After thumping San Jose 69-47 six weeks ago, Spokane was 5-0, first in the Arena Football League’s West Division and ranked No. 1. San Jose was struggling at 2-2 and changed quarterbacks, signing Russ Michna and trading Aaron Garcia.
The Shock dropped their next three games but they’ve rebounded with a two-game winning streak. San Jose (7-2), led by a stingy defense, has won five straight and passed Spokane (7-3) in the standings and rankings entering tonight’s rematch at the Arena.
“We came into their home and beat them so they’re going to try to come in here and do the same thing to us,” Spokane defensive back Patrick Stoudamire said. “But we’re not going to let that happen.”
The SaberCats have held five straight opponents below 40 points. They won four straight by an average of 22.5 points before trimming division rival Utah 35-34 last week.
No. 2 San Jose ranks first in the AFL in pass efficiency defense, red zone defense, opponents’ third-down conversion percentage and kickoff coverage. They’re second with 22 sacks.
“They’re a very physical team,” Shock coach Andy Olson said. “Up front on the offensive and defensive lines they’re as good as anybody.”
Paul Stephens, who will likely miss his second straight game with a hamstring injury, intercepted Garcia five times in the first meeting. Michna has thrown just four interceptions, two against Utah, in five games.
Former Oregon Duck Jason Willis and ex-Shock receiver Huey Whittaker, who also sees time at linebacker, have combined for 28 touchdown catches. San Jose’s offensive line has allowed 12 sacks, only five with Michna at the helm.
“It’s going to be physical and intense,” Olson said. “Hopefully everything stays between the whistles.”
A victory would enhance the third-ranked Shock’s playoff hopes and give them the head-to-head tiebreaker over the SaberCats.
“It’s conference; these are the biggest games of the season,” Stoudamire said. “We have to put our best foot forward and get a win.”