Spokane Gets the Monkey off their Back
By Alex Gustafson
The Spokane Shock had their second home game of the season facing the Orlando Predators. Orlando sported a 3-1 record before kickoff, and thoughts were still positive for the Shock faithful heading into the game albeit Spokane being winless in all three attempts this year. As a journalist, this was a very interesting and exciting game to watch and report on. As a fan, holy cow did the Shock need that win.
Carson Coffman came back ready to work. After his injury in the season opener against Arizona, he was ready to take his spot as the starting quarterback. For Orlando, Randy Hippeard wasn’t looking to be outshined as he looked to one up Coffman throughout the contest.
After a shootout of a first half ending 35-35, defense took over for both teams. The 3rd quarter was scored at 14 a piece highlighted by Terrance Taylor recovering a fumble at the Orlando 9 for a touchdown that was originally ruled a safety, then turned into a touchback before Spokane Head Coach Andy Olson threw his challenge flag.
“That felt good. We challenged each other (on defense) to step up and play our best” Said Taylor, who earned the AFL Highlight of the Game award for the play. After a stellar 3rd however, the entire 4th quarter was scoreless. Spokane got to see a rare treat in the form of an overtime game.
The last time the Shock went into extra time was May 11, 2012 when they hosted and defeated New Orleans. Though it was almost three full years since an overtime game for the franchise, the Shock looked ready to finish strong. Orlando started with the ball and drove for 5 minutes as a worn Hippeard found Kendal Thompins for the go-ahead score. The Preadators went for two, but failed as Bernard Morris was denied the endzone. Hippeard would finish with 397 passing yards and 6 touchdowns, winning the award for Offensive Player of the Game.
Coffman took over and after two incompletions, found Mike Washington for the tie. He would finish the game with 289 passing yards and 6 touchdowns as well. Taylor Rowan finished the game off with the extra point.
Defensive Player of the Game James Ruffin had four sacks and three forced fumbles, recovering two of them. “Orlando is a great team, no doubt. But we all stepped up and brought our A game tonight. It felt great.” Ruffin also indicated that there is a bit of friendly bickering between him and Terrance Taylor, and it is all in the spirit of competition. “We want the D to compete. He and I always go for it, I want to do better than him and he wants to do better than me. I think we tied today” he laughed.
Patrick Afif said this was an ugly game, but was very happy for the win. “We finally got the monkey off our back, but it felt like tonight took five years off of my life” he joked. The offensive lineman added “We have a lot of great talent, and it felt like a new season after our bye week. We’re starting to gel and it’s great.”
Andy Olson later commented “We still have a long way to go. We left some opportunities on the field we didn’t capitalize on and had some sloppy plays.” But asking about the revolving door at quarterback, he remarked “I’m happy to have some consistency at QB. The bye helped us as well. We just needed more time and we got it.”
Predators players and coaches obviously weren’t thrilled with the loss, but some showed different spirit than others. Orlando Head Coach Rob Keefe said that while he was happy to be back in Spokane for a homecoming of sorts, he was disappointed with the loss and strives to be better the rest of the stretch. “This is a learning experience. We’ll learn from this and get better because of it.”
Offensive Lineman Ryan Cave was not available for comment, but later posted on his Facebook page “7 turnovers n we loose by a point, yea I say we gave one away…..Live n learn from it n on to the next…”
Searching for available players for interviews, an interesting sentiment came up. Terrance Sanders was last year’s leading return man as well as a top 5 corner for Spokane, winning such accolades as “Playmaker of the Year.” As Sanders left the Shock, a vacancy had to be filled. Enter Ruschard Dodd-Masters. After coaching defensive backs such as Sanders last year, Dodd-Masters decided to put the pads back on and fill the void.
“It’s next man up.” Said Dodd-Masters. “We make plays, and when we get cohesive, it shows. I feel we’re 0-0 going into every week, and we keep this going one game at a time.” When asked about replacing Sanders after his career year, he answered “There is no replacing him. I tip my hat to him, but this year I want to be the best returner in the league. I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it.”
From the fan perspective, it felt like a great Shock game of old. It may not have been a high scoring affair like other attempts, but the energy and excitement was missed. After a loss from Philadelphia, this game was a great way to get back in the swing of things for Spokane. Many of the players shared the same sentiments that they are finally gelling with each other and the pressure for the first win is finally off them.
Though it’s still early in the season, the next couple of games look to be better contests for the Shock as the next two games are against teams with only one win between them all season. Of course anything can happen in Arena Football, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to Los Angeles making their first ever visit to the Spokane Arena.
The Predators will head home to face the Cleveland Gladiators while Spokane’s next effort finds them back on the road against the New Orleans VooDoo. Both matchups take place May 2nd with start times at 7pm ET in Orlando and 8pm ET in New Orleans. As usual, all games can be seen online on ESPN 3 and the WatchESPN app.