The Spokane Shock knew what was coming. Pretty much everyone among the 8,597 at the Arena knew what was coming.
Stopping it was the problem.
Cleveland scored on arena football’s version of the Hail Mary, a desperation pass into the netting in the back of the end zone on the game’s last play to pull out a 52-50 victory over the Shock on Saturday night.
Thyron Lewis, a 6-foot-4 receiver, found open space and snagged Chris Dieker’s pass after it rebounded off the net to complete a 29-yard touchdown play, stunning the crowd and setting off a wild celebration by the Gladiators.
“After the ball hits the net, we can grab them, P-I (pass interference) so they can’t catch it,” defensive back Terrance Sanders said. “It’s disappointing we didn’t get that done. We knew it was going to be a Hail Mary when there’s only a couple seconds left and they’re near midfield.
“We just have to stay back and stay in between them (and the net).”
Spokane dropped to 3-2. Cleveland improved to 5-0.
The Gladiators broke a 43-tie on Aaron Pettrey’s 30-yard field goal with 43.2 seconds remaining. Cleveland was fortunate to have an opportunity to take the lead after Dieker, who replaced starter Shane Austin with 4:50 left, fumbled while fleeing the pocket. Spokane had first crack at the recovery, but the ball slipped away and Dieker eventually recovered.
The Shock responded with a 39-yard scoring drive in the final minute. Quarterback Erik Meyer hit Hank Edwards for a 9-yard touchdown pass to give Spokane a 50-46 lead with 10 seconds remaining.
Cleveland ran one play, a 13-yard gain, before Lewis’ winner.
“We had plenty of time to know exactly what was coming,” Shock coach Andy Olson said. “We just had one guy out of position, facing the wrong direction and that’s all it takes to lose a game.”
Spokane seemed to be in control on several occasions. The Shock scored on their four first-half possessions, all four drives covering at least 35 yards. Meyer was sharp, hitting 14 of 17 attempts. He ran for two scores and connected with Brandon Thompkins, who played defensive back in the previous two games, for a pair of touchdowns as the Shock led 28-17 at half.
Spokane had the ball first to open the second half, but it quickly gave away all the momentum it had built up.
Meyer was picked off twice in four plays. Between the interceptions, Sanders fumbled on a kick return.
“Just complete mis-throws, misreads,” Olson said. “Something you don’t see him do very often.”
Cleveland turned an 11-point deficit into a 36-28 lead midway through the third. Spokane was forced to play catch-up the rest of the way, and did so effectively. Meyer zipped a touchdown pass to Thompkins to narrow Cleveland’s lead to 36-35. Terence Moore’s interception gave Spokane possession, but Meyer was sacked on a fourth-down play.
The Gladiators scored to take a 43-35 lead, but Spokane answered with another Meyer-to-Thompkins connection. Thompkins made a sliding catch on the two-point conversion to even the score at 43.
Meyer passed for five TDs and ran for two. Austin had four TD passes for Cleveland, which is 4-0 on the road.