SPOKANE - The Soul spent the better part of 2 1/2 quarters digging out of an early 20-point deficit. It was unable to do it twice.
After the Soul, twice the victim of onsides kicks, rallied to tie the score early in the second half, Spokane used three game-changing plays to regain a three-touchdown advantage, and the Shock went on to claim a 75-54 Arena Football League victory last night.
The Soul (5-8), winner of three of its previous four games, saw its playoff push derailed after pulling even at 34 on Ryan Vena's 14-yard touchdown pass to Larry Brackins.
Spokane (5-7) was inside the Soul's 10-yard line, but the drive appeared to stall when quarterback Erik Meyer's fourth-down pass fell incomplete in the end zone. However, Philadelphia was flagged for two defensive penalties - Spokane accepted a holding infraction on defensive back Chris Martin - and Antwan Marsh scored on a 3-yard run on the next play.
The Soul marched to Spokane's 5 but Vena's pass was picked off by Terrance Sanders near the goal line. Sanders returned the ball to the Soul 20 and, while being dragged down by a Philadelphia lineman, alertly flipped the ball to Beau Bell, who took it the rest of the way.
The Shock led, 48-34, and added to that margin when Vena misfired badly on the Soul's next play from scrimmage. His pass went straight to defensive back Ruschard Dodd-Masters, who coasted in for a touchdown, boosting Spokane's lead to 55-34 with 14:08 remaining.
"Turnovers kill you," Soul coach Mike Hohensee said. "We're struggling at the quarterback position, trying to play a clean game. We haven't played a clean game yet this year. The kid competes his butt off. Unfortunately, it takes the wind out of you when you're playing so hard, making a comeback and making plays in every phase, and you give the ball back so easily."
Vena had five touchdown passes - he also ran for a pair of touchdowns - but he was intercepted three times, twice in the midst of Spokane's second-half surge.
"Every week, I've been telling the guys you can't have mental mistakes, and those were mental mistakes - broken routes, misreads. We can't have that trying to get into the playoffs," said Soul receiver Donovan Morgan, who finished with eight catches for 117 yards. "They're going to destroy us."
The Soul trailed, 20-0, before its offense took the field. Meyer hit Markee White for a touchdown on the Shock's opening possession. Spokane, 0-for-9 on onsides kicks this season, surprised the Soul with one and recovered at the Philadelphia 6. Meyer tossed another touchdown pass, then the Shock pulled off another successful onsides kick. On the ensuing play, Meyer fired a touchdown pass to White, and Spokane led, 20-0.
"The second [onsides kick], we were prepared for it, but, again, we make mental mistakes," Morgan said. "Instead of catching the ball, we went up to block with nobody behind them. They made a hell of play to recover it. Spokane game-planned us to a T."
When Philadelphia finally took its first offensive snap, it needed only seconds to find the end zone. Vena hit Morgan in stride for the first of three first-half touchdown connections.
The teams traded touchdowns and interceptions before Keith Stokes returned a kickoff 56 yards for a touchdown, narrowing Spokane's lead to 34-21 late in the second quarter.
White hauled in a pass and ran inside Philadelphia's 15-yard line, but the football was stripped loose by defensive back Kent Richardson and recovered by Martin. His long return set up another Vena-to-Morgan touchdown and the Soul pulled within 34-28.
Philadelphia's defense held Spokane on fourth-and-goal at the 3 when James Sadler broke up a pass in the end zone. The Soul had 31 seconds and one timeout to work with, but couldn't sustain a drive and trailed by six at half. *