Shock comeback falls short in Arizona
The bar ball. It is one of the plays that makes arena football truly unique. A perfectly placed kickoff can act as an onside kick of sorts, allowing the kicking team to recover the ball after it bounces off one of the goal post’s many bars. Depending on which team you’re cheering for, that distinctive ping sound can be beautiful or gut-wrenching.
For the Spokane Shock, it was the latter. Spokane was matching its opponent, the Arizona Rattlers, blow for blow in the early going of their week one matchup. But, a bar ball was recovered by the Rattlers for a touchdown and they never looked back, beginning their title defense with a 60-43 win on Saturday, March 28.
For Shock faithful, all eyes were on the quarterback in the season opener. Carson Coffman was tabbed by head coach Andy Olson and started the game under center. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t finish. A knee injury sustained on a sack in the closing seconds of the first half ended his night early.
Coffman looked sharp before the injury. There was immediate chemistry between Coffman and his top receiver, Mike Washington. They hooked up three times for touchdowns in the first half, including two 30-plus yard connections. Coffman finished the game 11-21 for 156 yards and three touchdowns. As expected, Washington was the primary target all evening. He corralled 10 passes for 152 yards and three touchdowns, terrorizing the Rattlers secondary for a couple deep scores.
At halftime, Jarrett Brown entered the game to replace the injured Coffman. It couldn’t have started worse for the former West Virginia Mountaineer. After Arizona scored on their opening drive to take a 43-27 lead, Brown couldn’t handle the snap from center and fumbled on his first play from scrimmage. Arizona capitalized and took the commanding 50-27 lead.
On the first play of Spokane’s next possession, the snap from center was mishandled again. This time, Brown recovered it. He fumbled later in the game, his third, but it was also recovered by the Shock. Despite the shaky start, Brown also showed some promise under center. He hit the short and intermediate routes with more zing and accuracy than Coffman, but lacked Coffman’s touch on the deep ball. Brown also showed his mobility, rushing ten yards for his first AFL touchdown.
He finished 8-12 passing for 84 yards and an interception.
At that point, the score was 50-34. The only stop Spokane managed up to that point was holding Arizona to a field goal before halftime and this is usually where the Rattlers put the nail in the coffin.
Yet, they didn’t. Following Brown’s rushing score, Spokane’s pass rush ramped up and Rattlers quarterback Nick Davila was sacked in his own end zone for a safety. Spokane capitalized and drove for another touchdown to cap off 16-unanswered points. Arizona again was held to a field goal on its following drive, giving them a narrow ten-point lead. The comeback ended there however, when Brown threw an interception late in the fourth quarter.
Another interesting storyline that emerged was the return of Ruschard Dodd-Masters to the field. After spending 2014 on the sidelines as an assistant coach, Dodd-Masters was back starting at defensive back for the Shock. He provides a leadership role and could often be seen jawing with Rattlers after the play. He also looked sharp on special teams, averaging 22.3 yards per return in a role that used to be filled by Terrance Sanders. Dodd-Masters looks more than capable taking Sanders’ place as kick returner.
There cannot be a less favorable way to open a season in the AFL than taking on the Rattlers in their own arena. It’s no secret that Spokane was ravaged in free agency, losing key contributors at nearly every position. Yet, the Shock hung in with the Rattlers and gave them a scare late in the game. It’s fair to wonder how the game might have played out if Coffman were able to go in the second half.
This much is clear: nobody is unbeatable in the AFL this season. Spokane gave Arizona a run for its money and Jacksonville’s much-touted roster was foiled with a strong effort by the New Orleans Voodoo. It would behoove the San Jose SaberCats not to underestimate Vince McNeil’s Las Vegas squad when they cap off week one’s action on Monday.
The Shock’s next game will be their home opener when they take on the Philadelphia Soul on Saturday, April 4.