When the arenafootball2 schedule came out long before the 2009 season, Spokane’s trip to Florida loomed as one of the toughest matchups of the season.
There’s the cross-country travel. There’s the fact that Florida has won four division titles, advanced to the playoffs seven straight years and captured the ArenaCup in 2004.
But the Firecats find themselves in unfamiliar territory as they approach the midpoint of the season. Florida is 3-4 and last in the American Conference South Division going into tonight’s game against Spokane.
Upon closer inspection, the Firecats are probably better than their record indicates. They opened the season with back-to-back games against South Georgia, dropping the opener by a point and the rematch by 15. South Georgia is 6-2 and leads the South by a half-game over Tennessee Valley (5-2), which also beat the Firecats. Florida lost at Arkansas, which is 5-2 and a half-game out of the lead in the National Conference Southwest.
“We lost that first game by one and we missed three PATs and two field goals,” said Kevin Bouis, who was the defensive coordinator on the ArenaCup championship team and has guided the Firecats to a 53-24 mark in his fifth season as head coach. “The next week at (South Georgia) their quarterback had a breakout game. And Tennessee Valley’s quarterback is as good as anyone in the league.
“This team has potential and we’re starting to play better, but we are in a tough division.”
The top-ranked Shock (6-0) can attest to that. Their last two losses have been in the 2008 Arena Cup to Tennessee Valley and to South Georgia last June.
“I think Florida probably is better than their record, especially how they play at home,” Shock coach Adam Shackleford said. “But I don’t think we played very well against South Georgia or Tennessee Valley.”
Spokane has several difficult non-divisional tests upcoming, including Oklahoma City, Iowa and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
“I’m definitely excited to play some of these teams,” Shock receiver Raul Vijil said. “They’ll be tough games, but ultimately it prepares us for our ultimate goal. We know we’re going to have to go through some of these teams.
“Last year we didn’t have as tough a schedule and we weren’t able to pull it out in the ArenaCup. I don’t know if that had anything to do with it, but it could have. I think this is going to help us improve.”
Florida’s offensive starters have 34 years of af2 experience. Veteran quarterback Chris Wallace is af2’s all-time leader in attempts, completions, yards and touchdowns. Receiver Magic Benton is the league’s all-time leader in receptions, yards and touchdowns.
Bouis said the offense is still adapting to a new system installed by first-year coordinator Clint Dolezel, a long-time standout QB in the Arena Football League.
Defense has been Florida’s cornerstone since Bouis arrived in 2002. The Firecats allowed just 39.2 points per game from 2002-2008. Opponents are averaging 53 points against Florida this season.
The game will be played in Germain Arena in Estero, which is in southwestern Florida.
Shackleford said Markee White will replace injured receiver Patrick Bugg. … Defensive back Aaron Williams (knee) is a question mark.
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