Shock and Rattlers Set For Grudge Match in Snake Pit
On Sunday afternoon, the Spokane Shock anxiously awaited to find out who their opponent would be in the National Conference Championship. A San Jose SaberCats victory would result in a second home playoff game, while an Arizona Rattlers triumph would send the Shock to Phoenix. After a hard fought battle, the Rattlers ended up thwarting the Sabercats, bringing the National Conference title game to the Snake Pit. Head Coach Andy Olson, among other players, reiterated the same sentiment: We don’t care who we have to play. Olson took it one step further, saying, “We would love to beat them on their home turf.” Now the Shock get their chance to make that a reality.
The bitter division rivals played each other twice this season, splitting the series. The first matchup was early in the season in Week 4. It was the first Shock home game after going 3-0 in their season-opening three-game road trip. Arizona was similarly 3-0. This game would set the tone for the rest of the season. A sold out crowd at Spokane Arena witnessed a see-saw game that was eventually decided when LB Beau Bell sealed a Shock victory with a late interception of QB Nick Davila. The fortunes of each team changed after the Shock win. The Rattlers would proceed to win nine straight games and eventually retake the division lead. The Shock on the other hand, briefly fell into a dark pit with an excruciating three-game losing streak.
The second matchup was Spokane’s chance to get back into the West Division race. It had emerged from the three-game slump but still trailed the Rattlers by two games. A second win would cut into the Rattler lead and ensure the advantage in any sort of tiebreaker scenario. But the Shock just weren’t ready for this game. Although the score remained close, it was clear that the Shock were just one step behind Arizona that day. Every Spokane score was a struggle, and every Rattlers score was a walk in the park. The Shock would not forget the loss, however. They have not lost a game since then, and have routinely embarrassed opponents in the process. Arizona has cooled off since its win over the Shock. Two regular season losses and a close call against the SaberCats have proven these two teams are close to the same talent level.
This game will be headlined by the two star quarterbacks. Erik Meyer is likely the front runner for MVP this season, with a sensational year throwing the football. Davila will not be far behind in the voting, adding another impressive season to his resume. Meyer edged Davila in passing touchdowns, QB rating, completion percentage and threw less interceptions. But, Davila led Meyer with more passing yards, and one more regular season win. It’s going to be a shootout of epic proportions in the US Airways Center.
But the funny thing about shootouts is that they are usually decided by a big defensive play. Going back to an epic offensive contest in the outdoor game, a 51-45 playoff victory for the Arizona Cardinals over the Green Bay Packers was decided when Aaron Rodgers had the football stripped by Carlos Dansby. It was subsequently returned for a touchdown and a shocking overtime win. Expect a big defensive play to make the difference in the National Conference Championship Game as well. Arena football games between two great teams seemingly are always decided by one stop. Which team can step up and make the big play? The edge in that department could go to the Rattlers. Arizona’s defense gave up 30 fewer points throughout the 2013 season, and managed to obtain more turnovers than the Shock.
Saturday’s game between the Shock and Rattlers might be the real AFL championship game. If either of these teams were in the American Conference, a showdown in the ArenaBowl would be likely. The winner will likely be a big favorite in Orlando. The league will have to settle for a phenomenal National Conference Championship game to decide who will appear in ArenaBowl XXVI. The game can be seen on CBSSports on Saturday, August 10th. Kickoff is set for 6:30 PST.