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Arizona Rattlers shut down Spokane Empire’s offense again in Indoor Football League

Three weeks later with a new quarterback, running back and center, Spokane still couldn’t solve Arizona’s defense.

Spokane was held to the lowest point total in its 12 years of arena football, dropping a 33-16 Indoor Football League decision to first-place Arizona on Saturday at the Arena.

The Empire, in control of the Intense Conference standings at midseason, lost for the fourth time in five games and slipped into a tie for second with Nebraska.

The Rattlers (10-4) handled the Empire 49-35 last month, and their formula didn’t change in the rematch.

Arizona rushed for 145 yards and three touchdowns, and its defense took care of the rest. The Rattlers sacked rookie quarterback Aaron Wilmer four times, giving the unit 10 sacks in the last two games against Spokane.

Wilmer had a rough night in his second start. He completed just 13 of 32 for 123 yards with two interceptions.

“We sucked on offense,” Empire head coach Adam Shackleford said. “We were prepared, he just didn’t play well. They didn’t do anything we hadn’t seen. They were just the better team. We were way off.”

The Empire came up empty on fourth down on three straight possessions in the second half as Arizona stretched its lead.

Shackleford said Wilmer and Marcus McDade will compete for the starting job next week.

Spokane’s defense kept it interesting by forcing three turnovers and holding the Rattlers to their lowest point output in two months. It didn’t matter because Spokane’s offense went 45 game minutes between touchdowns, the latter coming after Trevor Kennedy’s kick return put the ball at Arizona’s 2-yard line.

“We seemed stagnant all night,” said Kennedy, who had 86 yards receiving. “There were plays to be made and we just missed them. We have a championship defense and the offense has to do better. I have to do better.”

The Empire lost linebackers Pasquale Vacchio (leg) and Andrew Jackson (shoulder) to injury.

The Rattlers clinched the right to host the Intense Conference title game. Their opponent will be Spokane or Nebraska. Both teams are 8-6, but Nebraska holds the tiebreaker.

“We have some work to do,” said defensive back John Hardy-Tuliau, who had an interception early in the third quarter. “All we can do is win the next two games.”

Arizona scored on its opening possession, but then went nowhere against the Empire defense. The Rattlers were stopped on downs twice – once on fourth-and-goal at the 1-foot line – missed a field goal and turned it over on quarterback Cody Sokol’s fumble.

The Empire scored on their initial series but managed only a field goal for the rest of the first half.

Spokane had numerous chances to pad its lead but couldn’t capitalize. The Empire stalled on downs at the Arizona 15. After another defensive stop, Wilmer was swarmed in the end zone by two Rattlers for a safety.

The momentum shifted several times in the final minute, but ultimately sided with the Rattlers. After Sokol’s fumble, Wilmer was sacked and Brendon Garcia missed a 39-yard field goal.

Arizona took over at its 5-yard line with 27.2 seconds left and no timeouts. Sokol tossed 16- and 18-yard completions, then zipped an 11-yard TD pass to former Spokane Shock receiver Anthony Amos.

Spokane had time for one play after Kennedy’s kick return. Garcia barely missed wide right on a 44-yard field goal attempt and the Rattlers led 16-10 at half.

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Life without arena football: Faithful fans root for return of high-flying sport to Spokane

The season is winding down in arena football leagues across the country but not in Spokane. The franchise – known as the Shock for the first 10 seasons in arenafootball2 and the Arena Football League and the Empire for two seasons in the Indoor Football League – shuttered last July for financial reasons. The organization’s 12-year run was long by most arena franchise standards, but not long enough for its diehard fans.