A big play on offense, two huge plays on defense and a giant play on special teams.
The Spokane Shock needed all of the above to break a fourth-quarter tie and dig out a 58-48 Arena Football League victory over the Portland Thunder in front of 8,535 Friday at the Arena.
Spokane (6-5) snapped a three-game losing streak and strengthened its playoff position by making clutch plays with the game in the balance. Portland dropped to 3-8.
“I was able to exhale at the end of the game,” Shock coach Andy Olson said. “It just felt so good to get the weight off our shoulders.”
Eric Rogers’ third touchdown reception pulled Portland even at 41 with 11:03 left. Shock quarterback Brian Zbydniewski, who appeared to be more comfortable in his second start, floated a 27-yard touchdown pass to Rashaad Carter to give Spokane a 48-41 lead.
Portland quarterback Danny Southwick fumbled as he was being sacked by James Ruffin and the ball squirted into the waiting hands of Terence Moore, who raced 18 yards for a touchdown and a 55-41 lead with 6:55 remaining.
The Thunder closed within 55-48 on former Shock receiver Jeffrey Solomon’s touchdown catch and they had a chance to tie it up when Zbydniewski’s pass was deflected and hauled in by linebacker Bryce Peila. But defensive lineman Terrance Taylor grabbed on to Portland quarterback Danny Southwick’s jersey and disrupted his throwing motion. The ball sailed to Terrance Sanders for an interception with 26 seconds left.
“There have been two games where they threw it off the net and caught it for a touchdown,” Taylor said. “We said as a defensive line we have to get pressure and get the sack.”
It still wasn’t over. Spokane faced fourth down from its 20-yard line and Olson instructed Taylor Rowan to kick the ball out of bounds.
“He actually told me to kick it out of bounds and I kind of got frustrated at him,” Rowan said. “I was stepping off and he said, ‘Go ahead and drill it.’ So I re-stepped it off. I’m glad he let me kick it.”
Rowan nailed a 46-yarder with 7.2 ticks left to seal Spokane’s second victory over the Thunder this season.
Zbydniewski passed for 273 yards and five touchdowns.
“He was easily twice as good as last week, outside of that one throw (late interception),” Olson said.
Mike Washington had 11 receptions for 134 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Nick Truesdell, a 6-foot-7 receiver who joined the Shock earlier this week, made an impressive debut with four catches, two for touchdowns.
Spokane finished with four sacks. Ruffin broke Spokane’s AFL single-season record by recording two sacks to give him 9.5 on the season. The old mark of 8.5 was shared by Beau Bell and Jon Williams.
“We started figuring out their offense,” Taylor said. “We got up a score or two and they had to go to a 5-step (drop).”
Spokane dominated the second quarter, scoring 20 unanswered points to go on top 34-21. Zbydniewski hit Truesdell for a 27-yard touchdown to tie at 21.
The defense forced a stop on downs and the offense capitalized on Zbydniewski’s 2-yard touchdown run.
After a Sanders’ interception, Spokane scored on the ensuing play when Zbydniewski hit Washington.