Spokane won consecutive games for the first time this season, following up last week's upset over Arizona with a 42-40 victory over visiting Portland on Saturday.
Unedited game story below.
By Jim Meehan
Spokane Shock coach Andy Olson exhaled for a couple of seconds before a post-game interview, perhaps replaying portions of a wild fourth quarter in his mind.
Spokane has been in a numerous nailbiters this season and most haven’t ended in the Shock’s favor. But the last two have, including a 42-40 victory over the Portland Thunder in front of 8,357 Saturday at the Arena that puts the Shock on the brink of a playoff berth.
Spokane (6-10) won consecutive games for the first time this season and it clinches a playoff spot if L.A. (4-11) loses to Arizona (12-3) today. Portland, which dropped two of three to Spokane, fell to 4-12.
“This record, we don’t believe is Shock football,” Olson said. “Everybody’s been upset with the record. This is like a relief. We’re finally coming together, finally figuring out how to close out games.”
Spokane’s defense forced just one turnover and didn’t have a sack, numbers that would suggest they had a tough night. They did early, but the unit strung together four straight stops to spark the Shock’s rally from a two-touchdown deficit.
Spokane crawled into an early hole by turning the ball over on two of its first three possessions. Meanwhile, Portland quarterback Kyle Rowley, who led Spokane to a couple of arena titles, carved up the defense with short, quick-release passes.
Rowley completed 14 of 15 passes to put the Thunder on top 20-7, but he cooled off late in the second quarter. Portland had a chance to extend its lead after taking over at Spokane’s 8 following Nick Truesdell’s fumble. The Thunder picked up automatic first downs on two pass interference penalties on Mike McMillan, but failed to score as Sergio Gilliam and McMillan batted away passes.
Spokane responded by driving 47 yards for a touchdown. Quarterback Arvell Nelson found Truesdell, who caught the ball in the end zone before tumbling backwards over the dasher boards, cutting Portland’s lead to 20-14 at half.
“When we play like that I’m not happy,” Olson said. “I was really mad at these guys (at half). We have to figure out a way to come out a little more on fire. We can’t continue to expect to win games getting down 20-7 every time we step on the field.”
Spokane kept the Thunder offense out of the end zone on their first three possessions of the second half, twice on downs, including another Gilliam pass break up, and the third time on McMillan’s interception.
“The (defense) was definitely big,” said Nelson, who had two touchdowns passing and two rushing. “It gives us confidence, it gives us the ball more. We can get into a rhythm.”
The Shock scored on three rushing touchdowns, two by Nelson and one by Bryson Kelly, to move in front 32-20, a margin that would have been wider but Taylor Rowan missed three consecutive PATs.
Spokane seemed ready to break it open but Nelson’s pass in the end zone was intercepted. Portland finally scored on a screen pass to lineman John Martinez to cut Spokane’s lead to five.
The teams traded touchdowns before Rowan’s 20-yard field goal with 54 seconds left bumped Spokane’s lead to 42-34. Jared Perry hauled in a 25-yard scoring pass from Rowley and the Thunder appeared to tie it with a successful two-point conversion but the play was erased by a penalty.
Rowley’s ensuing pass was incomplete and Truesdell fielded Portland’s onside kick to seal the victory.
“One thing we’ve done through all the struggles is we’ve stayed together,” Olson said. “People have not pointed fingers, they have not quit. It was great that we finished because we needed this to get into the playoffs, but we have a long way to go.”