PHOENIX – Spokane finally fixed its habit of slow starts but the rest of the game proved to be problematic.
The visiting Shock jumped in front by two touchdowns but second-seeded Arizona stormed back and rolled to a 72-41 National Conference playoff victory Saturday at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
Spokane finished 7-12, the worst record in the organization’s 10-year history, and exited in the first round of the Arena Football League playoffs for the second consecutive season. It’ll be an interesting next few weeks for the Shock as owner Nader Naini said earlier this week that he will consider all options for next season, including changing leagues.
Arizona (15-4), which has eliminated Spokane from the playoffs in 2011, 2013 and 2015, will face No. 1 San Jose (18-1) in the National Conference championship game.
Spokane couldn’t have scripted a better start. The Shock defense hounded quarterback Nick Davila, forcing a turnover on downs on the Rattlers’ first series. Spokane went on top 7-0 when 335-pound Deveric Gallington took a screen pass 34 yards for a touchdown.
Spokane’s defense made another stop as Micah King sacked Davila on third down and Sergio Gilliam knocked down a fourth-down pass. Quarterback Arvell Nelson hit Nick Truesdell for an 11-yard touchdown and the Shock led 14-0.
Arizona scored to trim Spokane’s lead to 14-7. Still, the Shock led after one quarter for the first time since the Portland game on June 21.
The Shock’s lead didn’t last long. Nelson was flagged for intentional grounding in the end zone, resulting in a safety. Chase Deadder’s TD grab put the Rattlers on top 16-14.
The Rattlers took the lead for good, 30-28, on Davila’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Kerry Reed with 19 seconds left in the second quarter.
Spokane’s offense was stopped on downs on its first possession of the third quarter.
Another Deadder touchdown reception extended Arizona’s lead to nine.
Spokane was within 51-41 after Jabin Sambrano’s touchdown catch early in the fourth quarter but the Rattlers scored 21 unanswered points. Spokane was outscored 42-13 in the second half.
Davila, afforded better protection over the final three quarters, finished 26 of 43 for 315 yards and eight touchdowns, four to Rod Windsor and three to Deadder.
Nelson passed for five touchdowns and ran for another score. He was intercepted twice.
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