EVERETT – Back in April, the expansion Spokane Shock were regarded by many as a lucky lot who had managed to start the season with four straight victories – despite outscoring their opponents by a total of only 12 points – by somehow finding a way to win games in the final seconds.
Of late, Spokane has adopted a new tactic.
Double-digit blowout victories – three in a row this month – have become the norm for the Shock (12-2), who own arenafootball2’s best record and host the Everett Hawks (4-10) at 7 p.m. tonight at the Spokane Arena.
Spokane – ranked No. 1 in the af2 coach’s poll for the third consecutive week – has already earned the West Division title and clinched the best record in the National Conference.
“They are the best team in the league. I’ve seen the film,” Everett coach Tony Wells said. “This is an opportunity to redeem ourselves and our season. They might take us lightly, but we’re going to be aggressive and make a statement.”
The Shock not only get a first-round bye in the playoffs, but will play any postseason games, short of the ArenaCup championship, at home where they are averaging nearly 10,000 rabid fans per contest and lead the league in attendance.
With all that going for them, what could possibly motivate the Shock in today’s game against the Hawks, a team they edged 44-41 at home on April 15 and annihilated at the Everett Events Center 58-29 on May 12?
Well, Spokane coach Chris Siegfried has a record of 52-26 in his five seasons as an af2 head coach. He is currently tied with former Rio Grande Valley and Tennessee Valley coach Kevin Guy as the af2’s all-time leader in coaching victories and will own the record with one more triumph.
“That’s something he should be proud of because he worked his butt off,” said Wells, who said he and Siegfried are long-time friends with a similar coaching styles. “But, he needs to get that record on somebody else’s time.”
Wells described Siegfried as an intense and tireless worker who does not tolerate complacency.
“He gets better every week, he upgrades and by playoff time he’s loaded for bear,” Wells said. “If we’re not on our ‘A’ game, he’ll blow us out.”
Everett quarterback Brian Baker played for Siegfried at Cape Fear (now South Georgia) in 2004 when the Wildcats advanced to the American Conference semifinals before losing to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, where Wells was the offensive coordinator.
“He’s got that little chip on his shoulder,” said Baker, who set an Everett team record by throwing for 331 yards in last Saturday’s loss to Green Bay. “But, that’s good because you can see the result with where Spokane’s at. But, we’re gonna bring everything we’ve got.”
Other than leading the af2 in red-zone efficiency with an 88 percent scoring rate, Spokane is mid-pack in just about every category on both offense and defense.
The Shock rank 13th in total offense (Everett is 15th). They are 8th in scoring (Everett is 16th) and 6th in total defense (Everett is 19th).
Quarterback Kyle Rowley bumped Alex Neist – now struggling as Bakersfield’s starting QB – from the starting job in week 10, and in five starts has thrown for 808 yards with 19 touchdown passes and no interceptions.
The Shock boasts a potent one-two receiving tandem in Antwone Savage (78 receptions, 874 yards, 18 TDs) and former University of Washington standout Charles Frederick (75 catches, 854 yards, 21 TDs).
In eight games for Everett, including six starts, Baker has thrown 35 TD passes with five interceptions. His favorite targets have been Hassan Brockman (75 receptions for 736 yards) and Milton Myers, scheduled to return to action today after missing two weeks with a bruised knee. Myers has 59 catches for 829 yards, and Brockman and Myers have 16 TD receptions apiece.
Hawks’ receivers Tavarius Davis and LeJuan Edwards also cannot be overlooked by the Shock. And Spokane will have to contend with J.R. Thomas, who very nearly did in Green Bay last Saturday with his 13 receptions for 228 yards and four TDs.
Playoff picture clearing up: Along with Spokane, four National Conference teams -Tulsa, Central Valley and Oklahoma City (all 10-4) and Arkansas (8-6) – have qualified for the playoffs. Tulsa is the only team to reach the post-season in all seven years of af2’s existence.
Bakersfield (7-7) can clinch the final National Conference spot with a single victory in its last two games. The Blitz, losers of four straight, hosts Stockton today and Everett on July 29.
In the wide-open American Conference race only Florida (11-3) and Memphis (10-5) have nailed down playoff berths. Seven teams are battling for the four remaining berths.