When the top two teams in the Indoor Football League meet tonight at Toyota Center, take a look at those big fellas up front.
Because whoever wins the showdown between the visiting Sioux Falls Storm (10-0) and the Tri-Cities Fever (10-1) — kickoff at 7:05 p.m. — the success on the line play should determine the winner.
“It’s the same key as last game,” said Fever coach Adam Shack-leford. “It’s how well we protect our quarterback, and how well we get after theirs.”
Sioux Falls coach Kurtiss Riggs agrees.
“Both teams, whatever happens in the trenches is gonna be key,” Riggs said. “I think one thing sticks out: Which team is more aggressive, which team dictates their style of play. Which team carries over from the success in the trenches.”
Sioux Falls has one of the best — if not the best — offensive lines in the IFL in Gerald Davis, Charlie Sanders and Myniya Smith. They’ve done an excellent job of protecting standout quarterback Chris Dixon over the last few seasons.
“I can’t believe those guys haven’t gotten Arena Football League experience,” said Shackleford. “As many AFL teams there are in that (Sioux Falls) area, I can’t imagine ... Those (AFL) coaches are crazy not to sign them.”
So the Fever front defensive line has to get pressure on Dixon, and the linebackers and secondary have to cover their men.
“Everyone has to do their (defensive) assignment,” said Fever defensive back Lionell Singleton. “If everyone does that, we’ll be in good shape. If we get a missed assignment, Dixon is gonna take advantage of it.”
The Fever offensive line will have to get Fever quarterback Houston Lillard more time to find his receiving targets.
The Storm defensive front sacked Lillard four times and knocked a number of his passes down during its 55-16 win in South Dakota on May 12.
“Their defense overwhelmed us,” said Shackleford.
Lillard said it’s a new game tonight.
“We just need to go play,” Lillard said. “We weren’t that 9-0 team that showed up in Sioux Falls. (Tonight) we need to show up and be ourselves.”
Riggs says his team takes things one game at a time, and tonight’s is the most important of the season for the Storm.
“We try to take each game like every game is a playoff game,” said Riggs. “It’s really about a one-game challenge for us, rather than slipping up somewhere.”
For the Storm, the defending IFL champion, that’s worked for it.
“They are the best team in the league,” said Shackleford. “We need to find a way to win.”
Notes: Riggs is a full-time teacher in the Sioux Falls school district at one of the local high schools. Coaching the Storm is like having a second full-time job. “I think my wife and kid might say it’s more like a second and third full-time job,” Riggs said. ... DL Freddie Harris, picked up by the Fever this week after being released by the AFL’s Spokane Shock, says there are differences in the AFL and IFL. “The biggest difference in the AFL, is it really is designed to put up 80 points a game,” said Harris. “The defense is limited as far as the linebackers.” One linebacker can’t drop back farther than 5 yards, while the other has to stay in the box area. “In the IFL, you have a linebacker who has pretty much free rein.”