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Spokane Shock

Bryan Pray keeps his composure, boosts Spokane Empire to narrow win over Salt Lake

Spokane wide receiver Bryan Pray, a five-year Indoor Football Leauge veteran, proved his worth as an experienced player in the Empire’s 31-29 win over Salt Lake on Sunday at the Arena.

He had seven catches for 67 yards and two touchdowns in the Week 11 Indoor Football League matchup. But recovering with two touchdown catches after dropping passes on previous plays is what hints at Pray’s importance.

With Spokane trailing 23-17 with 2:24 remaining, Pray sailed over a defender and came down with a touchdown catch, after dropping a pass down the sidelines with a significant amount of room to run the play before.

“When I looked up, I had to make that,” Pray said. “I had just dropped the pass the down before, where I’m wide open. That’s a tough drop.

“So when’s the ball in the air, I told myself I had to get it.”

The same thing happened on the Empire’s first touchdown of the game. Pray created separation from his defender in the back of the end zone and quarterback Charles Dowdell fired it to him for the 5-yard score after fumbling a sure-fire touchdown two plays before.

Despite the drops, Pray has found his stride lately for the Empire. He has five or more receptions in the last four games and has been a consistent middle-of-the-field weapon for Spokane.

With no intentions of playing before the season, Pray was out of shape when Spokane signed him midway through training camp.

The early part of the season was spent getting his legs back under him.

“I needed those first four weeks,” Pray said. “I was tremendously out of shape, I’m not going to lie.

“But these guys, they’ve rallied around me, they’ve allowed me to get into my own and now that I understand that offense I’m gaining that chemistry with Dowdell.”

Pray’s re-emergence was a great thing for Spokane, which needed an offensive playmaker to step up in a wire-to-wire game.

After an errant squib kick allowed Salt Lake to start their next possession at the Empire 15-yard line after Pray’s second score, Spokane’s defense forced a three-and-out and Screaming Eagles placekicker Josh Wilson’s field-goal attempt sailed left.

Dowdell busted through the line on a quarterback sneak and glided 30 yards for a touchdown to extend the Empire’s lead to eight in the ensuing possession. But that also handed the ball back to Salt Lake with 24 seconds in a one-score game.

“I was kind of hoping he would have taken a knee on that last play instead of scored,” Shackleford said. “But telling these guys not to score is not easy.”

That almost came back to bite Spokane, as Salt Lake quarterback Verlon Reed connected with Juwan Dotson for a 4-yard touchdown, Dotson’s third of the game. However, Dotson threw the ball into the stands in celebration, inducing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and the Screaming Eagle’s failed to convert on the 17-yard two-point conversion, ending the game.

Kennedy, Hurd Jr. tryout for CFL

Spokane running back Trevor Kennedy and defensive back Toney Hurd Jr. were unavailable for Sunday’s game because they were in Seattle for a tryout with the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League.

“I encourage those guys to do that,” Shackleford said. “They’re dream chasers and we’re dream supporters.”

Kennedy, the IFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year last season, would be a significant blow to the Empire’s offense if he were to sign.

“When he’s not here, we still have to score points,” Shackleford said. “Right now, he’s our only viable playmaker and I challenged the guys a little bit at halftime: ‘Are we a good offense with (No.) 18?’ ”

With his future with the team in flux, the team may find out for the remainder of the season.

Garcia signed to replace Peterson

Placekicker Craig Peterson signed with the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats before the game. Spokane worked out and signed Brendon Garcia to replace him at 8 a.m. Sunday.

Garcia, an Idaho State product, hadn’t kicked since 2014. But he was local, as he’s pursuing a master’s from Gonzaga.