Defense can win championships.
Just ask the Seattle Seahawks.
On Saturday night, the Tri-Cities Fever defensive unit put together an outstanding performance, keeping the visiting Colorado Ice out of the end zone until the fourth quarter to key a 44-35 Indoor Football League victory in the Toyota Center.
The win gives Tri-Cities a 3-5 record. More importantly, it moves the Fever a game closer in the Intense Conference standings to the Ice, which falls to 5-3 and currently holds the division’s second and final playoff berth.
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Saturday’s win was all about defense.
And the biggest play was pulled off by Fever defensive back Lionell Singleton. The Fever was leading 30-21 early in the fourth quarter, but the Ice was knocking on the door to score a touchdown again.
Former Fever running back Dennis Kennedy had scored Colorado’s first TD of the game just the series before, on a 2-yard run.
But on this series, Ice quarterback Willie Copeland — on a first-and-goal from the Fever 1 — tried diving into the end zone. Someone on the Tri-Cities defensive unit — it may have been Fever linebacker Brandon Wilson — knocked the ball out of Copeland’s hands and into the end zone.
Singleton rushed to the ball, picked it up, and ran it out to Tri-Cities’ 7 yard line.
Three plays later, Fever quarterback Houston Lillard connected on a 36-yard touchdown pass with receiver Jackie Chambers for a 37-21 Tri-Cities lead.
Colorado never threatened again.
“We made it a goal to come together and play defense like our old defensive unit,” said Singleton. “We made a lot of adjustments against Colorado. We had a team meeting and got together.”
The Fever led 20-12 at intermission, and the first half was marked by a great Tri-Cities defensive effort.
Colorado could not find the end zone, as Ice kicker Phil Welch connected on four field goals.
Three times the Ice offense found itself inside the Fever 10. But Tri-Cities’ defensive unit came up big each time.
Linebacker Brandon Wilson hammered Colorado’s Kennedy — a former Fever standout — hard at the 1 to stop a touchdown.
On another series, Singleton broke up two Willie Copeland passes in the end zone.
On a third series, Singleton upended Copeland on a third down play after the Ice quarterback tried to get a first down at the 2.
Finally, Singleton also intercepted Copeland at midfield. That was eventually turned into a Tri-Cities field goal.
The Fever offense, meanwhile, did get into the end zone. But just twice. Lillard connected with Steven Whitehead on a 2-yard TD pass in the first quarter.
Tri-Cities running back Keithon Flemming scored on a 2-yard run early in the second quarter. But the key play in the drive was Flemmng’s 20-yard run down to the 2.
Lillard finished the first half with 90 yards passing. Copeland was held to 59 yards passing in the first 30 minutes.
Brady Beeson added two field goals for the Fever in the first half.