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Monday, September 16, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Showdown at the Arena

The showdown between No. 1 Spokane and No. 2 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is just a day away. Read my unedited preview below for Saturday's 7 p.m. contest.

 

By Jim Meehan

Staff writer

Spokane and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton are separated by roughly 2,500 miles on the map but they’re practically mirror images on the football field.

No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the arenafootball2 rankings. No. 1 in the National Conference vs. No. 1 in the American Conference. Top five in numerous key statistical categories.

The two af2 heavyweights collide tonight at 7 at the Arena in what could prove to be an ArenaCup preview. Top-ranked Spokane (12-1) has 11 wins by double figures and a plus 24.2 scoring margin. No. 2 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (11-2) has 10 double-digit wins and a scoring margin of plus 24.1.

“This is going to be a great football game,” Spokane head coach Adam Shackleford said.

Echoed Pioneers coach Rich Ingold: “Very similar teams. They’ve got a heck of a pass rush and we do, too. Very consistent quarterbacks with low interception rates. Very high plus-minus in turnovers.

“Two very well coached teams, if I don’t mind saying so myself.”

Spokane, one game ahead of Boise in the West Division, is trying to go 4 for 4 with division titles. The Pioneers have won three consecutive division crowns under Ingold, af2’s all-time leader in wins with 86.

“It kind of brings me back to 2003 (when Ingold was head coach) at Quad City,” Ingold said. “We were 13-1, Tennessee Valley was 14-0, coming to our place. The big talk was that they wanted to go undefeated. We ended up beating them by 30 and they lost every game after that. It shattered their season.

“You could just feel the excitement in the air, and that’s the thing about this game. I was kind of hoping they won (last week against Iowa); it would have added a little flavor. They’re going to be favored at home. They’re playing good football.”

The Pioneers will be without defensive lineman Justin Parrish and fullback-linebacker Jason Acquaye. They were suspended for at least two games following their arrest early Thursday morning for their roles in a bar brawl. Parrish and teammate Royce Morgan each have 11 sacks, second only to the Shock’s Ben McCombs (13).

Adam Lipski, cut in training camp, is expected to start at linebacker. Ingold has four available defensive linemen.

“We do have good depth,” Ingold said, “but Justin is probably one of the top five defensive players in the league.”

The Pioneers’ defense features Morgan (four forced fumbles), Micheaux Robinson (af2-leading 12 interceptions) and Larry Kendrick (five interceptions, three fumble recoveries).

Veteran quarterback Ryan Vena’s stats are nearly identical to Spokane’s Nick Davila. Vena has a 68.6 completion percentage with 70 touchdowns and five interceptions. Davila completes 70.1 percent and has 68 TDs with five picks. Vena is first in pass efficiency at 127.9, followed by Davila at 127.6.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Irvin Campbell (89 catches, 1,140 yards, 15 touchdowns) and J.J. Outlaw (81-1,013, 31) pace what Shackleford said “could be the best collection of receivers we’ve seen.”

Notes

Spokane’s Aaron Williams is close to returning from knee surgery, but won’t suit up tonight. Virgil Gray is expected to start in the secondary. Damon Jenkins has been released. … Ingold said he’s coached against Shackleford for years and doesn’t remember losing to him, but Shackleford recalled a favorable outcome. “The Quad City game in 2004,” he said. “We picked up a missed field goal and ran it in for a touchdown on the last play. They called it the ‘Miracle at the Mark’ (Quad City’s arena).” Louisville, with Shackleford as an assistant coach, won the playoff game 53-48. … The Pioneers are coming off a bye week. … As of Friday morning, less than 500 tickets remained.




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Jim Meehan
Jim Meehan joined The Spokesman-Review in 1990. Jim is currently a reporter for the Sports Desk and covers Gonzaga University basketball, Spokane Empire football, college volleyball and golf.

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