The line of scrimmage usually tells the story of football games at any level.
It certainly did in Arizona’s 49-35 Indoor Football League win over the Spokane Empire on Friday at the Arena.
The Rattlers rushed for 109 yards, including 87 yards and three touchdowns by Darrell Monroe. Quarterback Cody Sokol finished 12 of 15 and wasn’t sacked.
Meanwhile, Spokane quarterback Charles Dowdell was sacked six times and spent most of the night dodging pass rushers.
“We got exposed again up front both ways,” Empire coach Adam Shackleford said. “O.J. Mau (defensive lineman) hurt his knee, that didn’t help, but we couldn’t stop the run.”
The Empire missed an opportunity to take command of the Intense Conference. Spokane and Arizona share first at 7-4 with a rematch coming on June 3 in the Arena.
“We’re in first place but we’re fighting for our lives,” Shackleford said. “We’re not very healthy. We lost (linebacker Pasquale) Vacchio to a pectoral injury and we probably won’t have him for a while. Losing him and (linebacker) Nick Haag (who is in minicamp with the New York Giants) is a big deal.”
The teams traded touchdowns most of second half but that didn’t help the Empire. They trailed 20-17 at half and Arizona scored on its opening possession of the third quarter.
Arizona’s offensive line created room for the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Monroe, who played at Arizona Western College. When Monroe encountered resistance, he often shed defenders for additional yardage.
“Any time a team is running the ball on you it’s a bit disrespectful,” said Vacchio, who forced and recovered a fumble, the game’s lone turnover. “I thought we did a pretty good job stopping the run on their last couple possessions.”
Monroe dashed through a big hole to put Arizona on top 27-17 but Spokane answered on Devonn Brown’s acrobatic 12-yard touchdown reception. Brown spilled over the end zone dasherboard but somehow maintained possession.
Monroe broke two tackles on a 13-yard touchdown run to boost Arizona’s lead to 41-29 in the fourth quarter. Spokane closed within 41-35 with 5:48 remaining on Trevor Kennedy’s touchdown, which came after a Rattlers’ penalty erased a Dowdell interception in the end zone.
Spokane was unsuccessful with an onside kick attempt and the Rattlers capitalized as Fred Williams made a one-handed touchdown catch. The Rattlers sealed their third consecutive win by sacking Dowdell on fourth down in the final seconds.
Dowdell was fairly effective when given time, passing for 145 yards and five touchdowns.
“They had a very impressive defensive line and they blitzed the backer about 85 percent of the time,” Dowdell said. “That’s part of the game. You have to try to get the ball out as quick as possible.”
The Rattlers led 20-17 at half, thanks to a couple of Empire mistakes late in the second quarter. Arizona faced 2nd-and-goal at the 20 after an unsportsmanlike penalty, but the Empire had a busted coverage and left former Spokane receiver Anthony Amos wide open. Amos dove into the end zone to give Arizona a three-point lead with 48 seconds left.
Spokane marched downfield on 11-yard completions to Samuel Charles and Brown, a face-mask penalty and Dowdell’s 11-yard scramble. That put the ball on the 1-yard line but Dowdell bobbled the snap from center and was swarmed at the 2 on the final play of the half.
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