Spokane’s first series was telling: penalty, fumble, incompletion, dropped pass, 43-yard gain, penalty, penalty, penalty, 1-yard run, 1-yard touchdown run.
Nothing pretty about it – except the end result.
Spokane’s defense did most of the heavy lifting in a 55-27 Arena Football League victory over Portland in front of 8,652 Saturday night at the Arena.
James Ruffin had two sacks to end Portland possessions and Terrance Sanders’ 24-yard interception return for a touchdown helped the Shock (3-1) erase a 21-20 third-quarter deficit. Spokane scored 35 unanswered points before a Thunder touchdown with 37.5 seconds remaining.
“I’m not extremely happy with way my team played, especially offensively,” Shock coach Andy Olson said. “We have to play with more urgency, more aggression. The offensive line somehow has to figure out how to shut people down. We’ve been letting someone through every week. That’s a major concern.”
The teams combined for five turnovers, four by Portland, and 33 penalties for 297 yards. Portland (0-4) was flagged 21 times for 180 yards.
“We just had too many penalties in the first half,” said Spokane receiver Adron Tennell, who was shaken up and left the field a couple of times but still finished with two touchdown catches. “What’s scary is we haven’t played a complete game yet. Once we get it together it’s going to be lights out.”
Quarterback Erik Meyer finished 20 of 37, with perhaps 10 of those incompletions fired into the crowd as he attempted to avoid Portland’s pass rush.
“A lot of credit to Portland’s defense,” Meyer said. “But there are some things we definitely have to clean up.”
“He’s (usually) a 65, 75 completion percentage and he was right around 50,” Olson said. “That’s not Erik Meyer, even with pressure he has a better percentage than that. He didn’t play well, Tennell didn’t play well, my offensive line didn’t play well. I have no problems saying that.”
Spokane jumped in front 20-0. Meyer scored on a 1-yard plunge to cap a penalty-filled first possession.
The Thunder, needing 1 yard to pick up a first down, failed on consecutive quarterback keepers by Danny Southwick. Spokane was back in the end zone three plays later on Meyer’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Rashaad Carter.
Portland gift-wrapped a touchdown when Southwick bobbled a snap, leading to Terence Moore’s 2-yard return for a touchdown.
It looked like a Shock runaway, but the Thunder scored the next 14 points. Spokane had two touchdowns erased by penalties on its last drive of the first half. Spokane went from first-and-goal at the Thunder 4 to fourth-and-goal from its 11.
“We’re up 20-0 and everyone felt the game was over,” Olson said. “A young team like that is never going to stop fighting.”
Portland had a chance to take the lead but couldn’t convert on fourth-and-goal at the Shock 1. Duane Brooks took a pitch to the right but was turned back inside by Diyral Briggs and swarmed by several Shock defenders.
Portland moved in front early in the third quarter, but the Shock answered on Andrew Joseph’s 9-yard touchdown reception to take a 27-21 lead.
Both offenses stalled on their next possessions. Sanders gave Spokane a two-touchdown lead when he stepped in front of a Southwick pass and cruised down the sideline for a score.
“It was huge,” Olson said. “We were struggling so hard on offense at that point.”
Tennell had two touchdown receptions in Spokane’s 28-point fourth quarter. JT Fitzgerald produced another touchdown by pouncing on a loose ball on a kickoff that bounced away from Thunder return specialist Brooks.
Southwick passed for 287 yards but was sacked six times. Ex-Shock receiver Jeffrey Solomon had seven catches for 132 yards and two TDs.