There are several possible routes to winning an Arena Football League championship, but the first priority is usually winning your division.
It was that way in the Spokane Shock’s championship season in 2010, Jacksonville in 2011 and Arizona the last two seasons. Division supremacy takes on added importance this season with Spokane playing Pacific brethren San Jose three times and Portland, a new AFL team, three times. The Shock (2-1), after a 73-62 win over San Jose last week, entertain Portland (0-3) tonight.
Portland leads the league in Spokane connections. Head coach Matt Sauk, defensive coordinator William Mulder and line coach Clay Harrell are former Shock coaches and/or players. Team president Jared Rose was in the Shock front office from 2006-10.
Jeffrey Solomon and Duane Brooks are ex-Spokane receivers and Patrick Stoudamire was a Shock defensive back in 2012-13. Solomon, a former Washington State Cougar, leads the Thunder with 26 receptions for 321 yards. Brooks has 14 receptions and averages 21.4 yards per kick return, same as Shock standout Terrance Sanders.
“They’re going to be hyped up,” Spokane coach Andy Olson said. “They have a lot of ex-Shock players and coaches, and you give a rookie team like that a chance to prove themselves against one of the best and they’re going to try to take advantage of it.”
Portland’s offense has struggled with point totals of 34, 36 and 34, but it seems to have found a starting quarterback last week. After rotating Darron Thomas and ex-Idaho Vandal Nathan Enderle in the first two games, Danny Southwick handled the majority of snaps in a 44-34 loss to the L.A. Kiss.
Southwick passed for 270 yards but was intercepted twice. Portland QBs have tossed eight interceptions.
“I think they’ve locked in on (Southwick) so that’s probably who we’re going to key on and watch a lot of film on,” said Brandon Thompkins, who is expected to start at defensive back for the second straight game in place of the injured Paul Stephens.
Portland has been solid on defense, yielding 40 and 44 points in its last two games. The Shock ranks second in the AFL at 62 points per game. Spokane has made a change up front with newly activated Ryan Cave, a 2013 starter, stepping in for Patrick Afif, who has been placed on inactive reserve.