Pittsburgh controlled the rest of the half. The Power, often operating out of a no-huddle offense, took the lead on Mike Washington’s 25-yard touchdown catch and added a safety when Meyer was sacked in the end zone.
After trading touchdowns, 330-pound Jason Thomas took a screen pass 9 yards for a touchdown and the Power led 36-27 at half.
‘It was pretty ugly in the first half,” Shock DB Terrance Sanders said. “They came out with a no-huddle, which you hardly ever see in arena football. It kind of had us off balance, but we caught up to it in the second half.
“It took a while for us to wake up but we got it done.”
Spokane outscored Pittsburgh 34-7 in the second half. Two Meyer-to-Tennell touchdown connections gave Spokane a 41-36 lead.
The Shock defense kept Pittsburgh off the scoreboard in the second half until 5:30 remained in the fourth quarter. Austin’s touchdown pass narrowed Spokane’s lead to 54-43, but Tennell answered with a 12-yard TD reception.
“The first half was kind of like the Tampa Bay game earlier (a 70-62 Shock loss),” said Meyer, who finished with six touchdown passes and 249 yards passing. “You have to give their defense a lot of credit, they kicked my butt a little bit. But we came out in the second half a little more angry, started playing more physical and played with confidence.”
Shock question tiebreaker formula
The National Conference playoff picture, thought to be settled last week, has been called into question.
If Arizona wins on the road against Iowa tonight, the Rattlers are undisputed West Division champions and the No. 1 seed. They would host No. 4 San Jose in the first round.
However, if the Rattlers lose, Spokane and Arizona finish with 14-4 records and it would come down to tiebreaking procedures. The first tiebreaker is head-to-head record (the teams split) and the second tiebreaker is record against division opponents (both went 4-2).
The third tiebreaker is record versus common opponents. If Arizona loses it would finish 11-3. Spokane is 10-2. The question is whether the third tiebreaker is determined by winning percentage (which favors Spokane) or number of wins (which favors Arizona).
Shock majority owner Brady Nelson sent the AFL a letter two days asking for a clarification on the third tiebreaker from the rules and competition committee. The group met on Friday and is expected to announce a decision on Sunday.
“I know they met (Friday) and they have a recommendation for the AFL board, but it won’t be announced until Sunday,” Nelson said. “The league bylaws say that you have to have 48 hours notice to have a binding meeting.”
Since the teams have unbalanced schedules (Spokane 12 games vs. common opponents and Arizona 14), Nelson argues that the third tiebreaker should come down to winning percentage.
“It says record, which implies wins and losses,” he said. “It doesn’t say the amount of wins.”
Nelson said AFL commissioner Jerry Kurz told him he hasn’t ruled on the matter. However, the AFL Website reported that Arizona had clinched the division title and will be the No. 1 seed.
Both teams will host first-round playoff games, but the result of the ruling will impact their first-round opponents and most likely the site of National Conference championship game.