Minus four plays at the outset, the Spokane Shock opened the 2014 season looking very much like the 2013 edition that won 15 games.
Spokane spotted Iowa nine points early but all the Barnstormers will remember is the Shock scoring in virtually every possible manner –including one unique to the Arena Football League – in a 64-35 runaway Saturday before an announced sell-out crowd of 10,224 at the Arena.
Quarterback Erik Meyer, the league MVP last year, passed for five touchdowns, three to Adron Tennell, and ran for two more in the season opener for both teams. The Shock defense dominated with a pair of first-half stops and Jeremy Geathers’ fumble recovery in the end zone for a touchdown in the fourth quarter after Terrance Taylor stripped the ball away from quarterback Carson Coffman.
Terrance Sanders flipped the momentum Spokane’s way when he took Iowa’s errant field-goal attempt back 56 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the first half to give the Shock a 29-15 lead.
“It’s a great thing when you feel like at the end you didn’t feel like you played a good game at all and you win by 30,” Shock coach Andy Olson said. “And it should have been 40.”
Spokane tripped out of the starting blocks. Iowa scored in three plays on its first possession. Meyer was sacked in the end zone for a safety on Spokane’s first play from scrimmage and the Shock trailed 9-0 with the game barely 4 minutes old.
The Shock settled down, although Iowa maintained steady pressure on Meyer with three first-half sacks.
“We stepped up and the defense helped out,” said Meyer. “We started playing some Shock football.”
Spokane’s offense scored twice on fourth downs. Meyer scored on a 2-yard run around end on fourth down to get Spokane on the scoreboard.
Marco Thomas hauled in a touchdown pass to bump Iowa’s lead to 15-9, but the Barnstormers botched the snap on the PAT. Spokane’s Diyral Briggs scooped up the ball and raced in for two points.
Spokane took its first lead, 16-15, when Meyer zipped a 13-yard TD pass to Adron Tennell on another fourth-down play. After a defensive stop, Meyer and Tennell hooked up again from 3 yards out and Spokane led 22-15 with 12.8 seconds left in the half.
Iowa moved the ball to position Jose Martinez Jr. for a 46-yard field goal before the break. It sailed wide left and Terrance Sanders faced little resistance on the return. Olson liked the odds of a Sanders’ TD return against a field-goal unit consisting of linemen, the backup quarterback serving as the holder and Martinez.
“I guess they were thinking the horn was going to blow and the play was over,” Sanders said. “The return was actually set up to go left but I saw all those guys going slow. There was no point fighting to the left so I just took it straight away.”
Spokane turned the ball over on downs to open the second half and Iowa scored to close the deficit to 29-21. Meyer’s TD pass to Brandon Thompkins restored Spokane’s two-touchdown lead.
The Shock defense held as rookie defensive back Bryant Nnabuife, who had an impressive debut, broke up a fourth-down pass. Meyer plunged in two plays later and Spokane led 43-21.
Meyer hit Mike Washington, who was acquired in a trade with Pittsburgh, for a 36-yard score, Geathers pounced on a fumble in the end zone and Tennell grabbed his third TD catch to extend Spokane’s lead to 36.
“We didn’t start very well but we finished it,” said Olson, whose team visits two-time defending champion Arizona next Sunday. “That’s all that matters.”