A look at the stat box from Saturday night’s Spokane Empire/Tri-Cities Fever football game at Toyota Center gives the impression that the Fever won.
Tri-Cities didn’t, of course, losing 52-39 to Spokane.
But the Fever had more first downs (21-14), more yards (243-209) and had the ball longer (36 minutes to 24). Spokane also had 123 yards in penalties while Tri-Cities had 98.
The Fever, however, were 1-for-7 in third-down efficiency.
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The biggest difference in the game was untimely turnovers.
An Empire interception and a fumble recovery in the first quarter were turned into two touchdowns, giving Spokane a quick 20-0 lead that proved to be insurmountable for Tri-Cities.
“It came down to execution, turnovers, dropped footballs,” Fever coach Ryan Lingenfelder said. “We’ve just got to execute better.”
That happened the rest of the game, as Tri-Cities outscored Spokane 39-32.
Lingenfelder decided to make a change at quarterback, lifting starter Hunter Wanket for Pat McCain, who began to move the Fever’s offensive unit.
“McCain was 6-for-9 on scoring drives,” Lingenfelder said. “That’s where we want to be.”
So McCain will get the starting nod Friday, when the Fever visit Spokane.
The second-year quarterback opened up the offense by scrambling for 107 yards, and he also passed for 94.
“Our team has got a lot of heart,” McCain said. “We’ve been up like this before, and teams have come back on us. I told the guys, ‘Why can’t we do it?’ I try to get the guys going with my enthusiasm.”
It works, said Fever offensive lineman Rodrick Gladney.
“Pat comes in and opens up the running game,” Gladney said. “Hunter is a good quarterback too, and I’ll play hard for either one of them. Tonight, though, Pat opened up the running game, and Rob (Brown) began to run better.”
Brown, playing in his fourth game at running back for the Fever, scored twice on 11-yard TD runs.
“We had adversity early,” Brown said. “We’re not going to have too much change when we play Spokane this next week. Tonight, we just shot ourselves in the foot.”
No time to panic
The Fever are 3-5 at the halfway mark of the Indoor Football League season.
But the team is just one game out of a playoff spot.
Spokane leads the Intense Conference with a 6-1 record, while Nebraska is in second at 5-4. Billings, with a 64-61 win on Sunday over Colorado, improved to 4-4.
The top three teams make the playoffs.
But it’s no time to panic. The Fever have two road games left against Spokane; two games remaining with Billings; and a regular-season finale at home June 25 against Nebraska.
Nothing is over, said Gladney.
“Our chemistry keeps us together,” he said. “It’s always a state of emergency. I’m gonna keep fighting, and I’m playing for now. I want us to have a home playoff game.”
Empire coach Adam Shackleford was happy to get out of Kennewick with the victory Saturday night.
“This was a tough win and a big win for us,” the former Fever coach said. “We played hard, and we make plays because we play hard.”
Shackleford was a bit surprised that the Fever didn’t put two linebackers in the box to stop the run.
“I thought they’d play a little different defense,” he said.
Tri-Cities tried to force Spokane quarterback Charles Dowdell to throw the ball while also keeping him from scrambling.
What got the Empire going was Shackleford putting all-star rookie running back Trevor Kennedy outside as a receiver. Matched up with a linebacker, Kennedy sped by for a 30-yard TD catch.
Some family fun: Rob Brown had 55 total yards and scored two touchdowns for the Fever at running back. His twin brother, Robert Brown, played in the Spokane secondary. Robert Brown gets family bragging rights this week. “Yes,” Rob admitted. “He got an interception too.” Robert Brown had three tackles and intercepted Wanket at the goal line. … On average, Spokane started each offensive series on its own 21. Tri-Cities’ average starting yard line was its own 14. … The star of the game had to be Dowdell, who threw four TD passes.
EMPIRE 52, FEVER 39
S — Trevor Kennedy 30 pass from Charles Dowdell (Steven Wakefield kick)
S — Jefferson Hayes 7 pass from Dowdell (Wakefield kick)
S — Carl Sims 8 pass from Dowdell (kick failed)
TC — Pat McCain 4 run (Daniel Zeidman kick)
S — Kennedy 35 run (Wakefield kick)
TC — McCain 1 run (Zeidman kick)
S — Hayes 9 pass from Dowdell (pass failed)
TC — FG 27 Zeidman
TC — Dejuan Miller 27 pass from McCain (pass failed)
S — Dowdell 4 run (kick blocked)
TC — 2-point conversion, Dee Maggitt return blocked kick
S — Team rouge
S — Kennedy 1 run (pass failed)
TC — Rob Brown 11 run (Zeidman kick)
S — Hayes 9 run (kick failed)
TC — Brown 11 run (Zeidman kick)
RUSHING — S, Kennedy 10-65, Hayes 4-18, Dowdell 5-13, Robert Brown 1-5. TC, McCain 13-107, Brown 8-28.
PASSING — S, Dowdell 8-20-2-108. TC, McCain 12-21-1-94, Hunter Wanket 3-10-1-22.
RECEIVING — S, Hayes 3-40, Kennedy 1-30, Sims 2-29, Samuel Charles 1-6, Justin Helwege 1-3. TC, Akeem Foster 7-46, Miller 2-34, Brown 4-27, DeJay Lester 2-9.
FIRST DOWNS — S 14, TC 21. FUMBLES-LOST — S 0-0, TC 1-1. PENALTIES-YARDS — S 9-123, TC 6-98.