The Tri-Cities Fever was eliminated from the Indoor Football League chase on Friday when the Nebraska Danger beat the Wyoming Cavalry 69-42 with a 33-point fourth quarter.
That gave the Danger an 8-4 record, the second Intense Conference playoff berth, and mathematically eliminating the Fever (4-7).
Regardless, neither the Fever nor the first-place Colorado Ice (7-3) are expecting anything but a close game when the two teams meet at 7:05 p.m. today in the Toyota Center.
“If we are fortunate to get a lead, we need to hold on to it,” said Fever coach Adam Shackleford. “This game is gonna come down to the last few plays.”It always does.
“Every time we meet, it’s always pretty much been an ESPN Instant Classic,” said Colorado coach Heron O’Neal. “Since I’ve been down this way, they have been classic games. I put Shack among the top two or three coaches in this game.”
Maybe that’s why Shackleford expects to win tonight.
“Every time we go out on the field, we expect to win,” he said. “We’ve got some different things in the offense. We were only inside the 5-yard line last week once. We had some new packages we didn’t get to use.”
O’Neal, whose team has clinched an IFL playoff spot, is concerned about stopping Fever quarterback Dante Warren.
“The key to the game is definitely containing Dante,” O’Neal said. “It’s gonna be tough.”
And although his Ice have won both matchups this season, O’Neal is still wary of the Tri-Cities defense.
“Their defense is supreme,” O’Neal said. “They have a great group in the secondary and linebacker corps. It wouldn’t suprrise me if (Fever defensive back Lionell) Singleton wins defensive MVP of the year. I’ve had some good guys over the year. But that guy right there, he’s a difference maker.
“I don’t know how Singleton is still in this league and why he’s not at a higher leve,” O’Neal contionued. “I consider him one of the top five defensive backs in the IFL all-time.”
O’Neal is also planning to bring a couple of familiar faces with him tonight.
O’Neal signed former Fever players — running back Dennis Kennedy and linebacker Joe Thornton — earlier this week.
“They’re good football players,” said O’Neal. “Kennedy is one versatile player. He can run the football or go out and catch it. Thornton changed our whole season around last year. He helped us get to the playoffs.”
Kennedy hasn’t played at all this season and has been living in the Tri-Cities. He declined to play for the Fever this season.
“As for Joe, when we did our exit interviews, he went home and worked out for a CFL workout,” said O’Neal. “If your whole mind not going to be here, I’d rather you take care of your business before you come back. That tryout was last week.”
By the numbers: The Fever are ranked fourth in the IFL in scoring offense at 44.4 points. Colorado is ranked fifth at 43.8. ... The Ice, however, is ranked second in defense at 40.2 points a game. The Fever is sixth at 43.5. ... Ice receiver Justin Helwege is third in scoring touchdowns with 19, while Fever running back Keithon Flemming is seventh at 15. ... Warren ranks third in QB rating at 107.0, while Colorado’s Willie Copeland is sixth at 102.5. ... Copeland is also second in TD passes with 36, while Warren is sixth with 20. He has thrown just two interceptions. ... Warren ranks second in the league in rushing with 488 yards. ... Singleton is ranked seventh in tackles with 70. ... He’s first in the IFL with seven interceptions, while teammate Rudell Crim is fourth with four.
Notes: O’Neal says Fever OL Trevon Williams, who played for him two seasons ago, is playing at a first- or second-team all-IFL level this season. ... Shackleford said WR Steven Whitehead, who leads the team with 44 pass receptions, will likely not play again tonight with an injured knee. WR Ed Berry, however, might be ready to play after suffering from foot problems. ... Tonight is Salute to America Night. Active or retired military personnel get a free ticket with their military ID. Game t-shirts will be handed out to the first 275 adults, and red, white and blue glow necklaces will be given to the first 200 youths. Dollar dogs will be available upstairs in the Charter lounge (while supplies last).