The Spokane Shock secured a playoff berth with a wild Hail Mary pass as time expired in a 63-61 win over the San Jose SaberCats.
Shock head coach Rob Keefe may need an updated schedule, as he said this week that “it’s the second week of the playoffs.” In his defense, his team needed a win last week to stay alive to defend their 2010 Arena Bowl Championship.
A win vs. the SaberCats would all but seal up the fourth playoff spot for Spokane, while a loss would put them in jeopardy of missing the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
The Shock (9-8) used an opportunistic defense and a virtually perfect offensive showing last Saturday to separate themselves from the Utah Blaze in the game and standings.
Following that win I asked Keefe about their preparation for the rematch with San Jose and he spoke about the poor treatment his team had received there in week one. The Shock were taunted and engaged by the SaberCat players and fans alike, including a barrage of late contact and having beer poured on them.
“Let’s not forget that San Jose beat us by about 40 points in the first week of the season. I’m not forgetting that,” Keefe said. “I’m not forgetting how we were treated down there. We have some redemption coming up.”
Redemption is precisely what was in store for Spokane. The SaberCats scored a TD with 3.9 seconds remaining in the game to give them a four-point lead. But Shock QB Kyle Rowley connected with newly-acquired Randy Hymes for their fourth TD of the game, sealing the 63-61 victory.
How will the Shock fare in the playoffs?
“There’s no love lost between the clubs. They were pretty brazen and pretty in our face and flamboyant when they beat us 76-48. Something we didn’t forget about,” Keefe said.
“Not only did we beat them but we sent them home. They’re not in the playoffs. They should be very proud of themselves because they had a great season. They had a lot of injuries but I’m happy that we’re the ones that put them out.”
The game did not start off well for Spokane as San Jose won the coin toss. After deferring their selection to the second half, SaberCat Juan Gamboa sent the opening kick off of the goal post. It bounced back to the Spokane five-yard line and was recovered by SaberCat WR Victor James. A TD pass from Mark Grieb to James Roe gave San Jose an early 7-0 lead.
Spokane responded with a solid drive, blending nice passes and a few defensive penalties. After a first-down reception at the SaberCat eight-yard line, the SaberCats picked up where they left off in San Jose.
Quinton Andrews took the Shock receiver over the wall after the whistle, edging Spokane closer to the goal line. On the following play Shock QB Erik Meyer scrambled and ran to the goal line. A hard hit brought him down at the one-inch line and knocked him out of the game with a shoulder injury.
Kyle Rowley scored on the shortest TD run possible, making it a 7-6 game after a missed PAT.
San Jose responded with a quick drive, capped off by a TD run by James. On their next possession Spokane had the ball fourth-and-two at their own 15. Rowley went deep to an open Brandon Thompkins. The ball was catchable, but a little short. Thompkins bobbled it and the closing defender batted it away.
San Jose scored on another James run, giving the SaberCats a 21-6 lead as the first quarter ran down.
Spokane rallied on their next possession, moving the length of the field. The drive was capped by Hymes’ first TD reception for Spokane, closing the gap to 21-13.
San Jose had a decision to make on their next drive. They drove the length of the field and had fourth-and-one from inside the Shock five. They opted to tap James for yet another run; coming off the left end he took an inside handoff and was met by the Shock defenders at the line of scrimmage.
Spokane took over on their own two-yard line and Rowley went to work. Hi hit Adron Tennell for 12 and nine-yard gains. After a five-yard penalty Rowley hit Hymes for a 19-yard gain. A nine-yard sack put Spokane in second-and-long again, but not for long. Thompkins took his running start and made a quick move to the outside. Andrews had tight coverage on the play for San Jose, but Rowley was right on target with his pass. A well-timed leap brought down the TD pass for Spokane.
The SaberCats picked up where they left off, taking their first possession of the second half to the Shock end zone on a 26-yard TD pass. The PAT was blocked, though, and the lead was 41-27.
Spokane had a free play early in the next drive, as Rowley’s hard count again had San Jose offsides. He had Thompkins open deep and this time hit him in stride. However, the ball was still bobbled in the end zone for an incomplete pass. Rowley eventually hit Tennell on a two-yard TD pass and they cut the lead to 41-34.
The SaberCats drove the field but their drive stalled in Shock territory. They opted to try to extend their lead to two possessions with a FG attempt, but it was again blocked by the Shock defensive front.
Rowley connected with Thompkins for a TD on the first play of the fourth quarter. The SaberCats got a paw on the PAT, leaving Spokane trailing 41-40.
After San Jose responded with a TD, Chris Pino provided one of the biggest sparks of the game. The 320-pound lineman took off downfield and was wide open. Rowley hit him in all of his stride’s glory and Pino continued to rumble down to the five-yard line. Rowley connected with Hymes for a TD pass on the next play and a 48-47 deficit.
The SaberCats again moved the ball with precision on their next drive. Grieb found openings in the Shock secondary and threw another TD pass. The PAT was good, despite a five-yard procedure penalty pushing the SaberCats back.
The Shock needed a quick score to close the gap, and the SaberCats obliged. Gamboa kicked the ball to the side of the back net, giving Spokane the ball at the 20. A nifty move by Tennell led to a 20-yard gain and Thompkins picked up eight on the following play. Hymes was held on the following play and caught a TD pass from Rowley after the next snap.
Trailing by two with 1:00 remaining, the Shock went for a two-point conversion. Rowley faked an inside handoff and then pitched the ball to Thompkins coming around from the left end. He ducked inside one defender and outraced Dwight McLean to the goal line, leaving the score tied at 55.
This would not be the final two-point play of the game. The ensuing kickoff was taken by Marco Thomas and he attempted to run down the left sideline. He was stopped by a Shock defender and he turned inside where he was tackled in the end zone. However, Thomas crossed the goal line before retreating. The result was a safety and the Shock felt as though they were in control of the game.
The nature of Arena Ball dictates that leaving early is a bad idea, but some fans attempted to beat the rush of the 9,680 in attendance.
Another bounce went in favor of San Jose as they recovered their onside kick following the safety. Grieb began driving the field and burning clock, throwing the go-ahead TD on the seventh play of the drive with just 3.9 seconds remaining. They were not successful on the two-point conversion that would have made the lead six points.
The stands emptied even further as there was a break before the ensuing kickoff, an occurrence that was noticed by the players. After the game Hymes commented “I feel bad that so many of the fans missed such an exciting finish.”
Spokane notified the officials that they intended to down the ensuing kickoff, which would lead to a one-second runoff. Gamboa squibbed the ball downfield and Alex Teems made a clean recovery, leaving time for one final play. Rowley made a high, deep pass down the middle of the field. It was intended for Hymes but he was being pulled away from the play.
“I told (Tennell) to trail the play the whole way,” Rowley said.
He leapt for the ball, bringing it back from over the wall. Rowley and many in attendance thought he had caught the ball, but it slipped out of his hands and right into the chest of Hymes who had closed from the side.
Finally a bounce went the right way for Spokane.
Spokane has a game at Jacksonville next week before starting the playoffs in Arizona.
“We could not be more thrilled right now that we’re in the playoffs after starting the season at 1-4,” Keefe said.