The road to the Indoor Football League championship definitely goes through Sioux Falls, S.D., again.
The defending IFL champion Sioux Falls Storm went on a four touchdown run in the second quarter to rout the Tri-Cities Fever 55-16 in front of a capacity crowd of 4,700 people in the Sioux Falls Arena on Saturday night.
“We just didn’t play very well,” said Fever coach Adam Shackleford.
Tri-Cities did play well for at least the first quarter, which ended tied at 3-3.
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The Fever defense did a good job of stopping Storm quarterback Chris Dixon and his offensive unit.
Lionell Singleton intercepted Dixon in the end zone to stop one drive, and Sioux Falls could only get a field goal by Parker Douglass in the other drive.
“Tri-Cities came out on defense and did a nice job,” said Storm coach Kurtiss Riggs. “We were pressing on offense.”
But things turned quickly in the Storm’s favor in the second quarter, as it went on that 28-0 run.
First, Fever quarterback Houston Lillard’s pass was tipped at the line, then intercepted by Storm defensive back Patrick Wells. Two plays later, Dixon hit James Terry for a 9-yard TD pass and a 10-3 lead.
On the next series, Lillard moved the offense down to the Sioux Falls 3 before the drive stalled — he was sacked on fourth down by Shawn Lemon. Dixon then hit Clinton Solomon for a 32-yard touchdown pass and a 17-3 lead.
Still not out of it, Tri-Cities looked to put something on the board in the next series. And Fever kicker Michael Taylor set up for a 43-yard field goal attempt.
But Storm defensive lineman Rachman Crable jumped up and blocked the kick. The ball bounced backwards and one-hopped high into the end zone, where the Storm’s Sean Kelly caught it for a touchdown and a 24-3 lead.
That was a back-breaker for the Fever.
“That was a big turning point in the game,” Lillard said. “That really steered their guys around. Things happen like that.”
The Fever couldn’t recover. Lillard got his team back into the Red Zone, but couldn’t get a score.
Sioux Falls running back Korey Williams finished off the onslaught with a 4-yard TD run and a 31-3 halftime lead.
“That second quarter, we got down inside the 5 twice and couldn’t score,” Lillard said. “It was mind boggling. They have a defense that bends but doesn’t break. But we’ve got to move the ball.”
Riggs was pleased with his defense, especially the front line.
“That was probably the most impressive our defense has played all season,” Riggs said. “We didn’t get caught up in any extra-curricular stuff out there. You can’t do that against a professional team. And we gave Houston very small lanes to throw to.”
Lillard finished with 83 yards passing, completing 11 of 23 attempts. But he had no touchdown passes. Dixon was 13-for-22 for 158 yards and three TD passes.
The game had a lot of hype to it because both teams were a combined 17-0 entering the contest (the Fever at 9-0) and it was a rematch of last year’s IFL title game.
“I’m not sure I would have put much emphasis on this game had we won,” Shackleford said. “And I won’t with the loss.”
As a matter of fact, the two teams meet May 26 in the Toyota Center for another game.
Lillard said the team needs to shake this loss off and start concentrating on next Friday’s road game at Wyoming.
“At least we got this out of the way,” Lillard said. “I’d rather this happen in a regular-season game than a playoff game or a championship.”
Shackleford also wants his team to move on.
“Our hearts are hurting,” he said. “Our egos are hurting. But when we wake up tomorrow morning, we’re still in first place in our division.”