Fever defense put Colorado 'O' on ice

April 27, 2014 

Colorodo at Tri City Indoor Football

Colorado Ice's Dennis Kennedy is tackled by Tri City Fever's Pablo Garcia and a host of defenders just shy of the endzone on Friday during a game at the Toyota Center. Check out tri-cityherald.com for more photos.

SARAH GORDON — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

Saturday was a really good night for Tri-Cities Fever defensive coordinator Cleveland Pratt.

Early in the evening, he was inducted into the Edinboro University Athletic Hall of Fame — although in absentia.

Later in the evening, he watched his defensive unit play a great game in shutting down the Colorado Ice in a 44-35 Indoor Football League victory at the Toyota Center.

A look at the stat sheet shows that Colorado actually outgained Tri-Cities 266 yards to 203.

But 83 of those yards were in mop-up time, when the game was in hand for the Fever.

From the opening drive, Tri-Cities had the lead and never relinquished it. All Colorado could put on the board through the first three quarters was five Phil Welch field goals.

“I tell our defensive unit that the key to winning is getting six defensive stops,” said Pratt. “I think we got eight or nine.”

Actually, 10, when you count surrendering a field goal as a defensive stop — which pretty much everybody does in the IFL.

Colorado scored touchdowns on just three of 13 offensive possessions.

“Our goal was to stop the Colorado running game,” Pratt said. “The last game (a 55-28 loss at Colorado on April 13), they kind of gassed us. We wanted to take away all of the gaps in the running game, then blitz them. I wanted to keep (Fever linebacker) Brandon (Wilson) blitzing to make (Ice quarterback Willie) Copeland uncomfortable.”

Wilson finished with a game-high 11 tackles for Tri-Cities.

When asked if Saturday’s team defensive performance was one of the best in the four seasons he has been here, Wilson demurred.

“Every year, every team we have has its own talent level,” Wilson said. “This year it took us a while to come together. Our game plan was to finish tonight. This gives us more steam and momentum when we play Nebraska next week.”

Fever quarterback Houston Lillard was appreciatve of the defensive unit’s play.

“The defense played lights out,” said Lillard. “I’m so happy. Games like this when the defense is as good as it was helps us on offense. We need our defense to play like that.”

Pratt said it ranks right up with some of the defensive performances of the 2011 and 2012 Fever teams that advanced all the way to the IFL finals.

“And if it wasn’t for that last touchdown late in the game, we would have held them under 30 points,” said Pratt.

At halftime, Pratt was honored by the Fever for his Edinboro honor.

A 1990 graduate at Edinboro, Pratt starred in both football and track. He was named to Edinboro’s all-time team as a kick returner and holds career records for kickoff returns, kickoff return yards, longest kickoff return and most kickoff returns for touchdowns.

The only bittersweet moment may have been that he wasn’t able to be at the actual hall of fame induction.

“When they called me in December to let me know, I looked at the date of when it was scheduled, then looked at our Fever schedule and saw that we were playing Colorado,” Pratt said. “I knew I wasn’t going to go. My parents weren’t happy. They asked me ‘Can’t you get someone else to coach?’ In football, you just don’t do that. There’s only a couple of us. If we had six or seven coaches it might have different.”

Pratt said the athletic director at Edinboro is sending him a video of the event.

The plays that cracked the Ice There were two of them: Copeland’s fumble into the end zone that Fever DB Lionell Singleton recovered and ran back out to the Tri-Cities 7, when the Fever led just 30-21 in the middle of the final quarter.

Wilson was given credit for slapping the ball out of Copeland’s hands, but it happened so fast that no one upstairs in the pressbox — stat crew or media — was sure who did it until someone gets to review game film.

Wilson said it wasn’t him — “it might have been (Fever DB Dennis) Rogan.

The Herald was unable to catch up to Rogan after the game.

The second big play happened three plays later, when Lillard hit receiver Jackie Chambers over the middle, and Chambers broke free for a TD for a 36-yard play.

“I honestly felt that was the icing on the cake,” said Lillard. “Jackie came back last week (against Green Bay) and caught a few passes. But he played well tonight.”

Chambers was hoping Lillard would see him for the short hitch pattern over the middle.

“Every time we got a hitch pattern, the safety was playing off of me 7 to 9 yards,” said Chambers. “It was six quick steps, and once I saw daylight I knew I was gone. I made a quick move and he missed me.”

Fever head coach Adam Shackleford knew Chambers was gone too.

“Once Jackie is loose like that no one can catch him,” he said.

That gave the Fever an insurmountable 37-21 lead with under 5 minutes to play.

Fever receiver Miller hurt Tri-Cities receiver Dejuan Miller may be done for the season after possibly breaking his right foot in the first quarter.

This is not the same foot Miller hurt in the 2013 training camp.

He’s not really sure what happened, but he knew something was wrong.

“It hurt really bad on a play, and I tried to make it through the next three plays on the drive,” said Miller, who was in a walking cast after the game. “After that, though, I knew I needed to come out.”

Shackleford moved backup quarterback Dante Warren into Miller’s spot for the rest of the game. Warren finished with four catches for 27 yards and a touchdown.

It surprised no one.

“Dante is an athlete,” said Lillard.

Shackleford agreed.

“He’s a smart kid,” he said. “He knows all of the receivers’ routes. He and Houston have a good relationship. Dante is a true professional. He’s on the kickoff coverage team. He can play the wide receiver position. And during the week, he practices at backup safety.”

Next three games The Fever (3-5) plays host to Nebraska on Saturday; then travels to Bemidji on May 10

Nebraska (6-2) visits the Fever on Saturday; has a short turnaround with a road game at Wyoming on May 9; then travels to Green Bay on May 17.

Colorado (5-3) has a bye this week, then plays host to Texas on May 10; plays host to Wyoming on May 17; then travels to Nebraska on May 22.

Notes Fever kicker Brady Beeson had a strong game, hitting three of five field goal attempts and going a perfect 5-for-5 on extra-point kicks. Three of his kickoffs gave the Ice returners enough problems that they started possessions inside their own 10. ... Shackleford praised new signee Ashante Williams, a defensive back who has seen time with the Indianapolis Colts, who played on the kickoff team Saturday. “He didn’t even join us until Thursday night,” said Shackleford. “But we needed another healthy body out there, especially on the kickoff team.” Williams, who also plays defensive back, had four tackles. ... The Fever next plays host to Intense Conference rival Nebraska at 7:05 p.m. Saturday.

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