The table was set for the Spokane Shock and Arizona Rattlers on Friday night.
Top two teams in the Arena Football League? Check. Division rivals? Check. Impressive offenses? Check. Sellout crowd? Check.
The two teams didn't disappoint, but it was the Shock who staked their claim as the best team in the league on Friday, as they topped the Rattlers with a 66-49 win in front of 10,358 at the Spokane Arena. The win puts the Shock (4-0) alone atop the Western Division standings, where they had been tied with the Rattlers (3-1).
"They're No. 1 in the league; they won it last year," said receiver Adron Tennell, who had 10 receptions for 138 yards and four touchdowns. "We knew if we can compete with them and play to their level, it just shows how good we are. We still got a long season ahead of us, so this right here just another game. Put us ahead in the division right now, so we're just looking to build on it."
The home game was a long time coming for the Shock after opening the season with three straight on the road. To the delight of 10,358 on hand, the Shock were the ones who were able to make the plays down the stretch to pull ahead in a close battle.
With the game tied, 49-49, midway through the fourth quarter, Tennell made an incredible one-handed catch in the corner of the end zone. The touchdown and extra point that followed gave the Shock the 56-49 lead, but it was what the defense did next that changed the game.
For the first time all night, the Shock were able to hold the Rattlers, forcing a four-and-out that led to a field goal and 59-49 lead with 1:16 left.
A Beau Bell interception on the ensuing Rattlers drive sealed the win and quarterback Erik Meyer hit Tennell in the end zone one more time for good measure.
"It was a very important game, obviously, divisional game, rival game," Meyer said. "Every game is going to be important, especially in our division. We got us, Utah, San Jose and Arizona. We got the best division in the league. We know every game's important, we got to win them.
The Shock received a tremendous effort from its receiving corp, as the trio of Duane Brooks, Tennell and Kamar Jorden made plenty of highlight reel catches. Tennell had the catch in the corner of the end zone, but also made a fine grab earlier where he pulled the ball in, hit the wall and redirected for the score.
Jorden found the end zone three times, including back-to-back scores that gave the Shock their first lead early in the second quarter. Brooks caught nine balls for 118 yards and one touchdown. The scoring reception was his first career AFL catch.
"Those guys, sometimes there's nothing, you just throw it up to them and they go make plays," Meyer said. "Obviously, the last one, you saw to Tennell. Jorden's -- for being a rookie -- he's really coming along really fast. Honestly, I think we got the two best receivers in the AFL."
Shock head coach Andy Olson took a calculated risk early in the game. After scoring a touchdown to tie the game, 21-21, the Shock caught the Rattlers off guard and recovered an onside kick. The Shock made it count with a Meyer to Jorden touchdown to give the Shock their first lead of the night.
"I had planned well before the game started," Olson said. "I knew we were going to need to take chances to beat this team. They're the best football team in the AFL, outside of this game. I knew I was going to onside kick, I knew it was going to be in the first half. I didn't know when it was going to be, but it felt right at that time, I felt the crowd's energy. It just felt like the perfect moment."
Meyer continued his hot start to the 2013 season, throwing for eight touchdowns and no interceptions. The Eastern Washington product has thrown for 32 touchdowns on the season and no picks. Meyer also added a touchdown on the ground, his third of the year.