Twenty-two weeks after Adam Shackleford opened training camp, his Tri-Cities Fever football team has one final assignment for its 2012 Indoor Football League season: beat the Sioux Falls Storm tonight to win the United Bowl, the leagues championship game.
It wont be easy.
When the game kicks off at 5:35 p.m. PDT, temperatures outside will be in the 90s, and 5,000 hostile fans inside the Sioux Falls Arena will make it hotter inside.
Then theres the Storm, a 16-0 team that has dominated the league the entire year. A team that will have head coach Kurtiss Riggs back after he was suspended for Sioux Falls two playoff games for overcompensation of a player.
And then theres the history.
Sioux Falls beat Tri-Cities 37-10 in last years United Bowl. The Storm also routed the Fever 55-16 on May 12, then won 73-72 in overtime on May 26 in the Toyota Center.
Still, the Fever (14-2) could win this game.
We just have to go out there and execute for the most part, said Fever wide receiver Steven Whitehead. I do believe we are capable of winning this game.
So does Riggs, which is why hes taking nothing for granted.
They have gotten better every game against us, said Riggs.
Here are going to be some keys to victory to tonights game:
1) We need to limit our mistakes and our defense has to take advantage of their mistakes, said Tri-Cities quarterback Houston Lillard.
Storm quarterback Chris Dixon agrees. Hes been studying film of the Fever for weeks.
Theyve got a new linebacker (Frantz Joseph), and a defensive back (Rudell Crim) that didnt play against us in the Tri-Cities, said Dixon. So well see some new faces.
2) Converting on offensive possessions, and that means touchdowns.
We have to get into the end zone once were inside the 5 yard line, said Shackleford.
Thats tough, since the end zones in Sioux Falls are only 4 yards deep.
Its a lot tougher down there because all of the windows are smaller and they have big defensive backs, said Lillard. So weve got to move them around.
How do you do that?
3) Running the football with success.
We need to run the ball, said Lillard. Every time we run the ball down there at the end zone, we score. We try not to force the pass.
4) Smart decisions by the leagues two premier quarterbacks.
Houston and me, we both need to play well, said Dixon.
But how do you stop Dixon, the leagues MVP who can beat you with both his arm and legs?
5) We have to play assignment football of defense, said Fever defensive coordinator Ryan Lingenfelder. Playing Sioux Falls is like playing the option. Its man to man, and everyone needs to stay with their man.
6) Protecting the quarterback.
An interesting matchup will be in the trenches on both sides of the ball, said Riggs. I think the game here earlier this season we had a great deal of success. They made some personnel changes before our next game with them in the Tri-Cities and they had some success.
7) Special teams is going to be very important, said Fever defensive back Lionell Singleton.
Fever assistant coach Cleveland Pratt wants his kickoff team to win the field position battle.
We need 100 percent on our PATs, and 40 to 55 percent of our field goal attempts need to be good, Pratt said.
8) Finally, who is going to win the coaching battle.
Then theres the leadership Riggs, Shack, said Dixon. It all starts with leadership, and who can handle things when its their turn with the ball.
Shackleford knows if his team can stay with the high-powered Storm, it might have a chance.
Were hoping for a battle, and if were in it the last minute, we could get the win, he said. Lingenfelder believes the time is right to throw caution to the wind.
If they win, its whats expected, said Lingenfelder. We have nothing to lose. Dont be surprised if the Fever plays like it tonight.
KONA 610 AM will start its pregame show at 5:05 p.m. If you were expecting an all-Sioux Falls officiating crew, youd be wrong. The league assembled the crew with just one Sioux Falls official, one from Omaha, one from Colorado and one from Nebraska. The crew chief is from Bloomington, Ind.