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Spokane Empire say bye-bye to bye weeks

The last thing a football team wants to do is lose a game before entering a bye week. Players and coaches get a week respite and all they can think about is what went wrong in the last game.

Try two straight bye weeks following a loss. That’s the position Spokane found itself in after falling 30-22 at Billings on March 12.

“That bad taste is still in our mouths,” defensive back Robert Brown said. “We’re just ready to get back out there.”

Head coach Adam Shackleford passed on watching other Indoor Football League games when his team was idle.

“I was so upset we weren’t playing,” Shackleford said. “My players would text me, ‘Hey, Wichita Falls is winning.’ I didn’t even want to hear about it.”

Spokane (2-1), which hasn’t played at home since Feb. 27, entertains Iowa (3-1) on Friday.

The best thing to come of the bye weeks is the Empire’s roster is nearly completely healthy. Linebacker Pasquale Vacchio (hamstring) will be back in the lineup. Receiver Samuel Charles (finger) was testing out a special brace at Tuesday’s practice. Both missed the Billings game.

The next best thing is Spokane actually gained ground in the Intense Conference standings. Billings lost to visiting Iowa 38-27 last Saturday. Nebraska, 3-0 at one point, lost to Green Bay and Wichita Falls.

Intense teams are a combined 8-13, and all five are coming off a loss. United Conference counterparts, paced by five-time IFL champion Sioux Falls (4-1), are 14-9.

“I look at it as we’re the late bloomers and Sioux Falls and the other big teams have a little head start on us,” Brown said.

The Empire’s schedule has been peculiar, with three byes in the season’s first six weeks. That’s due in part to the IFL having to re-schedule after sacking a Minnesota franchise in January and the availability of the Spokane Arena, which hosted NCAA tournament games earlier this month.

“It’s a little weird,” Brown said. “Once you get going you don’t want to stop. At the same time bye weeks are big for getting healthy. It’s like a fresh start.”

Spokane will play 13 games over the next 13 weeks.

“I couldn’t ask for a football team to handle this any better,” Shackleford said. “You have one game in a month. These guys only have one paycheck in a month, that’s doesn’t make me very happy but that’s the rules and we abide by them here.

“What I like about this team most is they come out and compete every day in practice, more than any team I’ve coached. I’ve never had to ask them to pick it up.”

Notes

Shackleford said the defense was “outstanding” against Billings, forcing four turnovers and yielding just 30 points. … The AFL opens this weekend, meaning the eight teams are making their final cuts. Shackleford anticipates Spokane will take a closer look at some of those players when they become available. … The talent pool could become deeper depending on what happens with Major League Football, a fledgling spring outdoor league that signed numerous IFL-bound players. MLFB has told its players to hold off on reporting to training camp, which was scheduled to open April 6. In a letter to players, president Wes Chandler said the league has “encountered several operations items that must be addressed.”

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