Saturday night’s game between the Sioux Falls Storm and the Tri-Cities Fever might be called an instant classic for the 3,922 fans watching in the Toyota Center or the many watching online.
For the record, the Storm won the marathon game 73-72 in overtime, raising the defending Indoor Football League champion’s record to 11-0.
The Fever falls to 10-2, yet still holds a two-game lead over 8-4 Colorado in the Intense Conference with two games to play — including a Fever road game at Colorado next Saturday.
Saturday’s game between the Storm and Fever featured 13 lead changes and two ties during the contest, and a combined total of 626 yards of offense split exactly down the middle.
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Here are six more things that were interesting about Saturday night’s contest:
1. A big-time performance by Chris Dixon. The Sioux Falls quarterback totaled 357 yards of total offense. Dixon rushed for 64 yards, scoring twice (including the final touchdown).
He also passed for 293 yards and eight — yes, that’s right, eight — touchdowns.
“The last time we played the Fever (a 55-16 win in Sioux Falls on May 12), our defense carried us,” said Dixon. “Our house is a defensive house. But we average 70 points a game on the road. Look it up.”
We did. Chris is a little off, but not by much. Sioux Falls scores an average of 66 points on the road.
Dixon is the key to this team, and it’s why he’s been a perennial MVP.
“He’s just a very talented, smart, athletic quarterback,” said Fever defensive back Marquise Liverpool.
Receivers James Terry (10 catches for 97 yards and two touchdowns) and Carl Sims (8-94-3) also had great games for the Storm.
2. Fever kicking woes. Tri-Cities kicker Michael Taylor struggled. He was 2-for-8 on extra-point kicks, and a 41-yard field-goal attempt at the end of regulation could have won the game for Tri-Cities. But it was wide left.
It wasn’t all bad. Taylor had a good kickoff performance, including two successful onside kicks. But his misses on extra points brought out the boo birds.
And Taylor paid for his performance when Fever coach Adam Shackleford cut him from the team after the game.
At one point during the contest, Shackleford kept trying to go for 2-point conversions after touchdowns rather than kicks.
“I should have gone for two points at the end (after the Fever scored a touchdown in overtime),” said Shackleford. “I was chasing points all night.”
As of Sunday, Shackleford was talking with a number of kickers.
3. Sioux Falls is definitely the best team in the league.
The Storm was hammered with 29 penalties for 170 yards, compared to the Fever’s eight penalties for 45 yards.
Storm fans will say the referees tried to keep the Fever in the game. But most of those penalties were definitely earned.
The defense kept trying to jump the gun on the snap count. Storm offensive lineman Gerald Davis was called for a few holding penalties. But he could have gotten a few more that weren’t called.
“We expected a totally different game from the last time we played,” said Sioux Falls coach Kurtiss Riggs. “We still didn’t expect it to be like this (shootout). It didn’t help it was 29-8 in penalties. But I thought the officials did a nice job. In the second half it was a real team effort.”
But the biggest thing was every time Tri-Cities scored to take the lead, Sioux Falls came right back in a hurry and scored quickly to retake the lead.
“We don’t waste time,” said Dixon. “We don’t panic. We go about our business as we’re supposed to. We try to fix our problems and we’re never satisfied.”
That latter statement ties into the team’s philosophy. It’s also why the Storm has only lost once in the last two seasons.
4. The Fever showed it can stay with the league’s best.
This is important, because the previous two times these guys met — last year’s IFL championship and May 12 in South Dakota — the Storm rolled to 37-10 and 55-16 victories, respectively.
This time, the Fever moved the ball against Sioux Falls’ defense.
Tri-Cities quarterback Houston Lillard rushed for 31 yards and two touchdowns, and passed for 251 more yards and six TDs. Receiver Tre Young caught eight passes for 132 yards and three touchdowns; and running back Dennis Kennedy had 111 total yards and scored five touchdowns.
“We found some holes in their defense tonight,” said Lillard. “We had a good game plan.”Riggs agreed.
“They did a nice job of getting key players in some space,” said Riggs. “Houston did a good job on his throws.”
This time, the Fever came to play.
“Two weeks ago we didn’t come out with the same intensity and energy as we did tonight,” admitted Liverpool.
And although they lost, the Fever players and coaches walked away with a little more confidence.
“We take away from this game that we are just as good as them,” said Fever defensive coordinator Ryan Lingenfelder. “They didn’t play a great game. We played a good game. Tonight, they were one point better. I feel that for our guys being paid $225 a week, we’ve got the best team in the league. Other teams should watch our film (of this game). It doesn’t come down to schemes. It comes down to desire.”
5. Some new things Fever fans haven’t had a chance to see in the Toyota Center.
Such as overtime and a rouge.
Lingenfelder reminded us that the first-ever IFL game the Fever ever played was two years ago in a four-overtime loss at Fairbanks. But this was the first OT game here, using the Kansas Plan.
The rouge happened when Storm kicker Parker Douglass kicked off and Fever return man Kennedy could not get out of his own end zone.
It meant Sioux Falls got one point on the scoreboard, but the Fever still retained the ball at its own 5-yard line.
6. The Fever need to store this away and get back to business.
“The most important thing is we’ve got to stay together,” said Kennedy. “It’d be easy to point fingers.”
The Fever has to concentrate on Saturday’s upcoming game at Colorado. The Ice can still tie Tri-Cities for the top seed in the Intense Conference playoffs.
And if things work out for the Fever, maybe it’ll get another chance with the Storm.
“I’m extremely proud, and I am extremely disappointed tonight,” said Shackleford. “We have to stay the course. We just realized that if we’re lucky enough to get back to the championship game, we can play with the best team in the league.”