With the clock winding down on a miserable first half Friday, Tri-Cities defensive lineman Jake Killeen made a play that saved the game for the Fever.
The play saved its season, too, sparking one of the biggest comebacks in franchise history in Tri-Cities' 52-42 win over Colorado in the first round of the Indoor Football League playoffs.
Trailing 31-13 with 30 seconds left in the second quarter, Killeen intercepted a Jeremy Sanders pass setting up a touchdown strike.
“Sometimes you happen to make big plays in big situations,” Killeen said. “We decided to drop back in coverage on that play, and he tried to float a pass over me and I reached up and grabbed it.”
On the next play Tri-Cities quarterback Houston Lillard found Tre Young wide open for a touchdown to pull the Fever within 31-19.
On the ensuing kickoff, Brady Beeson knuckled the ball off of a Colorado player, and the Fever recovered.
Two plays later, Lillard found Steven Whitehead for a touchdown with 7 seconds remaining in the first half.
Just like that, the Fever had put 13 points on the board and went into halftime trailing 31-26.
“It was looking grim,” Fever coach Adam Shackleford said. “I told them at halftime that we needed to be six points better and then it would be one of the best comebacks in team history.”
It was definitely a memorable comeback, as the Fever went on a 25-0 run after falling behind 31-13.
Tri-Cities came out in the second half and kept the pressure on, scoring on its first two possessions. Dennis Kennedy pin-balled his way in from 15-yards out to give the Fever its first lead at 32-31. On its next drive, the Fever scored when Lillard found Kennedy all alone from 14-yards out.
Tri-Cities iced the game on a Lillard 3-yard keeper with a minute to go.
The Fever will play the winner of today’s Allen-Wichita game next Friday at the Toyota Center.
“Offensively we didn’t make a lot of adjustments,” Shackleford said. “We just needed to do the right things, and if we do the right things look how good we can be.”
The Fever didn’t do much right in the first half, fumbling the first snap of the game. Colorado scored a touchdown three plays later, leaving the Toyota Center crowd stunned.
On Colorado’s next possession, the Fever committed a personal foul on a fourth down play to extend the drive. The Ice scored on the next play for a 14-0 lead.
“We knew they’d be fired up and come out strong,” Killeen said. “We just had to slow their momentum down and take it over late.”
Another untimely penalty for the Fever led to a Colorado touchdown, and a Fever fumble led to a field goal. Lillard then threw an interception, and the Ice scored another touchdown to go ahead 24-13. After a missed Fever field goal, Colorado scored on a 41-yard touchdown pass for a 31-13 lead with 1:13 left in the half, setting up Killeen’s heroics.
“It was big,” Shackleford said. “It gave us a second breath of life. If we’re down 31-13 at half, we don’t win that game.
“Jake made a great play and then we got a great kick. I feel really good for the players. They earned it. They did the right things.”
Lillard finished 19-for-30 for 160 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions, while Kennedy carried the ball nine times for 44 yards and two scores. Tre Young had eight catches for 84 yards and a touchdown.
“We had a couple of fumbles and a couple of things went wrong,” Killeen said of the first half, “but we have as much talent as anyone and we can beat anybody.”