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Empire build big lead, hold off Barnstormers

Whether up by a bunch or down by a bunch, the Spokane Empire find a way to make things interesting at the end.

That was the case again on Friday night as Spokane hung on for a 54-51 Indoor Football League victory over the Iowa Barnstormers in front of 5,803 at the Arena. Spokane’s four games have been decided by a total of 21 points.

The final score wasn’t quite as close it appeared. Spokane led 47-21 late in the third quarter, but a costly turnover and a couple of missed field goals helped Iowa close within three points with six seconds left.

Barnstormers kicker Josh Gable, who had executed a couple of decent on-side attempts, tried to drill the ball off of Spokane players lined up 10 to 12 yards away but missed, and the ball bounced over the dasherboards.

Spokane took over and ran out the clock to improve to 3-1. Iowa dropped to 3-2.

“I’m not sure we let down, I think a good football team came back and we were able to hold them off,” Empire coach Adam Shackleford said. “That’s a big win against what I think is a really good football team.”

Trevor Kennedy ran for 127 yards and four touchdowns, both rarities in arena football – no matter the brand. Receiver J.J. Hayes added two rushing touchdowns. Quarterback Charles Dowdell was steady – other than a third-quarter fumble – with 104 yards passing and two TDs.

“We have a great line and those guys work hard every day,” Kennedy said. “They open up holes and it’s my job to get through them. They do a great job holding their blocks and the receivers do as well so all I have to do is run.”

Added Shackleford: “Not bad for a kid that hasn’t played the position before (this season). And we’re going to get (All-IFL running back) Andrew Pierce back next week so we’re going to have a nice stable of backs.”

Spokane’s defense forced four turnovers, including one in the shadow of its goal line that flipped the momentum.

Iowa, trailing 40-21, had the ball inside Spokane’s 5. The Empire held on fourth down, but was whistled for a penalty that gave the Barnstormers first-and-goal at the 1. Quarterback Donovan Porterie tried to plow forward but was stripped of the ball and Tyree Robinson recovered.

Spokane then drove 48 yards, capped by Kennedy’s fourth touchdown.

The defense intercepted Porterie twice and picked off Brion Carnes, Porterie’s replacement.

“Watching film and just knowing what’s coming in certain formations and certain situations,” said Demetruce McNeal, who joined Josh Ferguson and Robert Brown with interceptions. “It’s all about knowing what’s coming.”

Spokane never trailed. The Empire won the toss and scored on their first possession with Kennedy reversing field to take it in from 10 yards.

“I don’t know where that came from,” Kennedy said. “I was thinking if I reverse this I have to score or coach is going to yell at me.”

Porterie’s second pass attempt was picked off by McNeal, setting up a Dowdell-to-Carl Sims touchdown connection for a 13-0 Empire lead.

Porterie began to heat up, aided by two dropped interceptions by Empire defensive backs. He tossed touchdown passes to Brady Roland and Johnny Thomas, the latter on a 33-yard scoring play that Thomas appeared to get away with pushing a defender.

The Empire responded with a pair of touchdowns in the final minute for a 19-point lead. Hayes capped a 45-yard march with a 4-yard touchdown run. Brown’s interception gave Spokane possession at its 10 and Dowdell zipped a 40-yard TD pass to Justin Helwege.

Spokane nearly found the end zone again, blocking Iowa’s field goal attempt on the final play of the half. Brown took a lateral from a teammate and nearly broke free before he was dragged down at the 4.

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