SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – The Spokane Empire’s hopes for earning an Indoor Football League championship and ending the five-year reign of the Sioux Falls Storm fell short of the mark on Saturday night.
Playing the IFL’s flagship franchise, the Empire turned in a very competitive first half in the United Bowl but then faded to lose 55-34 to the now six-time defending champions at the Premier Center before a crowd of more than 8,000. The Storm have yet to lose a game at the arena, which opened last season.
“We had a big turnover when we had a chance to go up two possessions and you can’t do that against this team,” said Empire coach Adam Shackleford. “It was a well-played game by Sioux Falls.”
It started out as an extremely well-played game by the Empire, too, but it didn’t last.
Spokane, which lost to the Storm for the third time this season, had a 7-0 lead with the opportunity, after a defensive stop, to go up 14-0. An Empire fumble ended that near midfield, however. Spokane again responded after a Sioux Falls score, taking a 13-7 lead on a 24-yard diving over-the-shoulder touchdown catch by Charles Samuel with 8:33 to play in the second quarter, but the home team tied it up less than a minute later with a 23-yard Lorenzo Brown to Mike Tatum scoring pass.
It was the first of three consecutive Sioux Falls touchdowns, with the third a 49-yarder to Tatum on the opening play from scrimmage in the third quarter. The Empire once more pulled to within a touchdown of the lead, but nothing was ever quite the same.
“The big difference was the second half we imposed our will running the ball,” said Storm coach Kurtiss Riggs, whose team has now won 10 indoor titles in the last 12 seasons. “They could not stop it.”
Dowdell finished 20 of 24 for 184 yards and four touchdowns, hitting Diondre Borel eight times for 43 yards with touchdown passes to Andrew Pierce, Jefferson Hayes and two to Samuel.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Empire drove the ball to the Sioux Falls 3 with the opportunity to narrow the margin to one score, but ended up giving up the ball on downs at their own 15. The Storm answered with Brown’s third running touchdown and led 41-20 with nine minutes remaining.
“I feel like we just didn’t capitalize on a couple possessions we had,” Dowdell said. “We could have gone up 14-0. We could have taken advantage of an opportunity to put us up. Other than that, I thought we took care of the ball on offense and we didn’t give them anything.”
Despite the loss, it was nevertheless an impressive first year for the Empire, who won the Intense Conference regular season title and advanced to the IFL title game in the franchise’s first year in the league.
“We feel good about the team that we have, the organization, the ownership and the coach,” said Dowdell, who last year played for Sioux City, located about 75 miles from Sioux Falls. “We were all able to gel together – that’s why we were able to have this kind of success in Spokane. It goes from the top to the bottom, grade A material.”
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