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Empire expect another tight game against Tri-Cities

Empire head coach Adam Shackleford, right, has been impressed by Tri-Cities’ defense. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Empire head coach Adam Shackleford, right, has been impressed by Tri-Cities’ defense. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

The first three chapters of the rekindling of the Spokane/Tri-Cities arena football rivalry have followed the same theme.

Spokane has won all three, none comfortably. Empire coaches and players don’t expect the narrative to change in volume four.

That comes Friday at the Arena as Spokane and Tri-Cities try to bounce back from disappointing losses. The Empire (8-2) fell to IFL kingpin Sioux Falls while Tri-Cities (3-8) lost at home to Billings, another blow to the Fever’s playoff hopes.

“They’re going to bang against our guys. Their effort is always there and that makes it a tough game,” Empire linebacker Nick Haag said. “We have to hit full throttle from the beginning and eliminate those mistakes.”

Spokane won the first two meetings, 60-51 and 52-39, in Kennewick. Both games were tight deep into the second half. The Empire trailed the visiting Fever by 13 at half before digging out a 53-51 win three weeks ago.

“Playing our rival and the opportunity to go 4-0 against them, that’s going to give us as coaches a huge recruiting tool in the offseason,” Empire coach Adam Shackleford said. “They’re very good on defense, their secondary is extremely talented. They’ve struggled on offense but seem to have put it together at times against us.”

Shackleford knows the Spokane/Tri-Cities backstory better than anybody. The teams were in arenafootball2 until 2010 when Spokane joined the Arena Football League and Tri-Cities opted for the Indoor Football League. Shackleford coached Spokane from 2007-2009 and Tri-Cities from 2010-2015.

Twin brothers Robert and Rob Brown don’t go back to the rivalry’s roots, but they’ll be on opposite sides for the third time this season.

“It was tough going against him,” said Robert, a defensive back for the Empire. “I wasn’t holding back, but I wasn’t myself on the field.”

Spokane Empire’s Robert Brown breaks away against the Colorado Crush’s Jusmon Rivers (22) and Quinton Richardson during a kick return on Saturday, April 9 in the Spokane Arena. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane Empire’s Robert Brown breaks away against the Colorado Crush’s Jusmon Rivers (22) and Quinton Richardson during a kick return on Saturday, April 9 in the Spokane Arena. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Rob, released by the Empire in training camp, has provided a boost to Tri-Cities’ offense in the last seven games. He’s returned kicks for touchdowns in two straight games. He produces just over 50 yards per game combining his rushing and receiving yardage.

“To have your twin on the other side playing running back and you play defense and knowing you have to hit him, you want to take care of him and punish him at the same time,” Robert said. “It’s a win-lose situation.”

Empire re-sign Beeson

Spokane re-signed kicker Brady Beeson to replace Steven Wakefield. Beeson was 6 of 6 on PATs in an April win over Iowa but suffered a foot injury.

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