Sioux Falls remains the team to beat in the Indoor Football League. The five-time defending champions are a league-best 10-1 after handing Spokane its second loss on Saturday.
However, the Empire (8-2) have time and opportunity to make up ground on the Storm. The teams meet June 18 in Spokane and there’s a reasonable possibility of a third meeting in the United Bowl.
Spokane was admittedly frustrated with Saturday’s 63-50 outcome in South Dakota but buoyed by the fact there isn’t a big gulf between the IFL powers.
“In nine months this organization has found a way to catch up to the five-time champions. We’re on their heels,” Empire coach Adam Shackleford said. “Are we better than them? No we’re not, but we’re where we need to be. These guys don’t see this as a loss that’s going to deter us from being successful.
“We’ve found a way to catch up to a really good team and hopefully be at their level soon.”
Spokane, which entertains Tri-Cities on Friday, is 3 1/2 games in front of Billings and Nebraska in the Intense Conference standings. Sioux Falls has a three-game cushion over Cedar Falls (8-4) and Wichita Falls (6-4) in the United Conference.
“I think we’re still pumped about the season and have the same mindset as far as a championship,” Empire quarterback Charles Dowdell said. “We have the team and talent to make this happen if we do the things we need to do.”
“Obviously, they’re the front-runners, we have to respect that, but there are definitely other good (United) teams over there,” linebacker Nick Haag said. “We have to plug away and keep doing our jobs.”
Spokane had several problems: four turnovers, 14 penalties, failure to slow the Storm’s ground game and persistent kicking game struggles.
Accountability doesn’t seem to be an issue.
“We didn’t play our best game,” Haag said. “When you go through it and start looking at assignments and effort and see minuses across the board you’re not going to win with that.”
Sioux Falls, often using fly sweeps, rushed for 156 yards and four touchdowns split fairly evenly between Korey Williams, Mike Tatum, Brandon Johnson-Farrell and quarterback Lorenzo Brown.
“Not many teams use it, maybe a couple,” Haag said. “It doesn’t matter what they throw at us we have to be ready and execute.”
Spokane gained 327 total yards but attempted 42 passes (10 more than previous season high) and faced numerous third- and fourth-and-long situations.
“That’s the one major thing I saw: We had a lot of opportunities to take check-downs instead of going deep and that cost us a little bit,” Dowdell said.
“You remind (Dowdell) how well he’s played 90 percent of the season,” Shackleford said. “He owns up to his mistakes. He’s not an excuse-maker. He has to run the football little bit more when he has the opportunity. He’s very good at that. He needs to be a chain-mover.”
New kicker coming
Spokane is changing kickers again. Steven Wakefield has been released and the team expects to have another kicker by Wednesday. It’ll be the Empire’s sixth kicker this season.
Wakefield was pretty solid on kickoffs, including a couple of successful onside kicks, but just 10 of 17 on PATs. He was 0 of 2 in the first quarter against Sioux Falls, prompting the Empire to attempt two-point conversions the rest of the game. Spokane opted against attempting several shorter field goals, despite the teams being separated by one possession for more than three quarters.
Spokane is 0 of 11 on field goals – seven of those were beyond 50 yards, the equivalent of a punt. Iowa has made three field goals. The other eight IFL teams have made between nine and 17.
Spokane ranks eighth in PAT accuracy (69.4 percent), second in kickoff coverage (33.5 yard net) and has recovered four of five onside kicks. IFL teams have been successful on 14 of 20 onside attempts.
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