Amost every contest between the Tri-Cities Fever and the Colorado Ice over the last three seasons has either come down to the final minute or the final play.
Friday night’s Indoor Football league opener in Loveland, Colo., was no exception, as Ice running back James Jones dived into the end zone from 2 yards out and with 14 seconds remaining, giving Colorado a 42-38 victory over Tri-Cities.
The loss overshadowed a fine performance by Fever quarterback Kasey Peters, last year’s backup to two-year starter Houston Lillard.
In his first start, Peters passed for 209 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for 26 yards.
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“I’ll have to look at the film,” said Fever coach Adam Shackleford. “But for his first game, Kasey has done at least as well as any quarterbacks who have had their first game for me.”
But Peters also had two passes intercepted. And a mixup on a handoff between Peters and running back Keola Antolin resulted in a fumble, which Colorado defensive lineman Marquis George scooped up at the 25 and rambled in for a touchdown in the first half.
“Obviously turnovers killed us,” said Peters. “And we didn’t take advantage of their mistakes when we needed to.”
The Fever took a 38-35 lead with 6:12 to play when kicker Brady Beeson kicked a 34-yard field goal.
And when the Tri-Cities defense stopped Colorado on a fourth-and-1 situation at the 22, it looked like the Fever might get out of Loveland with a win.
But Colorado got the ball back at its own 5 with less than a minute to play, and Ice quarterback Willie Copeland moved his team down the field to set up Jones’ winning touchdown run.
“We were just trying to go with what they were giving us,” said Colorado coach Heron O’Neal. “(Offensive coordinator Dillon) Sanders did a good job on that final series.”
The Fever also suffered a couple of key injuries.
First, veteran receiver Ed Berry left the first half with a concussion when Colorado defensive back Jovan Jackson hit him after a pass over the middle. Berry’s helmet popped off, and he never returned to the game.
Running back Keola Antolin suffered a broken hand. Antolin, who made the team this past week over IFL veteran Keithon Flemming, was having a strong first game — rushing for 38 yards, earning 37 more receiving yards and scoring three touchdowns.
Early reports have him needing surgery.
“I feel bad for him,” said Shackleford. “He had a great first half. It’s tough, but we’re going to have to find somebody to fill his spot.”
Injuries aside, Shackleford felt his team had a chance to put Colorado away. But the Fever missed too many chances.
“We still have to find ways to win football games,” Shackleford said. “We’re not going to let injuries be an excuse to lose football games.”
Shackleford moved wide receiver Steven Whitehead to running back, and defensive back Lionell Singleton jumped into the wide receiver rotation, catching two passes for 28 yards and a touchdown.
“They don’t usually practice at those positions,” said Peters. “So we had to slim down the playbook. When you only dress 21 guys, that’s what you have to do.”
Whitehead caught 10 passes for 88 yards.
Tri-Cities has two weeks before its next game, set for March 15 at the Toyota Center against the Nebraska Danger.