Make this one the get-well game the Spokane Shock couldn’t finish last week.
Not that they didn’t have to go through a little hell first.
Reeling from three straight defeats and being tied in knots by a one-win team for the second week in a row, the Shock rallied from behind with two big defensive plays in the fourth quarter – one an interception return for a touchdown by Terrance Sanders – to outlast the New Orleans VooDoo 65-54.
“We’ve been trying to get win No. 6 for a month now,” said Sanders, “so this is a huge gorilla off our backs.”
But for three quarters the Shock (6-3) felt the weight of every pound, and so did the announced crowd of 9,317 at the Arena.
The VooDoo (1-7) are the Arena Football League’s most hapless offense, having scored 51 points in winning their season opener and topping 40 just once since.
Yet on this night, they scored three offensive touchdowns on their first four snaps. And the 21-14 lead they grabbed after one quarter could have been worse had a pair of interceptions thrown by Shock quarterback Erik Meyer not been wiped out by a penalty and a New Orleans fumble.
The Shock had only minimal success containing VooDoo receiver Donovan Morgan, who singed them for 255 yards, with five of his 13 catches going for scores.
It was the next-to-last of those TDs – a 47-yard bomb in which he got away from middle defender Paul Stephens, who was injured on the play – that put the Shock in their last big bind. It pulled the VooDoo within four points, 38-34, and when Meyer fumbled the next Shock snap, Leslie Majors scooped it up and ran it in for a go-ahead touchdown.
Even after Sanders steamed untouched up the middle on a 56-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, New Orleans took a two-point lead into the fourth quarter.
But that’s when the Shock found the poise that eluded them in their meltdown loss to Orlando last week.
“I really think the adversity we faced the last three weeks helped us push through this time,” Sanders said.
The biggest example was Spokane’s personnel shuffle. Stephens’ injury forced Sanders to the middle, linebacker Terence Moore to the secondary and backup quarterback Arvell Nelson to the important – and tricky – jack linebacker spot.
“You just try to coach them up as fast as possible,” said Shock coach Andy Olson. “The biggest thing is for them not to commit fouls. Penalties always kill you with people out of position because they don’t know how to play it. Especially Arvell – two penalties and he’s out of the game, and we’re putting a wide receiver there. Those guys just did a great job.”
Meyer, who threw for 353 yards and six TDs, got Spokane the lead back with a smart drive ending in his third touchdown pass to Brandon Thompkins. Then Sanders stepped in front of the VooDoo’s Courtney Smith for the game-turning pick and a 59-47 lead.
“Kind of a lazy route,” Sanders said, “and I just sat on it and then jumped it.”
New Orleans had one more gasp when Morgan made a ridiculous one-handed touchdown catch, but the Shock answered and then closed it out when James Ruffin sacked quarterback Kurt Rocco and Jon Williams recovered.
“The defense stepped up big in the second half – we couldn’t stop anything in the first half,” Olson said. “We were not hitting the quarterback at all, and our DBs were just too impatient.”
But Stephens actually made three strong plays, including a fourth-down interception at the goal line, at the end of the first half that turned allowed Spokane to take a 31-27 lead into intermission, even though he’d had his hands full with Morgan to that point.
Olson saluted the finishing touch the Shock have been missing, but he saw something else, too.
“It’s getting back to having fun,” he said. “We haven’t had any fun the last three weeks. Playing hasn’t been fun, practice hasn’t been fun, meetings haven’t been fun. We need to get back to being ourselves, competing and enjoying each other, and we got a win to give us some momentum.”
Normally division championships are celebrated with champagne showers in the locker room. The Spokane Indians settled for cheering and high fives on a crowded bus.
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