From Arena Bowl host Spokane:
It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. A new head coach with no head coaching experience was not supposed to guide his team to the AFL’s best record with 15 wins and only three losses. The smallest market in the AFL was not supposed to attract some of the top players. But after 18 weeks, Head Coach Rob Keefe has guided his team to the AFL’s promised land, the Arena Bowl.
“All year people have been trying to push down the Spokane Shock,” Head Coach Rob Keefe explained. “But that just adds a spark to our fire to win. We realize that to gain respect we have to earn it. With a win here, you can’t do anything else but to say, ‘I tip my hat to you.’”
The Shock’s opponent in ArenaBowl XXIII, the Tampa Bay Storm, was anointed as a preseason favorite to win the Championship with the winningest Coach in AFL history, Tim Marcum, at the helm. As a franchise, the Storm has appeared in nine ArenaBowl Championships and won five of them.
“At the end of the day it’s the 2010 Tampa Bay Storm and the 2010 Spokane Shock,” Keefe explained. “The story line for the press is the old versus the new and the veterans versus the rookies. But, when you look at it, it’s good athletes versus good athletes and good coaches versus good coaches.”
Tampa Bay’s offense is led by QB Brett Dietz. Dietz’s regular season numbers are remarkably similar to Spokane QB Kyle Rowley. In fact, Dietz’s passing efficiency rating (120.9) is only a tenth of a point higher than Rowley’s (120.8) and both QB’s completed 65% of their passes. While Dietz threw more touchdowns than Rowley (106 for Dietz and 100 for Rowley), he also threw five more interceptions then Spokane’s signal caller (16 for Dietz and 11 for Rowley).
Not surprisingly, their leading receivers also have similar numbers. Rowley’s leading receiver, Huey Whittaker, recorded 37 touchdowns; the same number as Dietz’s leading receiver, Tyrone Timmons. In the playoffs, both Dietz and Rowley have spread the wealth amongst all their receivers. Spokane’s Greg Orton has recorded a league-leading 19 receptions during the playoffs, while Tampa Bay is led by DeAndrew Rubin with 15 receptions (tied for sixth in the league).
Spokane’s secondary was led by DB Travis Williams who recorded six interceptions during the regular season. Williams added a seventh interception in the first round of the post season against Arizona. The Storm secondary was led by DB Brandon Hefflin with four interceptions in the regular season. But in the post season, Tampa Bay’s Erick McIntosh is tied for the league lead in interceptions (2).
In addition to talented receivers, both quarterbacks have enjoyed excellent pass protection. Each team’s offensive line placed in the league’s top-10 for fewest sacks allowed during the regular season (fifth for Tampa Bay and seventh for Spokane).
Spokane’s offensive line will have to deal with the Storm’s impressive pass rush, led by Cliff Dukes and Jermaine Smith; each recorded seven sacks (tied for eighth in the league) during the regular season.
Likewise, the Storm will have to fend off Spokane’s pass rush tandem of Jerry Turner and Jeremy Geathers. While Turner led the team in sacks during the regular season (5), Geathers has come on strong in the post-season producing 1.5 sacks (second in the league).
John Madden once said, “The only yardstick for success in our society is being a champion. No one remembers anything else.” While Marcum and Keefe have traveled different paths to find their own success, one thing is clear: neither wants his team to be forgotten.