The Tampa Bay Strom visited Spokane last August to play the Shock, but that game had just a touch more on the line. The Arena Bowl XXIII combatants are a bit humbled during the 2011 season.
The Storm brought a 3-6 record to the Veterans’ Memorial Arena looking for just a small amount of revenge, as the 4-5 Shock couldn’t afford a home loss if they are going to make a second-half surge into the playoffs.
On paper the Shock were a lock to win this game…at least until they lost both of their roster QBs last week. Bill Stull made his first start last week but was injured early in the game. Kyle Rowley started the first eight games of the season, but was benched in an effort to spur the offense. He came in and played very well, but left in the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury. Both players were placed on injured reserve this week, leaving the Shock without a QB.
Casey Hansen spent time in Spokane during the 2009 season, so he was a logical inquiry for Spokane. But he has been out of football for a year. I spoke to Hansen after the game and asked about the circumstance that brought him back to Spokane.
“I was actually hanging out with some friends,” Hansen said, when the Shock called him earlier in the week. "I recognized the area code but not the number, so I let the call go to voicemail. Tthe call came in late so I slept on it overnight and just started second-guessing myself. Not a lot of people get a second chance so I had to hop on that and see what I can do for them.”
Earlier this week he said it “feels good” to be back in Spokane. “I will be a little rusty, but it’s normal. I haven’t played in awhile. We have a great team, great receivers and a great offensive line. I know they’re going to stay behind me and pick me up.”
The rust wasn’t evident in the first half. There were a few issues with center exchanges, but that was due in part to an aggressive defensive line that didn’t exactly respect snap counts. Tim McGill was trying to jump the snap all night; sometimes he was flagged for several offside penalties, but he also got away with several early jumps.
The Storm offense took the field after Terrance Sanders had the opening kickoff stripped from his hands after being corralled at the Shock 5-yard line. The Shock defense stopped the Dallas Vigilantes five times last week, but the special teams unit made it difficult for the Shock defense to start the game. After penalty calls on the first two plays from scrimmage, Amarii Jackson scored on a six-yard reception from Brian Zbyniewski.
Feeding into the theme of feast or famine, the Shock special teams unit made quick penance for the error. Ruschard Dodd-Masters took the ensuing kick back 55 yards for a TD. The PAT was blocked, which was a recurring theme for the Shock…part of the famine of the night.
Rowan’s kickoff hit the cross bar and bounced just out of the end zone. The Storm covered the ball inside the one, continuing the feast or famine from the Shock special teams. Following a quick first-down pass to former Shock receiver Huey Whittaker, the Storm offense fizzled. Whittaker dropped what would have been a first down conversion on fourth and five.
The Shock used a long completion to Greg Orton and two Storm penalties to set up a two-yard TD pass to Raul Vijil, marking the first AFL TD pass from Hansen (he had 13 AF2 TD passes for the Shock).
The Storm’s next offensive possession stalled, settling for a 17-yard FG to cut the lead to three. On the Shock’s ensuing possession, Orton made a solid move to get underneath a perfect arched ball from Hansen. The missed PAT failed, but the Shock were looking comfortable with Hansen under center and had a 19-10 lead.
That was about the last time the Shock looked like the defending Arena Football Champions. The Storm used a quick-strike offense and two Shock turnovers (a fumble and a failed fourth and one conversion attempt) to score the next 21 points, leading to a 31-19 lead.
Spokane looked to get one last scoring opportunity at the end of the half. The final possession was marred by penalties that moved the ball up and down the field, and Spokane eventually settled for a 45-yard FG from Taylor Rowan. The Storm went into half with a 31-22 lead and would receive the second half kick.
The third quarter was, quite simply, as sloppy a quarter of football that I’ve witnessed in an arena football game. The Storm ran some different zone looks at Hansen, and he struggled in the Red Zone. The time change looked as though it might be taking its toll on the Storm (the second half started after midnight eastern time), as their offense was quite sluggish.
The first two possessions led to the ball being turned over on down. The Storm’s second opportunity featured two sacks and an eventual “field goal attempt” that Kyle Chilton kicked out of bounds to protect from a return attempt.
After the Shock turned the ball over on downs, the Storm had another fourth-down attempt from deep in their own territory, the led to another “field goal attempt” that was kicked out of bounds. This marked the end of a scoreless third quarter.
The fourth quarter started off just as oddly. The Shock possession ended with a fumble being generated without the ball being actually being snapped.
In spite of the two line judges missing the offside penalty, the Shock got the ball back in a hurry when Sanders chased down an overthrown pass in the end zone. The Shock drove the field and cut the lead (the Rownan extra point attempt was blocked again).
This was as close as the Shock would get. Huey Whittaker put on a receiving clinic versus his old team, and the Storm LB Cliff Dukes made plays all over the field in the winning effort.
The mood on the Shock bench following the 51-42 loss was somber as expected. Coach Rob Keefe blamed the loss on “poor execution” and stated that “every game is a must-win.”
They have eight days until they play a road game versus the Kansas City Command. I asked Raul Vijil, who caught his 150th TD as a member of the Spokane Shock tonight, about how much time he and the coaches would be spending with Hansen leading up to next Saturday's game. "We're gonna get some rest tonight and wake up early tomorrow morning. That's how the coaches are," Vijil said. "They'll stay up all night if they need to."
Spokane dominated the Command in Spokane on April 1, 61-34. They are in dire need of a win to maintain their playoff hopes. The matchup against the Command should give them a chance to notch a win and get their new QB meshing with the offense.
The Storm face the 5-4 Georgia Force next Saturday. Another win will allow the Storm to start thinking about making a late run at a playoff spot. Four teams from each conference qualify for the payoffs; the Storm are 1.5 games out after the victory.