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Spokane Empire have extra motivation against Billings

Empire quarterback Charles Dowdell said Spokane didn’t make the most of its opportunities against Sioux Falls. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Empire quarterback Charles Dowdell said Spokane didn’t make the most of its opportunities against Sioux Falls. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane Empire players and coaches remember.

And just in case they’ve forgotten there’s a not-so-subtle reminder on the front page of this week’s game-plan: Billings leads series 1-0.

The Empire’s lone loss came in early March, a 30-22 road setback against the Wolves. Spokane (7-1) has responded with five straight wins entering Saturday’s rematch with Billings (4-5) at the Arena. The teams will meet twice in June.

“We’re really motivated,” Empire quarterback Charles Dowdell said. “I think we did (overlook Billings), we came in lackluster and then tried to turn it on but it was a little too late.”

Spokane scored first but followed with eight straight empty possessions. Billings put up 30 unanswered points and held off the Empire’s fourth-quarter rally. Spokane committed six turnovers: two interceptions and four fumbles.

“Even though that loss changed this team for the better, it’s still a loss,” running back Trevor Kennedy said. “This week it’s personal.”

Billings is the only team to hold Spokane under 52 points this season. The Wolves lead the Indoor Football League in scoring defense (40.7) and total defense (206.9 yards). They’ve picked off 13 passes and allowed a league-low 25 touchdown receptions.

The flip side is Billings is last in scoring offense (39.3) and has only reached 50 points in recent wins over Green Bay and Colorado. The Wolves scored twice in the final nine minutes in a 38-31 loss to visiting Cedar Rapids last week.

Billings has shuffled its roster since the March meeting. Mason Espinosa, the IFL offensive player of the week two weeks ago, is the team’s third starting quarterback. Dak Britt, a run-pass threat, and Jawad Yatim suffered injuries before the calendar reached April. Nate Burney has stepped in at running back.

“We turned the ball over and they scored,” said Empire coach Adam Shackleford, whose team faces a road trip to United Conference-leading Sioux Falls (8-1) next week. “Their defensive backs are very good and they made plays on some throws that maybe some other DBs in this league haven’t been able to make.

“But there’s a big turnover in their roster. They’ve had some injuries and Chris (Dixon, head coach) has moved some guys on. Offensively they look very different.”

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