The Spokane Shock and Tri-Cities Fever seem to be on opposite ends on the arenafootball2 spectrum. The Shock won an ArenaCup title in their inaugural season in 2006 and played for af2’s top prize last year. The Fever are 12-23 in two-plus years and haven’t won a playoff game.
Tri-Cities is 0-2 to start 2009, including a 48-15 home loss to Boise two weeks ago that set a franchise record for fewest points scored. Dating back to last season, the Fever have dropped nine straight games and dealt with several off-field issues.
The teams collide tonight at 7 at the Arena.
“They are a team that is obviously struggling,” Spokane coach Adam Shackleford said. “We can’t control what is happening down there. We can only control what happens here. I know that sounds like coach-speak, but I talked to our guys and this is a week where we’re going to find out if we have professional athletes.
“Professionals are going to go out and not worry about who they’re playing; go out and take care of their business. We’ve challenged our guys to play 60 minutes. We also know a very average Tri-Cities team came up here last year, lost their starting quarterback in the first five minutes, and battled with us for 60 minutes and almost won that football game.”
The top-ranked Shock are 1-0 after a 59-42 victory over Stockton. The only bumpy portion of the game came in the fourth quarter after the Shock built a comfortable lead.
“We lost focus for a series,” Shackleford said. “Fortunately, it didn’t hurt us in that game, but down the road it could. You can’t go four-and-out in arena football. You have to move the ball and give yourself a chance.”
Otherwise, Spokane’s defense generated a solid pass rush and the secondary covered and tackled well, limiting the Lightning to three touchdowns in the first three quarters. Linebacker Kevin McCullough scored a momentum-changing touchdown on an interception return.
Tri-Cities, which had a bye last week, made several roster moves following the loss to Boise, adding former Idaho Vandals Jo Artis Ratti and George Fa’avae. Ratti is expected to start at mack linebacker and Fa’avae, who finished his collegiate career at UNLV, should see time on the defensive line, where ex-Vandal Ben Alexander starts at end. Defensive back Kiel McDonald, another former Vandal, is on injured reserve. Shock defensive back Stanley Franks was teammates with all four at Idaho.
“They’ve got a lot of guys fighting for jobs right now,” Shackleford said. “Coach (Richard) Davis has won 46 games in this league and he’s very capable of getting it figured out in a week.”
The Fever only have four players with af2 experience – quarterback Joe Ayoob, receiver Phil Goodman, defensive back Ray Little and former Shock defensive lineman Chuck Jones. Ayoob’s completion percentage is less than 50 and he was intercepted five times by Boise.
“We have a lot of veterans on this team and we know they are going to come in and play us hard,” Shock quarterback Nick Davila said. “We have to play our football and just worry about ourselves.”
As of late Friday morning, less than 1,000 tickets remained for tonight’s game. … Shackleford said it’ll be a game-time decision on the status of defensive linemen Martrel Brown and Jonal Saint-Dic. “We have to decide if we want to dress an extra skill guy or a big guy,” Shackleford said. … Ex-Washington State Cougars receiver Nakoa McElrath, who scored the Fever’s lone touchdown against Boise, was released last week. He was claimed by Tulsa, but hasn’t reported. Ex-Cougar Lance Broadus was suspended by the Fever last week. He isn’t expected to play tonight. … Former University of Washington kicker Michael Braunstein made three field goals in Tri-Cities’ last game.
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