KENNEWICK -- By the look of Adam Shackleford's face, you might think the Tri-Cities Fever lost to the visiting Fairbanks Grizzlies on Saturday night, rather than winning 50-35.
"I'm not happy," said Shackleford, the Fever's coach, on the floor of the Toyota Center. "If we play like this in two weeks against Omaha, we won't win."
Whoa, coach. Savor the moment in getting your second Indoor Football League victory in three games.
"When we don't play well, I'm never happy," Shackleford admitted. "In the past, though, the Fever might not win a game like this. So the guys fought through it. We had as much going against us as I've ever seen."
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How bad was it?
-- Fever linebacker Jason Beauchamp left the team this weekend after he signed with the Las Vegas Locomotives of the United Football League.
-- Three players got food poisoning before the game.
-- Quarterback Houston Lillard was a
game-time decision not to start, thanks to a nagging turf toe injury suffered last week at Wenatchee.
-- The team's top receiver, Tre Young, suffered a high ankle sprain on the team's second offensive play of the game. He did not return.
-- And with 10:46 to play in the game, and with the outcome very much in doubt, the Fever lost half of its defensive secondary when Dustin Bell and Dennis Rogan -- along with Fairbanks running back Romandre Gibbs -- were ejected for fighting after a play.
As a result, Tri-Cities got off to a slow start.
Backup quarterback Antwon Young couldn't get the offense clicking, terribly missing his receivers on pass plays. The Fever failed to capitalize on its first three series, and was only able to get a 23-yard Gary Cismesia field goal on the fourth.
Trailing 14-3, Lillard couldn't watch anymore.
"I had no plans to play Houston," said Shackleford. "Right before the game I looked him right in the eye and asked him if he could play. He felt he couldn't. But he asked to go in (in the second quarter). When your starting quarterback asks to go in, you send him in."
Suddenly, things started clicking offensively.
"There's a comfort level there," said Lillard, talking about his receivers. "The guys got confidence in me."
Lillard connected with receiver Joey Hew Len for a 9-yard TD pass with 2:28 to play in the half to cut the Grizzlies' lead to 14-10.
Then on the ensuing series, Fairbanks' Gibbs fumbled the ball and Tri-Cities defensive lineman Brandon Wilson recovered at the Grizzlies' 4.
It took four plays, but Lillard connected with Hew Len again for a 3-yard score with 49.1 seconds left, and the Fever went into intermission with a 17-14 lead.
"Coach Shack got on us at halftime," said Hew Len. "When he's displeased, you know it."
The key play may have come early in the third quarter.
Fairbanks quarterback Donovan Porterie rolled out from his own 22 and fired a pass as Fever linebacker Freddie Harris intercepted it. He ran it back 19 yards in what looked like a rugby scrum.
"I saw the bootleg," said Harris, a defensive end the first two games but moved to linebacker after Beauchamp left. "After watching so much film, I knew there would either be a receiver in front of me or behind me. He threw it and I caught it. I thought I would go down, but I kept moving with everybody."
One play later, Lillard hit running back Dennis Kennedy on a swing pass for a 6-yard touchdown play and a 23-14 lead.
From there, the two teams traded touchdowns for the rest of the game.
"That was a key play," said Fairbanks coach Robert Fuller of Harris' interception. "That and we fumbled early. Against a team like Tri-Cities you can't do that."
Fuller tried to take advantage in the fourth quarter when Bell and Rogan were ejected by having Porterie go after substitutes George Kelly and Fever receiver Steven Whitehead -- who was forced to play in the secondary.
But Lillard kept answering with TD passes -- seven in three quarters.
"Things got shaky," said Lillard. "But when you get in there and the adrenaline gets going you don't feel anything. (The toe) is throbbing right now."
Lillard will have two weeks to let it heal.