KENNEWICK -- With a 2-5 start, the Tri-Cities Fever has little time to waste if it wants to qualify for the Indoor Football League playoffs.
"We feel our playoffs start (tonight)," said Fever coach Adam Shackleford, whose team hosts the Kent Predators at 7:05 p.m. today at Toyota Center.
This will be the third time the teams will meet this season.
Kent (3-5) has won the first two games -- 55-49 on March 27 in Kennewick, and 55-33 on April 18 in Kent.
"We just have to flat-out play better this time," Shackleford said. "We played pretty well the first time. But the second game we played was our worst game of the season. I was extremely disappointed."
Shackleford also noted that while the Fever sits in fourth place in the Pacific North Division, the Predators are just a half-game ahead in third. "If we win, we're in third place," he said.
He also notes that Fairbanks (5-2 and in second place) still has three games with first-place Billings (7-1 and in first), so there's still time to move up in the standings.
To do that, though, the Fever defense will have to find a way to stop Kent quarterback Charles McCullum, who has put up some gaudy numbers this season -- 1,338 passing yards (fourth-best in the league) and 32 TD passes (third).
"He's a talent," said Predators coach William McCarthy. "He can hurt you with his arms or his legs. It puts defenses in a bind. Honestly I didn't know a lot about him before the season started. I knew with him being a rookie, there would be a learning curve. He's adapted quite well."
The Fever will start rookie Houston Lillard at quarterback for the second straight week. Regular starter Andy Collins is still hampered with a biceps injury -- although he will suit up and be ready to play.
"I'll be curious as to what Lillard can do," McCarthy said. "He brings some different things to the table with his legs. And their wide receiver (Thyron) Lewis can go get the ball. (Running back) Tyson (Thompson) had a good game two weeks ago against Billings. We need to try to keep their offense bottled up as much as possible."
That's been a tough thing to do in the Pacific North Division.
Kent has given up the most points in the league this season with 422, while the Fever has surrendered the fourth most at 400.
Of course, that's the nature of indoor football, which can be high-scoring.
But Fever linebacker Derek Nicholson disagrees.
"I used to be on really good defenses (at Florida State)," said Nicholson. "(All of this scoring) is not acceptable. As a team, we have to do a better job of getting off the field."
Thompson is third in the league in total yardage at 849 -- the majority of those (576) coming on kick returns. ... McCullum also is second in the league in rushing at 458 yards, and third in rushing TDs with 13. ... Kent wide receiver Andre Jordan ranks eighth in receiving yardage at 462. Both Jordan and the Fever's Lewis are tied for sixth in the league with 14 TD catches. ... Tri-Cities kicker Brett Jaekle is eighth in the league with 25 extra-point kicks. ... Kent's Jeremiah Captain is 10th in the league with 374 return yards. ... Kent's Walner Leandre is ninth in the league in total tackles at 59, while the Fever's Montavis Pitts is 10th at 58. ... Kent defensive lineman John Fields ranks third with seven sacks, while teammate AJ Wallace is tied for ninth with five.