The gap between the two best teams in the Arena Football League and the next tier is growing wider every week.
Spokane took apart the Jacksonville Sharks 76-41 in front of 8,463 Saturday night at the Arena. Both teams entered the game 8-3, tied for the AFL’s second-best record. Last week, Spokane routed San Jose, then 7-2, by 30 points.
The victory sets up a showdown between the second-ranked Shock (9-3) and top-ranked Arizona (11-1), whose only loss was a 66-49 setback in Spokane, on Saturday in Phoenix. The Rattlers crushed San Antonio 70-21. All nine of Spokane’s wins have been by double figures.
“It’s starting to separate, the cream is starting to rise to the top,” said defensive back Terrance Sanders, who had two interceptions. “I think we’re definitely part of the cream. If we bring our focus and attitude every week, we can beat anybody. Arizona will be a good test to see if we can keep it going.”
Spokane dominated in every phase while rolling to its fourth straight win. The defense had five stops in the first half, including three turnovers. Sanders intercepted a Bernard Morris pass and returned it 39 yards for a touchdown. The veteran defensive back also broke up a fourth-down pass in the end zone and deflected a pass that created Ruschard Dodd-Masters’ interception.
“We had (Paul) Stephens most of the year as the middle (defensive back) and he went out with an injury so we put Terrance in there the last three weeks and he’s played very well,” defensive coordinator Travis Crusenberry said. “We didn’t want to put any waves in the water so we kept him there and put Paul on the front side.”
The Shock scored three touchdowns on their first eight offensive plays. Sanders’ TD return made it 28-7 at the end of the first quarter. Spokane led 42-14 when the defense registered another stop. The Shock scored on Adron Tennell’s 2-yard touchdown reception with 3.5 seconds left to take a 49-14 lead at half.
It didn’t get any better for the Sharks in the second half. Morris left the game after suffering a leg injury when he was tackled by Terence Moore midway through the third quarter. Morris was 16 of 25 with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
“We’re playing very disciplined football,” head coach Andy Olson said. “With Terrance in there the communication has been a little better. He’s played middle a lot longer than Paul and the experience has taken over.”
Sanders intercepted backup quarterback R.J. Archer and appeared to have another touchdown return but it was nullified by an illegal block.
An Erik Meyer-to-Brandon Thompkins touchdown connection extended Spokane’s lead to 63-27 with 3:19 left in the third quarter. The most points Jacksonville had allowed this season was 58 in a 10-point loss to Arizona.
Meyer was 15 of 21 for 218 yards and six touchdowns before backup Arvell Nelson entered late in the third quarter. Tennell had three touchdown receptions. Thompkins and Kamar Jorden each had two. Nelson finished 5 of 5 for 55 yards and had one passing touchdown and one rushing touchdown.
The Shock converted on their only third-down situation. They didn’t face a fourth down. Jacksonville was 3 of 8 in those situations.
“We’re playing great football,” Olson said. “We fought through some hard times in the middle of the season. I think honestly those (three straight) losses were some of the best things that ever happened to us, going through it with such a young team. These guys are together, they’re focused and they’re working extremely hard.”