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Sports >  Spokane Shock

Billings back for another crack at Empire

Jim Meehan

Spokane Empire coach Adam Shackleford isn’t wild about playing an opponent four times but he has few complaints about how his players have handled such situations.

The Empire defeated Tri-Cities in all four meetings. They swept two-game sets against Colorado and Iowa. Up next: Their third matchup against Billings (6-6) on Saturday at the Arena. The teams will meet in the regular-season finale June 25, and possibly again in the playoffs.

“Our veteran leadership has helped a lot and my coaching staff has been with me for a few years,” Shackleford said. “I hope the league decides not to have teams play each other four times – I don’t like it – but my job is to look at the next game on the schedule and be prepared for it. These guys have done a good job with that.”

With a win, Spokane (10-2) secures hosting rights in the Intense Conference championship game. Billings is in the driver’s seat to host a first-round playoff game.

“Everyone has a job, execute your job,” linebacker Pasquale Vacchio said. “Like coach Shack always says, it’s arena football, man on man. If you’re better than the man across from you you’ll find out at the end of the game.”

Billings won its last two before enjoying a bye last week. Cory Murphy, who played late in Spokane’s 75-28 win over the Wolves last month, is expected to start at quarterback. He ran for six touchdowns and 87 yards to fuel Billings’ win over Colorado two weeks ago.

Murphy has completed 22 of 37 passes with four interceptions but he’s rushed for a team-leading 223 yards and eight touchdowns.

“When we’ve tackled well we’ve been OK (defending dual-threat quarterbacks),” Shackleford said. “We haven’t seen a lot of them.”

Spokane has won two straight after falling to Sioux Falls, which has the inside track to hosting rights throughout the playoffs.

“Everything we’ve gone through with rebranding and changing leagues and everything this organization has battled through,” Shackleford said, “to be able to host playoff games, which was our original goal, says a lot about our players and our front office.”

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