05/06/2010 3:08 PM
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It might seem strange to mention the word “playoffs” during a season that is old five weeks old, but when you are playing a team in your division, it’s never too early to think about the post-season. Just ask Spokane Shock Head Coach Rob Keefe.
“We have been thinking about the playoffs since day one,” Keefe explained. “You can’t put an emphasis on it because you have to take one game at a time. But, realistically, if only four teams from your conference make the playoffs, then every game matters.”
Friday’s game is particularly important not only because it is the first of two meetings against the Rattlers, but because Arizona is currently tied with Spokane (2-2) at the top of the Western Division.
Arizona’s roster is sprinkled with former Spokane players and players who have ties to the Shock organization. From former Shock QB Nick Davila (08-09) to LB Kelvin Morris (07) Spokane fans are very familiar with the Rattlers’ roster.
“We are the 2010 Spokane Shock and they are the 2010 Arizona Rattlers,” Keefe said. “Obviously, we have a lot of love for players across the field, but we definitely want to win; it doesn’t matter who is lining up against us.”
The Rattlers’ offense is averaging 63.8 points per game, thanks in large part to Davila and Arizona’s talented receiving corps. In his AFL rookie season, Davila has passed for a league-leading 1,346 yards with only four interceptions and 27 touchdowns. Comparatively, Spokane’s offense is averaging 69 points per game under the direction of QB Kyle Rowley and an equally talented group of receivers. Rowley has passed for 30 touchdowns (tied for the third in the league) and 1,209 yards with only four interceptions.
Davila’s leading receiver is rookie sensation WR Rod Windsor, who has collected 48 receptions (ranked first in the league). Windsor leads the team in touchdown receptions (11) and receiving yards (622). Spokane’s WR Huey Whittaker is close behind Windsor on the league leaderboard with 43 receptions of his own (ranked third in the league). Whittaker, an AFL-veteran, has also collected 444 receiving yards with 12 touchdowns, leading the team in both categories.
Windsor is joined in the starting lineup by AFL-veteran JJ McKelvey and rookie Anthony Mix. McKelvey, who was a teammate of Whittaker in 2008 with the Utah Blaze, is second on the team in receptions (30) and touchdowns (8). Mix, who has 15 receptions, leads the team in yards per receptions (13.1).
At 6-2, Windsor is the Rattlers’ shortest receiver in the starting line-up while Mix is their tallest listed at 6-5 (McKelvey is listed at 6-4).
“They are all talented receivers,” Keefe explained. “They are all big guys and they know how to use their bodies very well. Take your pick, these are all good receivers and Nick has a great supporting cast around him.”
Whittaker is joined in Spokane’s starting line-up by WR Markee White and Raul Vijil. Last week, White and Vijil each recorded two touchdowns and brought their combined season total to 16.
Defensively, Arizona has given up an average of 66 points per contest, the highest in the league. On the other hand, Arizona’s secondary has collected seven interceptions, the second highest total in the league. Three of those interceptions belong to DB Riley Swanson, ranked second in the league in that category. Former Boise Burn DB Terrance Sanders has also recorded an interception, but more importantly he leads the team with 22 tackles.
Spokane’s defense has given up an average of 62.5 points per game. Last week, Spokane’s secondary recorded two interceptions and although the defensive line did not record a sack, it still leads the league in that category for the season (8).
Both teams are coming into this week’s game after suffering heart-breaking defeats in the closing seconds of last week’s contests. Spokane suffered its second loss of the season while hosting the Cleveland Gladiators. In an offensive shootout, Spokane and Cleveland exchanged the lead eight times and the game wasn’t decided until the final play. With the Shock down by four points, QB Kyle Rowley dropped back to pass and fired a bullet to WR Markee White that fell incomplete in the back of the endzone as the clock expired, despite the crowd’s protest of pass interference.
“I think we are going remember that game for a very long time,” Keefe explained. “And as much as we want to move past that game – we won’t be able to until we win again.”
Similarly, Arizona suffered its second loss of the season last week on the final play against the Tampa Bay Storm. After scoring a touchdown with only seven seconds left in the game, Rattlers Head Coach Kevin Guy elected to go for the win on a two-point conversion. Davila dropped back to pass and found WR Anthony Mix but the pass fell incomplete. Arizona argued that a flag should have been thrown for pass interference against the Storm defenders but the referees didn’t see it that way.
“Tonight’s game is all about who can get over last week’s game the quickest,” Keefe explained. “For me, it’s about who can learn the most about the other team in the shortest amount of time and forget about their loss. That’s who will win this game.”
NOTES: SAUK SERVES SUSPENSION - The Arena Football League served Spokane Shock Offensive Coordinator Matt Sauk with a one-game suspension, effectively immediately. Sauk will serve the suspension during this week’s game against the Arizona Rattlers.
Sauk was suspended for violating the AFL’s Code of Conduct policy during last week’s loss to the Cleveland Gladiators, according to Commissioner Jerry Kurz. Spokane is in the process of appealing Sauk’s suspension.
INSURANCE POLICY – The Arizona Republic reported that Rattlers’ WR Anthony Mix has not practiced this week due to injury. As an insurance policy, the Rattlers added WR Siaha Burley (5-10, 185) to their roster on Wednesday. Burley, an Arizona resident, played for the Rattlers in 2008 and lead the team in receptions (133) and touchdown receptions (33). The previous season, Burley set an AFL record with 166 receptions and 2,169 receiving yards. At press time, Burley was listed as a back-up behind Mix.
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