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Spokane Shock

Empire linebackers have plenty to argue about and agree on

Nick Haag, Worcester, Mass., native, Patriots and Red Sox fan. Pasquale Vacchio, Long Island, N.Y., native, Giants and Mets fan. Spokane Empire linebackers and roommates.

You can probably tell where this is going.

“That’s a given,” Haag said of sharing an apartment. “You couldn’t have us separated, that’s asking for jail time or something. We have to keep each other grounded. A lot of the same temperament in the head. A lot of the same screws missing.”

“Whatever screws he has loose, mine are a little tighter,” Vacchio said. “Mine might be loose, his might be a little tighter. Might be a perfect combination.”

It’s certainly working for Spokane (10-2), which has a chance to clinch hosting rights for the Intense Conference championship game with a win over Billings (6-6) on Saturday at the Arena. Haag and Vacchio rank 1-2 on the Empire in tackles on one of the Indoor Football League’s best defenses.

They’re best friends and call each other brothers, but both are fiercely protective of their home turf. In their apartment, Haag proudly displays a Jamie Collins’ Patriots jersey and Vacchio does the same with a Landon Collins’ Giants jersey.

“Funny thing is,” Haag said, “we didn’t even plan that.”

“Just happens to be our favorite players,” Vacchio shrugged.

Naturally, we threw out some topics to spark debate – which city has the best food, what was their most recent argument about, should David Ortiz retire. Anything Patriots-Giants related set the two in motion.

“We happen to be better in Super Bowls against them,” Vacchio said. “They have more of them, but …”

“That’s the worst part,” Haag interjected. “I wouldn’t even mind if we lost to the Giants, I could accept it, but you knew on the other end what was going on in New York with him and his buddies and I knew the phone calls were coming.”

It’s not limited to phone calls.

“I tag him in Giants instagram posts once a day,” Vacchio smiled.

“He’s tagging all my buddies at home in Giants photos,” Haag protested.

Asked about the Giants prospects next season, Haag’s speech pattern gathers pace and volume.

“It could be a four-win season,” he began.

“We’ll sneak in (the playoffs) at 9-7,” concluded Vacchio, citing defensive improvements.

“When you’re the No. 2 team in New York, the real team is the Jets and everyone knows that, you don’t expect much,” Haag needled. “On top of that, the Jets play in a better conference, better competition.”

“I’ve heard it all before,” an unruffled Vacchio said. “It’s Boston Strong-type comments.”

They met during the 2013 Division II/III all-star game in Minneapolis. Haag, who played at D-II Assumption, and Vacchio, a product of D-III Buffalo State, bonded immediately. They lined up on the same defense and Vacchio recalled the opposing offense having negative rushing yards.

“The fact we both played linebacker, both like to run and hit and make plays all over field,” Vacchio said of the friendship. “We had the same mindset, high motors, high intensity.”

The two were with Cedar Rapids in 2014. Haag signed with the Empire in November, Vacchio one week later.

“They’re the reason we’re having success stopping the run,” coach Adam Shackleford said. “Guys maybe didn’t know what to think about a two-linebacker system. It’s unique (because IFL teams typically use another defensive back at Vacchio’s position), but it’s worked well.”

Haag and Vacchio literally finish each other’s sentences as they turn their attention toward teammates.

“JJ Hayes and Justin Helwege, it’s tough living above those guys,” said Haag, while acknowledging Hayes does the best impersonations of the two linebackers. “It’s literally like a sitcom. They’re arguing all day long.”

“Like an animated TV show,” Vacchio said.

“This whole team relies on our apartment,” added Haag, loud enough to reach the ears of nearby teammates. “It’s the cleanest apartment, we’ve got the best food, we win in every video game. We’re big in all those aspects.”

Helwege and others voice dissenting opinions.

“This is what I’m talking about,” said Vacchio, shouting them down. “Always chiming in when they’re not supposed to.”

For all the joking around, the two have a serious side and they’re all business at practice. Haag allows that Vacchio is a great cook and makes a quality chicken parm. Vacchio concedes the Patriots are more consistent than his beloved Giants.

One thing they unanimously agree on: An IFL championship is within Spokane’s reach.

“Our goals at the beginning were to win a championship,” Vacchio said. “Now we’re 10-2 and it’s right in front of us. We just have to go get it.”