Spokane has spent the last half of the Indoor Football League regular season playing its way out of the postseason.
The Empire have dropped five of their last six games but the playoff door is still ajar.
Spokane (8-7) needs a road win over Salt Lake in the regular-season finale Friday and a Wichita Falls Nighthawks victory over the Nebraska Danger (8-7) to reach the playoffs. If those two outcomes happen, Spokane would visit top-seeded Arizona for the Intense Conference title next week.
A Spokane loss or Nebraska win ends the Empire’s season and puts the Danger in the playoffs.
“Go Nighthawks,” Empire coach Adam Shackleford said.
But that’s only half the battle. Spokane will trot out its third different starting quarterback in five weeks against the Screaming Eagles (4-11), who pushed the Empire to the final seconds in previous losses by six, 17 and two.
Marcus McDade, who stepped in for Aaron Wilmer in the second half of last week’s 58-28 loss to Iowa, will start for Spokane. It was McDade’s first game action since playing in a German pro league last season.
“I thought Marcus played well,” Shackleford said. “He’s a big-body guy, throws the ball very well, throws on time and he plays with a lot of confidence.”
Salt Lake hired Matt Sauk as head coach after going 1-1 in its first two games. Sauk played for Shackleford in Louisville in 2004-05 and coached on Shackleford’s staff in Spokane in 2008-09.
Salt Lake has been competitive under Sauk but stung by five losses by a touchdown or less.
Spokane’s primary issue has been putting points on the scoreboard.
“Our red zone efficiency is horrible, our turnovers in the red zone are embarrassing,” Shackleford said. “If those things don’t stop, we’re not going to be a contender even if we get in the playoffs.”