KENNEWICK — Talk about your balanced attack.
The Tri-Cities Fever defense almost scored as many points as its offense Saturday night in a 71-24 Indoor Football League thrashing of the visiting Kent Predators at the Toyota Center in front of 2,200 fans.
The Fever defense was basically responsible for 30 of those points, compared to the offensive unit’s 41.
And really, if you count defensive lineman Ameer Ismail’s cameo touchdown reception on offense, the defensive unit really put more on the scoreboard.
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“Oh I was so excited,” said Ismail, whose 4-yard drag pattern catch from quarterback Houston Lillard put the Fever up 22-2 in the first half. “We ran that play in practice this week and I wanted them to call it. I used to play running back in high school.”
It was a jovial atmosphere on the floor of the coliseum after the game, mainly because the Fever (3-5) moved into third place in the Pacific North Division, while Kent (3-6) fell into fourth.
It was also a strange game, if just for the fact of who wasn’t playing as much as who was.
First, the Fever was without running back Tyson Thompson, who signed a contract with the United Football League this week. The team’s leading tackler, defensive back Montavis Pitts, did not suit up to rest an injured hamstring.
But the biggest absence was that of Kent quarterback Charles McCullum, who had torched the Fever in two earlier Predator victories this season.
“He’s injured,” said Kent coach William McCarthy after the game. “We sat him out for protective measurements. He got pretty banged up against Chicago last week.”
Still, in the age of football coaching paranoia, neither team was aware of the other’s player personnel moves until almost game time.
With McCullum missing, it was up to backup QB Brandon Pederson to move the ball for Kent.
It didn’t happen.
“You’ve got to find another way to put points on the board,” said McCarthy. “We couldn’t get anything going up front.”
The Predators had problems with the shotgun snap early in the game, and when one snap went over Pederson’s head into his own end zone, Ismail was there to recover the ball for a touchdown and a 13-2 lead.
A big part of the line problems for Kent was the arrival of new Fever nose tackle Dave Howell.
A 6-foot-5, 320-pounder, Howell created havoc all night with his push upfield.
“He’s a monster,” said Fever coach Adam Shackleford. “It’s that push in the middle we’ve been looking for. He’s not in game shape yet. But he plays hard. He wants to be here.”
Howell had been with the Jacksonville Sharks of the AFL, and had bounced around to various NFL tryouts before being released because of numbers.
“Coach said in practice this week that if we execute we can do a lot of great things. I needed to get back on the field. The most important thing is I’ve got to show the NFL teams what I can do,” he said.
Ismail and the rest of the Fever defense were happy to see Howell here.
“His push in the middle allowed us to get our edge work in,” said Ismali. “That was key.”
The defensive highlights were impressive: nine Kent fumbles (two lost); minus 42 yards rushing for Kent; three sacks for Jo Artis Ratti; one each for Ismail and Howell; Ismail’s fumble recovery in the end zone for a TD; Blair Boynton’s fumble return of 5 yards for another; Lionel Singleton’s interception returns of 40 and 42 yards, both for TDs; and Derek Nicholson’s tackle of Eric Taylor for a safety.
Fever quarterback Houston Lillard passed for 128 yards and four TDs in his second consecutive start.
Brandon Copeland was the top receiver, catching six passes for 74 yards.
Tri-Cities travels to Colorado next Saturday, and the Ice are struggling at 0-9. That doesn’t mean anything to Shackleford.
“I said this week that this was the start of the playoffs for us,” Shackleford said. “This is a work in progress. we’re not there yet.”