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Spokane Shock

Things to watch: Spokane Shock hope third time’s the charm against Frisco in playoff opener

Arizona Rattlers wide receiver Jarrod Harrington (16) makes the grabs for a touchdown against Spokane Shock kicker Sawyer Petre (19) during a IFL game Friday, Aug. 13, 2021 at the Arena.  (JAMES SNOOK/ FOR THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Justin Reed For The Spokesman-Review

DAN PELLE/ THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW Spokane Shock coach Billy Back has a discussion with DB Mike Green during time out against the Tucson Sugar Skulls in the second quarter, Saturday, July 17, 2021, at the Arena. The Shock travel to play the Frisco Fighters in the first round of the IFL Playoffs on Saturday.

The newest iteration of Spokane Shock football is back in familiar territory as the playoffs begin on Saturday.

Spokane had made nine of 10 postseasons as the Shock (6-6), the most recent being in 2015 when they lost in the conference semifinals to the Arizona Rattlers.

This time around, Spokane heads to Frisco for its third matchup of the season with the Fighters (10-3).

The game kicks off at 5:05 p.m. at the Comerica Center in Frisco, Texas.

Here are five things to watch.

Healthy at last

After more than a month of dubious play from the Shock – on both sides of the ball – head coach Billy Back is excited to welcome back a few starters into the fold.

Starting quarterback Charles McCullum – who has been out for eight weeks with an ankle injury – could make his lofty return. He is still only 185 yards away from the all-time IFL passing record.

McCullum was 4-1 in games he started and finished.

If he doesn’t play, backup Blake Sims should be suited up as well, and he was 2-1 in games he started and finished.

Both have been banged up for large stretches of the season.

Also making a long-awaited return should be former All-Pro running back Davonte Sapp-Lynch, who is one of the more dynamic players in the league.

The offense has been spinning its wheels, not doing much to help Spokane win. The rest of the league will be watching to see if the Shock bring their playmakers back into the fold.

Reversing the trend

The Shock are 0-2 against the Fighters this season, losing on the road 45-34 and losing in the first game of the season 36-33 at home.

Trends usually foreshadow results, but with the Shock getting bodies back from injury, this matchup will be seen as a brand new season for Back and the rest of the Shock.

The game earlier this month was a poor reflection of what Spokane can bring to the table as the franchise was still reeling from its patched together lineup which was making mistakes all over the field, on both sides of the ball.

Spokane’s last regular season game, against the Rattlers, was a defensive clinic by the Shock, holding the top-ranked offense to 30 points, their fewest of the season.

Back was happy with the defensive performance after he challenged them to make a statement against Arizona. They responded with gang tackles, hard hits and smart football.

With the defense regaining its footing, the offense will be excited to welcome back its game changers to reclaim its 40-plus scoring outputs from earlier in the season.

Frisco first-timers

As Spokane enters its 11th season as the Shock, they aren’t ready to hand over the baton to a first-year team, even if that team has two wins over them this season.

The Shock have seen what it takes for an expansion team to rattle the establishment, and the Fighters are looking to do the same.

Spokane won its inaugural postseason appearance in 2006, winning three postseason games before winning the Arena Cup VII over the Green Bay Blizzard.

This year, Frisco finished as the league’s third-best team.

The Shock are hoping to end the Fighters season before they can make a run toward postseason immortality.

Frisco’s feisty defense

The Fighters have the league’s third-ranked defense and just held league MVP-frontrunner Drew Powell to 19 rushing yards.

Defensive lineman Charles Williams leads the IFL in sacks (11) and tackles for a loss (17).

The team leads the league in yards per game allowed, rushing yards allowed and sacks.

In the two previous matchups, the Fighters have forced six Spokane turnovers.

Frisco is hoping for a sellout crowd on Saturday and if that happens, it could make the Fighters defense even more problematic for Spokane.

Doing the little things

After the loss to Arizona in the season finale, Back was optimistic about the Shock’s chances in the playoffs.

The one area where he needed to see improvement first was in the little things.

Early in the season when Spokane was in the midst of six wins in seven games, the Shock were executing at all levels because each player was doing his job.

They were making the proper reads, staying in their gaps and communicating well with the guys around them.

Unfortunately for Back and the Shock, as players went down with injuries, so did the ability of players to do the little things right.

“What I keep preaching every day is to take care of the little things,” Back said. “The big things take care of themselves.”

The big things that followed were wins over most of the league as Spokane was pushing to host a home playoff game. That opportunity didn’t come to fruition, but the Shock are in the playoffs where every team is 0-0.