Good teams, when they struggle, seem to find a way to win.
The Tri-Cities Fever needed to make a few key plays Friday night in order to beat the host New Mexico Stars, and it found them in the final minute for a 65-62 Indoor Football League victory to raise its record to 6-0.
The biggest play was Fever kicker Michael Taylor's 34-yard field goal as time expired, giving Tri-Cities the win.
"It was nerve-wracking," said Taylor after the game. "I wanted to redeem myself for that (rough) first half. I didn't kick well. But I'm just thankful my guys gave me the opportunity for the last kick."
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The opportunity came in the final minute.
With the game tied 62-62, New Mexico quarterback Arkelon Hall moved his offensive unit from its own 19 yard line down to the Fever 5 with less than a minute to play.
Tri-Cities called one timeout.
"We decided to take that timeout to stop the clock, then we debated about letting them score because we wanted the ball last," said Fever coach Adam Shackleford.
The Fever decided not to let the Stars score, and on a third-and-3 situation from the Tri-Cities 3, Hall took the snap and was looking to pitch to running back Darius Marshall.
But Fever defensive end Darian Barnes, just activated from Injured Reserve this week, blasted the Stars' offensive lineman in front of him backwards, getting enough of a deep penetration that it affected Hall's pitch.
The ball was well behind Marshall, and Fever linebacker Brandon Wilson fell on top of it at the Tri-Cities 11 with 20.4 seconds remaining.
Fever quarterback Houston Lillard quickly moved the football down to the Stars 19 on three passes - two to Dennis Kennedy and one to Tre Young.
That set up Taylor's winning kick and a tough road victory.
"We really struggled in the second half," said Shackleford. "New Mexico is a better team than I thought they were. Coach (Chris) Williams is a great coach, and he's smart. That team is going to win some football games."
It looked like the Fever was going to put the game away quickly in the first half, going into intermission with a 48-30 lead.
Lillard had six TD passes in the first 30 minutes. Four of those were long strikes - 35 yards to Young on the game's first play; 28 yards to Steven Whitehead; a 49-yarder to Young; and finally a 30-yard strike to Young.
Lillard did that despite having to play behind a makeshift offensive line: two of the team's three starters weren't playing. Will Falakiseni had to sit out the game because of a league-mandated one-game suspension after getting ejected last week against Wyoming. Lance Evboumwan was sidelined with a knee injury.
So Shackleford moved defensive linemen Malcom Bennett and Anthony McNac over to the offensive side of the ball to join usual starter Roddrell Stewart.
Lillard took the majority of his snaps from behind center, rather than from the Shotgun formation, and that took the Fever offense out of its rhythm in the second half.
"The toughest thing is I could see things develop downfield with the receivers," said Lillard, "but the defensive pressure came down on me fast."
In addition, the Stars defense tried to take the run away, and Kennedy never really had the opportunity to get going with many rushing attempts - he had just four carries for 19 yards.
"They put five guys in the box against our four," said Shackleford.
So it was all on Lillard, who responded beautifully, going 29-for-40 for 343 yards and seven touchdown passes. He had three interceptions, but Shackleford said one was tipped by Young and another was caused when a Fever receiver ran a wrong route.
"Only one was on Houston," said Shackleford.
Lillard was just pleased the team got the victory.
"The crowd was involved in that fourth quarter," said Lillard. "But it motivated us to come together, and we did."
For his part, Young had an outstanding game too, catching 10 passes for 166 yards and three TD catches.
Fever defensive back Lionell Singleton added to his league-leading total of interceptions with two more. He now has eight picks in six games.
Tim Bush led New Mexico (1-3) with seven receptions for 118 yards.
Tri-Cities comes home for a game against the Everett Raptors next Friday.