The Arizona Rattlers were looking to push the Spokane Shock out of their rearview mirror in the West Division of the Arena Football League. The Shock had other ideas in the Spokane Veteran Memorial Coliseum, also known as “Deaf Valley.”
A win over the 6-0 Rattlers would put the 2-4 Shock back into the playoff race and keep them from guaranteeing their worst record in franchise history.
These two teams are not overly fond of each other, and it showed early and often. Arizona is home to two former Spokane Shock stars, QB Nick Davilla and LB Kevin McCullough, adding to the division rivalry. Play was consistently stopped by penalties, even though much of the extra-curricular contact was overlooked.
Spokane entered the contest with a track record of winning big or losing close, and the end of this game looked like both could happen.
The rattlers were driving with a little over two minutes remaining, trailing 63-49. Following a 15-yard gain on 3rd-and-12, Davilla had his team inside the Shock 5-yard line. Ruschard Dodd-Masters made two solid plays on 2nd- and 3rd-and-goal and the Shock crowd got really loud for the first time of the night on fourth down. It worked, as Davilla threw the ball through the end zone.
However, a questionable defensive holding penalty gave the Rattlers a new set of downs and Odie Armstrong pushed his way into the end zone on first down.
Down by seven, the Rattlers tried a tricky onside kick to the short-manned side of the field. It worked perfectly…for the Shock. Raul Vijil scooped up the ball and walked into the end zone, extending their lead back to 14.
An inexperience Arena Football fan might think that was the final nail in the Rattlers’ coffin. The Rattlers drove the field on the ensuing possession, scoring with 49 seconds remaining. They uncovered the onside kick, setting up a chance to pull even or take the lead with a two-point conversion.
Arizona quickly reached the Shock 14-yard line and opted for two running plays to burn some clock. This left them with 3rd-and-4 from the Shock eight. Davilla’s third-down pass fell incomplete in the end zone. On fourth down, Davilla was hit while trying to throw and the ball. The ball hit the turf and trickled up to the line of scrimmage and the Shock thought the game was over.
However, despite the ball being knocked down in the backfield, the officials called pass interference on this Shock, giving the Rattlers a fresh set of downs. After the game, I asked Shock head coach Rob Keefe about the call.
“I’m not going to argue with the refs," he said. "They see what they see. I wish it wasn’t a call.”
Arizona scored a TD with 12 seconds remaining and attempted a two-point conversion to take the lead. The Shock applied pressure on Davilla on the two-point try, hitting him as he released the ball.
Do the officiating issues in the AFL hinder your enjoyment of the game?
The ball fell to the turf, leading to another onside kick.
The Rattlers recovered the ball at their own 17-yard line with 8.5 seconds remaining. Davilla’s first-down pass downfield went through the hands of Jason Geathers. With four seconds remaining, the Rattlers opted for a field-goal attempt to win the game.
The snap from McCullough was a little high and Shock DL Khreem Smith bulled his way through the line to block the kick.
The win was the Shock’s fourth in four games vs. the Rattlers.
When I asked Coach Keefe about holding off the Rattlers at the end of the game, he replied, “We’ll take it. We knew they were going to go for two. We knew it was going to come down to another onside kick. Great onside kick…the guy’s a great kicker.
"It ended the way it did, but I’m glad. Because to be honest it was about four different endings in one game that our guys are going to learn from. Great way to go back to the chart board and figure out what we did wrong and what we did right.”
Shock QB Kyle Rowley was the Offensive Player of the Game, going 21-for-31 for 219 yards, eight TDs, one INT and he rushed for one score. Greg Orton and Raul Vijil had big games for the Shock, the latter being named game MVP with four TDs.
The Rattlers were led by Davilla’s 29-for-43 effort for 318 yards. Rod Windsor, the Nifty Playmaker of the Game, had 167 yards on 16 receptions. Windsor almost didn’t make the game, as he is property of the Cleveland Browns. With the NFL Lockout temporarily lifted, Windsor missed several days of practice, and if not for the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals granting a stay of an earlier ruling, Windsor would not have been in uniform on Saturday night.
The game started with almost as much excitement as it had at the end. The Shock won the coin toss and elected to defer. Taylor Rowan’s kick was returned by Virgil Fray to the Rattler 5-yard line.
On second down, Davilla mishandled the snap. The ball popped up and over the center and John Williams recovered the loose ball. Spokane used three running plays and a defensive penalty to take a 7-0 lead on a one-yard QB sneak by Rowley.
Davilla brought the Rattlers back, sustaining a drive to the Shock two. However, he fumbled another snap, but Spokane couldn’t quite hold onto the ball. Davilla recovered and threw an 8-yard TD pass to Geathers two plays later.
Spokane squandered an opportunity on the next possession. Terrance Sanders took the kickoff and cut to the right. He broke two tackles before being brought down at the Shock 17-yard line. Rowley hit Vigil for a 19-yard gain and then tried to hit Orton in the corner of the end zone.
He was hit while throwing and didn’t get enough into the pass, allowing Arizona’s Gray to leap and intercept the pass.
The first quarter ended in a 7-7 tie. The Rattlers were ball hogs, though, holding a time of possession advantage of 11:02 to 3:58. When they added a TD 2:18 into the second quarter, the Rattlers had extended the spread to almost 10 minutes.
The two sides exchanged TD drives, with Arizona scoring with 55 seconds remaining.
Following an unsuccessful onside kick, Rowley hit Vijil for a short TD pass, leaving the score tied after Rowan’s PAT.
The Shock couldn’t recover a well-executed onside kick from Rowan. It was a high-bouncing kick down the middle, touching at least four Shock players before dribbling into the hands of a Rattler that was sprawled out on the carpet. The Rattlers scored a quick TD and then kicked the ball deep to the Shock.
Sanders returned the ensuing kickoff back to the Rattler 5-yard line, but a block in the back call pulled the Shock back to their own two.
That suited Rowley just fine, though. He drove the Shock down the field, throwing a perfect arc to the back of the end zone, and Vijil ran under the ball, making a great catch with 5.4 seconds left on the clock. After two TDs total in the first quarter, each team scored two in the final minute of the half for a 28-28 tie.
Sanders wanted to make it a bit easier to score to start the second half. He again cut to the right after the kick, but this time used his speed to race past the Rattler defense. He met two tacklers on the opposing 5-yard line and was brought down at the two. Following two more penalties (delay of game on the offense and defensive pass interference), Davilla found a streaking Orton coming from out of the backfield for a quick-strike TD.
Will the Shock make the 10-4 mark?
After the Rattlers worked down the field and scored, the Shock again succumbed in the time of possession battle. Rowley took over at his 15 following another solid return by Sanders. Kauleinamoku turned on a deep out, and Rowley’s perfectly timed pass dropped right in his hands as he came out of his turn at the goal line. Rowan stayed perfect on the night and the Shock led, 42-35.
The teams exchanged quick TD drives. Rowley kicked off to Arizona, who took over at their own 2-yard line after they were unable to advance the ball out of the end zone.
Spokane forced a fumble on Arizona’s first play, recovered by Antwan Marsh. This left Spokane with the ball and a 49-42 lead after three quarters of play.
Rowley hit Vijil on the first play of the fourth quarter, extending the lead to 14 points following Rowan’s eighth PAT on the night. With a final score of 70-69, Rowan picked the right night to not miss a PAT.
The two sides exchanged TD drives leading up the exciting finish.
Coach Keefe commented on the overall game, saying, “That’s arena football at its greatest.”
I asked him how this win might impact their attitude and confidence over the rest of the season.
“It’s such an emotional high…let’s use this,” Keefe replied.
“There are probably about seven teams right now (on the upcoming schedule), I think the best team is Dallas at 5-2 right now, but everybody else is that .500 or below mark, and then we finish up. Arizona, Utah, San Jose, Jacksonville all in a row. We’re going to be 10-4 before you know it and then all of this negative criticism goes away.”