It’s the end of a grueling stretch of 14 games in 14 weeks, but Spokane has work to do before its lone bye week in the 18-game Arena Football League regular season.
The second-ranked Shock (9-4) can take a big step toward clinching a playoff berth with a win against Utah (5-7) tonight at the Arena.
Spokane is trying to nail down the National Conference’s second seed, which would normally mean a first-round road playoff game. However, Central Division leader Chicago (7-6), which is barely ahead of San Antonio (6-6) and Iowa (6-7), has had ownership and arena issues that could result in the Rush making a playoff trip.
The Shock’s hopes of catching top-ranked Arizona probably ended with a 59-42 loss to the Rattlers last week. San Jose (8-4), which entertains Arizona on Saturday, is just behind Spokane in the chase for the second seed.
“Our goal is definitely to get back to Arizona in the playoffs,” quarterback Erik Meyer said, “but right now we have to focus on one game at a time and that next game is Utah.”
Utah last week benched 2012 AFL offensive MVP Tommy Grady and inserted Jason Boltus, who guided the Blaze to a victory over South Division-leading Jacksonville. Boltus, a backup with Spokane last season, passed for seven touchdowns and ran for one to keep Utah’s slim playoff hopes alive.
Boltus is one of six former Shock players expected to start for Utah.
“He’s a very capable quarterback,” Spokane coach Andy Olson said. “He had a lot of potential, but just didn’t get a chance to show it (last season).”
Utah has won three straight against Spokane, including a 52-48 win in May. The Shock had a chance in the closing seconds but Meyer’s fourth-down pass fell incomplete in the end zone.
Utah is minus-19 in turnover margin, 13th out of 14 AFL teams. Grady tossed 25 interceptions in 11 games. Six-foot-5 Mario Urrutia (1,234 yards, 28 touchdowns) is one of the league’s best receivers, but sidekick Aaron Lesue (62 catches, 748 yards) isn’t listed in the starting lineup.
“We didn’t expect to lose or lose by as much as we did (to Arizona),” Olson said. “We were very disappointed with our play. We anticipate playing much better against Utah.”