SPOKANE, Washington – The Empire (0-0) will host the Green Bay Blizzard (1-0) for their first regular season game of the 2017 IFL season this Thursday, February 23 at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena with a 7:00 p.m. PT kickoff.
Green Bay will visit Spokane for the first time in their franchise history, though the two cities did clash twice as members of the af2 in 2006 and 2008.
In 2006, Spokane defeated Green Bay in San Juan, Puerto Rico by a score of 57-34 to secure the franchise's first ArenaCup Championship in their inaugural season. The two teams saw each other for the second time in Week 1 of the 2008 af2 season in Green Bay, which resulted in a 64-48 victory for Spokane.
While the Empire sat out Week 1 of the 2017 IFL season for their first bye week and the conclusion of their training camp, Green Bay was on the road in Cedar Rapids where they defeated the Titans by a final score of 46-13.
Blizzard quarterback Matt Behrendt, who was the co-leader for regular season touchdown passes in 2016 with 63, returns to Green Bay for the 2017 season along with starting running back Keshaudas Spence. In Week 1, Behrendt completed 14-of-25 pass attempts for 192 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions. Spence carried the ball 11 times for 32 yards and two touchdowns.
Green Bay outgained Cedar Rapids in total offensive yards on the night, 217-159. The Blizzard also recorded one interception and returned the opening kickoff of the second half for a touchdown.
In Week 2, Green Bay will have a very different test on the road in Spokane. The Empire opened training camp with nearly one-third of their roster returning from last season, plus a number of additional acquisitions in young rookie talent and experienced veterans.
Offensively, Charles Dowdell will get the nod as the starter at quarterback. Last season, Dowdell earned Second Team All-IFL honors after passing for 2,738 yards and 63 touchdowns during the regular season.
In the last week, the Empire also added the top two IFL leaders in career receiving yards in Carl Sims and Bryan Pray. The two veterans have combined for nearly 10,000 total receiving yards during their IFL careers. Last season, Sims was a favorite target of quarterback Charles Dowdell as he led Spokane with 71 receptions for 822 yards and 20 touchdowns.
While Spokane will have some new faces on the offensive line and return only one player from last season in former Vanderbilt Commodore Kyle Fischer, the Empire have two experienced playmakers in the backfield in the 2015 IFL Special Teams Player of the Year Mulku Kalokoh and the 2016 Offensive Rookie of the Year Trevor Kennedy.
"We have quite a few new faces on offense this season, but we really like the guys we have," said Empire Head Coach Adam Shackleford. "We've gotten more athletic up front, and we added a few experienced receivers. I believe matching that talent up with the coaching staff we added this year should be a recipe for success."
Defensively, the Empire is loaded with experience.
Spokane's defensive secondary is nearly completely intact from the 2016 season. Linebackers Nick Haag and Pasquale Vacchio will be surrounded by returning First Team All-IFL defensive back Robert Brown, Tyree Robinson, and Adrian James.
Up front, returning Empire defensive lineman Toby Jackson will be complimented by J.D. Griggs, Harold Love, Andrew Jackson, and Junior Alexis.
While Spokane is looking forward to getting on the field for their first game of 2017, the team is not taking a Green Bay team lightly that is coming off a road victory to start their year.
"Having a game in the books is a big deal," said Shackleford. "Our guys will be ready and eager to get out there, but we are also a whole week behind most teams with having a bye to start the season. We had probably one of, if not the best, training camps over my career in the IFL. We're looking forward to kicking off our season in front of the 9th Man at Spokane Arena this Thursday."