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Big boys up front credited with Spokane Empire’s offensive success

Spokane Empire running back Trevor Kennedy is averaging a league-high 4.7 yards per run, thanks to big bodies on the line like Dave Lefotu (56) and Michael Boyefio (76). (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane Empire running back Trevor Kennedy is averaging a league-high 4.7 yards per run, thanks to big bodies on the line like Dave Lefotu (56) and Michael Boyefio (76). (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Jim Meehan

Quarterback Charles Dowdell hasn’t been sacked in Spokane’s last three games. The offense has scored at least 52 points in six of seven games and the average play gains 5.6 yards, second only to Sioux Falls’ 5.7 in the Indoor Football League.

The Empire converts on more than half of third-down situations and converts nearly 86 percent of trips inside the red zone into touchdowns.

The line makes up three-eighths of the offense but probably deserves a higher percentage of the success.

“This is the best unit I’ve had since 2009,” said coach Adam Shackleford, referring to Spokane’s arenafootball2 champions that featured John Booker, Ryan Belcher, Kyle Young and fullback Harrison Nikolao. “I see a lot of similarities in these guys. Just big bodies, people movers, athletic for their size and really work well together.”

Spokane typically lines up with Michael Boyefio at center, Dave Lefotu at guard and Mike Trice at tackle, the latter responsible for protecting Dowdell’s blindside. Brandon Haskins and Kyle Fischer usually battle to suit up as the fourth linemen. All five have seen playing time.

The running game is a much bigger component in the IFL compared to Spokane’s days in af2 and the Arena Football League. Spokane (6-1) has called 142 running plays and 170 pass attempts.

“I love that aspect,” Lefotu said. “I was looking at some AFL teams. When I heard about the IFL and the way they play, that really pulled me in. It’s more fitting for me to get this kind of film to translate over to outdoor football.”

The ground game, led by Trevor Kennedy, averages 4.7 yards per attempt, tops in the IFL. Dowdell is tied for third with 35 touchdowns, 32 passing and three running. Spokane has surrendered a league-low four sacks.

“I haven’t had a lot of pressure,” Dowdell said. “They haven’t had many mental breakdowns up front. Those guys are really locked in.”

The 6-foot-6, 340-pound Trice is a five-year IFL vet who played for Shackleford at Tri-Cities in 2014. Lefotu, who played at Hawaii, and Boyefio, a Texas A&M-Commerce product, are IFL rookies. Both are 6-2 and 320 pounds.

“Dowdell is a field general, he demands his respect in the huddle,” Lefotu said. “Kennedy is just a freak. I love blocking and seeing that guy run right past us and knowing it’s a first down. That just makes our job easier.”

The offense has been able to make defenses pay for leaving both linebackers in the box in hopes of slowing the running game.

“In this league to run the ball is pretty hard,” said JJ Hayes, who leads the team in receptions (34) and yards (408) despite missing one game. “When you have mobile offensive linemen like we do it’s pretty easy. If it’s a run, sometimes you see them 20 yards downfield.”

Kicking it

Spokane has had a revolving door at placekicker but hopes to have a long-term solution in Steven Wakefield, who spent the first part of the season with Tri-Cities. He’s the Empire’s fifth kicker. The previous four didn’t work out due to performance, injury or other commitments.

“We feel we’ve found a guy we like and he’ll be here,” Shackleford said.

Wakefield was 3 of 6 on PATs – one was blocked – in Saturday’s win over Tri-Cities. Spokane is the only team in IFL without at least one made field goal. Empire kickers are 0 of 9, but five of those were 50 yards or longer, which amounts to a punt in the outdoor game.

Shackleford is more concerned about PAT accuracy and quality kickoffs.

“We want it to be closer to 80 percent or higher (on PATs),” he said. “If we’re attempting field goals it’s because I’m not doing my job and we’re not getting in the end zone.”

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