The pecking order in the Indoor Football League begins with Sioux Falls, followed by Spokane.
The Empire would like to change that.
Spokane (12-2) and five-time defending IFL champion Sioux Falls (14-1) collide Saturday at the Arena, more than a month after the Storm defeated visiting Empire 63-50.
Spokane has clinched the top seed in the Intense Conference. Sioux Falls has clinched the top seed overall, even if it loses Saturday and Spokane wins next weekend in Billings.
“I think it’s a message game for them and maybe a statement game for us,” Empire coach Adam Shackleford said. “They want to send a message they’re the best team in the league. We want to make a statement that we can play with these guys and compete at the highest level in this league.”
The first meeting was close throughout but Spokane struggled in the red zone (5 of 10) and committed four turnovers. Both teams have the option of resting key players but that seems unlikely, particularly for Sioux Falls, which faces an extended break before hosting the United Conference title game in mid-July.
“The best is coming to Spokane,” Empire linebacker Pasquale Vacchio said. “They beat us at their place. We had a shot at the end. We have to show them we can beat them in our place.”
The teams will square off in United Bowl next month if they win conference championship games on their home turf.
The Storm stung Spokane for 156 yards rushing, many on fly sweeps with several ball carriers, in the first meeting.
“It’s the quarterback (Lorenzo Brown) being able to pull it and run, a big offensive line that down-blocks on everybody and Mike Tatum is very quick around the end,” Shackleford said of the challenges of defending the fly sweep. “And the fact they’ve had the same pieces running it for so many years and they’re very good at it.”
Other than quarterback Charles Dowdell’s 56 yards, Spokane didn’t have much success on the ground last week in its first outing without running back Trevor Kennedy (broken leg). Kennedy leads the IFL with 720 rushing yards, followed by Brown’s 694.
“We need to get some more guys involved and continue to work with Josh (Ferguson),” Shackleford said. “The biggest thing in moving Ferg over to offense, it doesn’t hurt us because he’s on offense, it hurts us because he’s not on defense.”
Tickets for the Intense Conference championship game will go on sale to the public at 5 p.m. Wednesday at TicketsWest locations, at www.ticketswest.com or by calling 800-325-SEAT or 509-242-7462.
Spokane awaits the winner of a first-round matchup in the championship game, which is scheduled for 4 p.m. July 17 at the Arena.
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