The Tri-Cities Fever lost to the visiting Nebraska Danger on Saturday night by a respectably close score of 66-62 in front of 3,400 fans in the Toyota Center.
But Fever coach Adam Shackleford got a chance to look at the game film Sunday, and he wasn’t happy.
“We made a lot of mistakes in that football game,” said Shackleford. “Players are going to be held accountable for their poor play. We made a lot of wrong plays out there.”
“Defensive players were out of position,” said Shackleford. “Receivers were running the wrong routes. We missed three extra-point kicks. We gave up a safety that shouldn’t have happened. Those points alone add up.”
Worse, the loss puts the Fever’s record at 3-6, and Tri-Cities is 2 games out of a playoff spot, with Colorado at 5-3.
With just five games left on the Fever schedule, time is running out.
“The thing is, we’ve got to get in (to the playoffs),” said Shackleford. “If we do, then anything can happen. But we’re probably a game away from starting to look to next year.”
So the Fever needs to become a team of Road Warriors these next few weeks with games at Bemidji on Saturday and Texas the following weekend.
“We either beat Bemidji or we’re just not good enough (to make the playoffs),” said Shackleford. “And I have some tough decisions to make about players, and (Fever owner) Teri Carr has a tough decision to make about the coaching staff.”
Pressed, Shackleford said he has a list of guys begging to come to the Tri-Cities after just getting released by Canadian Football League teams.
“Then we’d go young, preparing for next year,” he said.
As for his own job, Shackleford knows what’s expected of him.
“We haven’t won a lot of games the last few years,” Shackleford said. “Teri and I have a great relationship. But at the end of the day, a coach’s job is to win.”
Fever defense has rough night
A week after Tri-Cities had a standout defensive performance against visiting Colorado, that same Fever defensive unit struggled to stop the Danger.
“Defensively, we’ve been like Jekyll and Hyde out there,” Shackleford said.
Nebraska scored on 10 of its 12 offensive possessions.
“Our offense finally came to play,” said Danger coach Mike Davis. “Our defense is not going to play well every night, so it was nice to see the offense step up.”
Davis praised his offensive line, which did a good job of protecting quarterback Jameel Sewell.
Then there was Sewell himself, who has struggled with injuries this season.
The left-handed quarterback who was the league MVP last season passed for 214 yards and four touchdowns, and he rushed for 39 yards and three more TDs.
“He was making the right reads at the right time,” said Fever defensive back Lionell Singleton.
In addition, the Danger lost star running back Troy Evans to two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the second quarter. But backup running back Rainier Rackley stepped in admirably, scoring a rushing TD himself.
“For the first time ever, we travelled with two running backs,” said Davis. “I was going to bring another defensive lineman, but I said screw it. I’m glad now that I did that.”
The Fever put up 62 points against the IFL’s top defense.
“In the IFL, games are always going to be a shootout,” said Fever receiver Jackie Chambers, who scored four touchdowns. “We were expecting a slow start for us. But we picked up steam.”
Tri-Cities quarterback Houston Lillard tossed six TD passes in the contest.
“I was just taking what they were giving us,” Lillard said.
Still, he knows the Fever must move on and concentrate on Bemidji this week.
“We go on to the next game,” said Lillard. “It’s tough to lose this game, but we can’t dwell on it. We have to come out and win out.”
Still, there were some missed opportunities, said Fever receiver Steven Whitehead.
“I don’t look at the plays we made, but more at the plays we missed,” said Whitehead, who had five catches for 76 yards and three touchdowns. “I tell you, they’re a good team. But I don’t think they want to see us again.”
Fever running back Keithon Flemming agreed.
“I think we left some plays on the field,” he said. ”We are still working out some kinks and getting on the same page.”
But Flemming has a great script idea.
“We have faced a lot of adversity this season,” he said. ”It would make a great story if we could come back and make the playoffs.”
Damian Lillard, the second-year Portland Trail Blazers guard who sank a 3-pointer at the buzzer Friday night to give the Blazers a playoff win over the visiting Houston Rockets, was at the game Saturday night to watch his older brother Houston quarterback the Fever. Shackleford said that league officials had confirmed to the Fever that game officials made the wrong call on Tri-Cities DB Rudell Crim, who was flagged for pass interference in the fourth quarter that helped the Danger score a key touchdown. Defensive back Pig Brown led Nebraska with 12 tackles, including two quarterback sacks. Donyae Coleman led Tri-Cities with 8 tackles. Fever DL Harold Love, signed two weeks ago after being released by the AFL’s Portland Thunder, got a rare sack of Sewell.