Spokane, Washington – The Spokane Empire (8-7, 7-4) wrap up the 2017 Indoor Football League regular season against the Salt Lake Screaming Eagles (4-11, 3-8) on Friday, June 16th at the Maverick Center in Salt Lake City, Utah with a 6pm PST kickoff.
The Screaming Eagles are expected to play their last game in the IFL this Friday, and they will go out against the wounded Empire. This weekend's contest could provide the ultimate high note for Salt Lake to go out on, by eliminating the team that booted them out of the playoffs themselves.
Salt Lake's slump started and ended with the Empire, losing seven straight between March and April. After besting the Colorado Crush on May 8th, they went on to win three of their next four, but it was too late. Spokane beat Colorado in late May, therefore mathematically knocking the Screaming Eagles out of the hunt. Salt Lake was still determined to finish the season strong, but were dashed by this year's incredible Iowa Barnstormer squad, and a strong fourth quarter effort by the Green Bay Blizzard last week.
Speaking of fourth quarters, that's where Spokane has been lacking in their play as of late. Since their last meeting against Salt Lake in April, the Empire have not outscored any of their opponents in the final fifteen. Perhaps that's what could explain the sudden skid, dropping from the graces of 7-2 down to 8-7 in a month and a half. Now with two teams trying to finish the season still on their feet, only one will stand tall after Friday night.
Verlon Reed is only one of two players in the league to have top five level stats in all major offensive categories. In the passing game, Reed is amassing an average of 174.3 yards per game, and has thrown 49 touchdowns throughout the season. As a weapon on the ground as well, Reed racks up an average of 47.7 rushing ypg, as well as 15 TDs. The rookie has turned into a surefire Offensive Player of the Year candidate, but there is a weakness that can be exposed; his turnovers. Reed is second in the IFL in interceptions thrown, and leads the league in lost fumbles.
Spokane's signal caller Aaron Wilmer looked better versus Iowa than he did the week prior against Arizona, but the effort wasn't enough. Wilmer has never been under center against Salt Lake all season, and as of this writing, the Screaming Eagle defense is allowing a league best average of only 114 passing yards per game. Wilmer's best game passing in his short stint as starter was the Colorado win, throwing for 119 yards.
The offensive weapons for Salt Lake are their now familiar receivers in Devin Mahina and Juwan Dotson. Mahina has become one of the top receivers in all the IFL, averaging 52.5 ypg receiving, and catching 15 touchdowns. Dotson has been low under the radar for the rest of the league, except against Spokane, where he had a career game against the Empire in April with three touchdowns on 48 yards.
The receivers for Spokane are being represented by the veterans, as Bryan Pray is working to keep his top ten ranking of season receiving yards. At 613, Pray has been inside the top ten the past two seasons, and looks to make it three a row with one game separating him from cementing the honor. Spokane also sees a returning veteran to the team in Rashaad Carter. Playing during the Shock days, Carter is most remembered as a receiver turned quarterback, taking over in an emergency in 2014.
Perhaps the running game could be key, as the Screaming Eagles aren't containing the run as much as they are the pass. Allowing 86.4 ypg on the ground, it could provide a great opportunity for Andrew Pierce or Trevor Kennedy to have one last breakout game of the year. Or the same could be said for Wilmer, as he was the leading rusher last week against Iowa.
The secondary of Salt Lake is their main defensive priority with Ed Burns and James Calhoun. Both men share all aspects of the arena, with Burns focusing on the ground for a team leading 61 tackles through this season, and Calhoun raiding the air with a league high nine interceptions on the year, including three against Spokane.
J.D. Griggs still has time to take back the top spot for sacks in a season, only a half of a sack behind Barnstormer Ra'Shawde Myers. Four of Griggs' ten sacks have come against the Screaming Eagles this year. In the air, John Hardy-Tuliau is back to being a ball hawking threat at defensive back for the Empire with three interceptions in his last two games. There would have been a fourth for Hardy-Tuliau had the play not been called back by a penalty.
Friday's game will broadcast live on the IFL's YouTube Channel and also available on 700 ESPN and 105.3 FM radio in Spokane with Larry Weir on the call.