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Preview: Week 17 vs Iowa Barnstormers

June 9, 2017 - Indoor Football League (IFL) - Spokane Empire News Release

SPOKANE, Washington - The Spokane Empire (8-6, 7-4) will meet the Iowa Barnstormers (12-2, 8-2) in Week 17 of the 2017 Indoor Football League regular season on Friday, June 3rd at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa with a 5:05 pm PST kickoff.

The last time these two teams met was for a home and away series early last season, with the Empire getting the better of the Barnstormers both times. Game one was a close contest in Spokane with Iowa falling just short of a bold comeback, 51-54. The second game in Des Moines saw the Empire pull away in the 4th quarter, increasing their five point lead to 20 with a final score of 54-34. But with well over a year in between last year's series and this Friday's matchup, a lot has certainly changed for both teams.

It is now do or die for Spokane. With last week's loss to the Arizona Rattlers, the Empire are on the verge of missing the playoffs as defending Intense Conference Champions. With the Rattlers clinching home field advantage for the Intense Championship game, all that's left to decide is who will travel down to Phoenix, the Empire, or the Nebraska Danger? Even if Nebraska and Spokane finish with similar records, remember that the Danger hold the tiebreaker from their Week 7 game.

The Barnstormers keep rolling through the IFL with their tenth win in a row this season, most recently defeating the Salt Lake Screaming Eagles, 58-36. Iowa now has a chance to match the 11 game win streak that the Sioux Falls Storm set last year. The Barnstormers and the Storm are currently fighting for homefield advantage for the United Conference Championship, a privilege that Sioux Falls has held for the last seven years.

Defense was a major factor in last week's win for the Barnstormers, including the breakout play from defensive back Jamie Bender, who racked up nine total tackles with a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and an astounding four interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. Other top guys for the Iowa defensive front include linebacker Javicz Jones and defensive lineman Ra'Shawde Myers. Jones leads the IFL in tackles per game, officially coming in at 9.9 tpg and 138 tackles on the year so far, and Myers has officially overtaken Spokane's J.D. Griggs in number of sacks for the season at 11. Griggs is only a half sack behind at 10.5.

Speaking of Spokane defense, although no individuals are at number one on the stat leaderboards, the defensive unit is first in the league for yards allowed per game, with 192.4. Only Spokane and Sioux Falls have kept opponents to under 200 yards a game on average. The Empire are also third in the league in both average passing and rushing yards per game, giving up only 136.8 ypg and 55.6 ypg respectively.

Offensively, Empire quarterback Aaron Wilmer racked up close to as many yards against Arizona as he did the week before against Colorado, however his completion percentage took a dip from 73.9% to 39.3%. Wilmer perhaps is still getting used to his starting role after two weeks, but there will be no rest for the weary against this Iowa defense.

For the Barnstormers, Travis Partridge cruised last week with two touchdowns on eight attempts and four completions. He would also add on a rushing touchdown with 27 yards total on the ground. Partridge is number four in the IFL leaderboards of three separate categories, in season completion percentage at 59.1%, passing yards per game at 148.6, and touchdowns in the season at 40.

Partridge's passing game should see more than eight attempts this week, especially with a receiver such as Brady Rowland. Rowland is averaging 53.6 yards a game receiving, and one of the top scoring wideouts in the IFL with 18 touchdowns on the year. On the other side of the field for Iowa is Ryan Balentine, who is currently averaging 12.4 yards per reception.

Spokane's receivers have new defensive backs to test, as Bryan Pray is looking to surpass the 600 yard mark in receiving yards, only being six yards away. Devonn Brown also looks for a milestone of his own, as he is two yards from breaking the 400 yard mark. Orlandus Harris is also looking to build up his numbers, as he is expected to play in his third game for the Empire.

The Barnstormer and Empire defenses are nearly identical in run defense, as both allow 55.5 and 55.6 rushing yards per game respectively. This isn't the best news for the rushers of both teams, especially Trevor Kennedy and Andrew Pierce. The duo were shut down last week in Arizona, only combining for 16 yards and one touchdown between them. This is unless of course there is an explosion out of nowhere for the Empire's running game against the second best run stopping unit in the league.

Friday's game will broadcast live on the IFL's YouTube Channel[1] and also available on 700 ESPN and 105.3 FM radio in Spokane with Larry Weir on the call.

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