Warm-ups, the coin flip and the second quarter.
What’s missing? For the Spokane Shock, the first quarter of the last five games.
Spokane has trailed 14-0, 14-0, 14-0, 13-0 and 21-7 – 76-7 overall – after the opening quarter against its last five foes. The Shock dug out of two-touchdown deficits to win two of the five, but smoother starts would make the task much easier.
Spokane trailed Cleveland 21-0 before cracking the scoring column last Saturday. The Shock trailed the L.A. Kiss 28-0 at halftime before a spirited comeback fell short, 34-28.
“Good starts have been the emphasis for weeks,” coach Andy Olson said. “Our biggest emphasis is to come out hot. We had a very good practice (Wednesday). I was really happy with the way (quarterback) Arvell (Nelson) was moving the ball, especially at the beginning. Get up on these guys (Las Vegas on Saturday), make them play from behind and we should win the game.”
It’s worked before. Spokane jumped in front 35-14 at Las Vegas in May and held on for a 63-56 win. In June, the visiting Outlaws sprinted on top 41-21 at half en route to a 62-56 victory.
“We came out (Tuesday) and had a fairly slow start and picked it up at the end,” Nelson said. “That’s all we talk about in the meeting room. That (76-7) is unacceptable. You can’t win games like that.”
Spokane is in the playoffs, but its seeding isn’t determined. The Shock (6-11) can secure the third seed, and a first-round playoff date against Arizona, with a win at Las Vegas. The Outlaws (5-11-1) earn the third seed with a victory and drop Spokane into fourth.
At least, that’s how it appears.
The AFL took over daily operations of the struggling Las Vegas and New Orleans franchises two months ago and canceled the teams’ head-to-head game, declaring it a tie. There has been speculation the Outlaws will be ineligible for the playoffs. It’ll apparently be decided by a vote of the board of directors (league owners). It seems implausible the owners would help Las Vegas pay its bills and then vote to allow the Outlaws into the playoffs if they finish with the same number of wins as Portland (5-12).
Asked Wednesday for clarification, AFL director of communications BJ Pickard said via email: “As far as I know, they’re in with a win.”
Portland, which faces Arizona, would qualify with a victory and a Las Vegas loss.
“We’d like to win this game, the third seed, be on the road and be the underdogs,” Shock defensive back Sergio Gilliam said. “We’ve seen sparks of what we’re capable of doing.”
In 2013, the AFL assumed ownership of Chicago and prevented the second-seeded Rush from hosting a first-round playoff game. Instead, Chicago traveled to third-seeded Spokane and lost 69-47.
Making their point
Spokane struggles more on defense than offense, according to statistics, but sometimes numbers can be misleading. The Shock rank No. 8 in scoring offense (46.8 per game) and last (12th) in scoring defense (55.1). In the last five games, however, Spokane has surpassed 42 points just once and its minus-6 in turnover margin.
The Shock needed three touchdowns in the final 6 minutes to reach 42 points against Cleveland.
“Cleveland was one of the worst offensive games we’ve played,” said Olson, whose team has been held below 30 points four times. “We could have blocked better, run better routes and caught the ball better (nine drops). No quarterback is perfect. It’s just limiting those mistakes.”
Spokane got a victory on its last trip to Las Vegas, but the good feelings didn’t last long. Shock players Samuel Charles and Mark Jackson were charged with theft after security video showed Jackson taking $600 from the purses of two women inside a lounge and handing some of the money to Charles.
Jackson was booted from the team. Charles’ theft charge was dismissed after he paid a fine and attended counseling.
“There won’t be a distraction in Las Vegas,” Olson said. “We’ll never see anything like that happen again.”