07/08/2011 9:41 AM
Tickets for Saturday's game are still available and can be purchased by contacting TicketsWest.
Saturday night the Spokane Shock plan to make history.
Beyond the fact that Spokane will host the Utah Blaze for the first ever regular-season Arena Football game played outdoors, the Shock’s Championship-rich franchise is poised to take over the fourth and final playoff spot from the Blaze.
While both teams hold an identical 7-8 record, Utah currently holds the tiebreaker due to its 69-62 victory over Spokane earlier this season. For Spokane to pass Utah, it not only needs a win Saturday night, it must beat them by at least eight points.
“We know that this is a must-win game,” Head Coach Rob Keefe explained. “This could be the greatest story ever told in Shock history. We fell in a hole at the beginning of the season but we are climbing out of it and we are right back in playoff contention.”
In such a heated race, Utah and Spokane would seem to be unlikely trading partners but that’s exactly what happened on May 30th. With Spokane in need of a quarterback due to injuries, and Utah in need of a pass rush, the two teams became a perfect match. Utah sent OL Raymond McNeil and QB Erik Meyer to Spokane in exchange for DL Khreem Smith and OL Antonio Narcisse.
Although the trade was a costly one for Spokane, it seemed to breathe some new life into an otherwise stagnant team. Winners of its last three of four games, Spokane has pulled its way back into the playoff picture thanks in large part to a resurgent offense. In the games that Meyer has started, Spokane is averaging 61.3 points/game. It’s no coincidence that the offensive production has increased thanks to the offensive line, anchored by McNeil, which has allowed Meyer to be sacked only once.
McNeil and company will be challenged by an aggressive Blaze pass rush that has collected 24 sacks this season, eighth in the league, including a team-leading 9.5 by DL Mike Lewis. Lewis is joined by former Shock player DL Caesar Rayford who is not far behind Lewis with 8.5 sacks. Lewis and Rayford will have to pick up the slack in the absence of Smith who was placed on Other League Exempt this week when he signed with the CFL’s BC Lions.
Spokane receivers Adron Tennell and Chas Gessner have formed a dynamic duo that has also added to the Shock’s improved offensive production. In last week’s game alone, they combined for 23 receptions for 269 yards with four touchdowns. Tennell, 6-4 200, and Gessner, 6-5 215, will also have distinct height advantage over the Blaze secondary.
Utah’s secondary is led by former Shock DB Al Phillips who leads the team in tackles (77) pass breakups (16), and interceptions (three). The Blaze added Arena veteran DB Jacoby Sheppard to replace starting DB Anthony Barnes who was also placed on Other League Exempt this week.
In their first matchup of the season, Utah’s defense slowed down Spokane’s offense just enough to squeak out a win.
“We don’t want to get in a shootout with them,” Keefe said. “We need to play smart football and eliminate the turnovers.”
Not many teams would want to get in a shootout with Utah’s offense that boasts the league’s top-rated passing offense (301.1 yards per game), and has scored the third most points per game (59.7) in the league.
Much of Utah’s offensive success is thanks to QB Tommy Grady, who has flourished this year under the tutelage of former Shock Offensive Coordinator Matthew Sauk with a league-leading 107 touchdown passes. In last week’s 35-59 loss to Chicago, Grady was injured late in the second quarter and did not return to action. He has since been placed on injured reserve. On the same day Grady was placed on IR the Blaze added 15-year AFL veteran Todd Hammell. Hammell is expected to start.
No matter who lines up at QB for Utah, he will have to prepare for an aggressive Spokane pass rush which sits third in the league with 29 sacks. In last week’s loss to Arizona, Spokane did not did not record a single sack, halting a streak of 13 straight games in which the Shock defense had recorded at least one. Led by DL Jon Williams, who has 6.5 sacks, the defense will be anxious to start another streak.
It won’t be easy though against Utah’s offensive line which has allowed only 16 sacks this season, the third-lowest total in the league. Former Spokane Shock and 2010 All-AFL OL Ed Ta’amu was a late-season addition to Utah’s offensive line and has added some additional protection for the Blaze.
In the absence of leading receiver Aaron Boone, Aaron Lesue has stepped up over the last three games and collected 28 receptions for 332 yards with 11 touchdowns. Joining Lesue in the receiving corps is AFL-vet Alvance Robinson, who leads them in touchdown receptions (26).
Although Spokane’s defense did not record an interception last week against Arizona, it has collected five in the last four games. DB Terrance Sanders leads the team in that category (five) and hopes to add to that total against Utah.
Spokane will make history in the Joe Albi Stadium Summer Classic while its Head Coach hopes for an opportunity to continue the playoff-rich history of a franchise that is laced with championships.
Tickets for the game are still available and can be purchased by contacting TicketsWest. The Joe Albi Stadium Box Office will also have tickets for sale and opens Saturday morning at 10.
TV: Larry Weir and Mike Peterson will call the action live on KSKN-22 starting at 6 PM. The game will also be streamed live on krem.com
Radio: Dennis Patchin and Keith Osso will provide live radio coverage starting with the pregame show at 5:30 on ESPN 700. If you are outside of Spokane you can listen to the coverage live by following this link here.
AFL LIVE: To watch the game over the internet, click here to download the free media player.