The Tri-Cities Fever is ready for Week 2 of the playoffs.
Well, actually the arenafootball2 league playoffs don't start until early August. But in an effort to bring a little sense of urgency to his team, coach Cedric Walker is treating the second half of the season as an eight-game playoff.
And so far, the Fever is 1-0, having beat Boise last Saturday 57-46. Now the Fever (4-5) takes its modest two-game win streak into Fresno, Calif., tonight to take on the team it's chasing in the West Division standings, Central Valley (4-4).
"We dug ourselves a hole, and we're still trying to get out of it," said Walker, whose team has won four of its last five games.
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Tri-Cities' recent upswing has the Fever in the playoffs if the season ended today as the eighth seed. That would lead to a first-round game in Spokane (9-0), a team that has beaten the Fever twice already this season.
But while Tri-Cities is in the playoffs this week, it could easily be out next week. The Fever is tied with four other teams with a 4-5 mark with seven games left in the regular season.
"We've come out of (a bad start), but we have a long ways to go," said Fever quarterback Josh Kellett.
Kellett has missed the last two games with a bone bruise on his left ankle he suffered in the first quarter of the Fever's 59-56 loss at Spokane on May 17.
He is listed No. 1 on the Fever depth chart for a third straight week, and earlier this week Walker said Kellett is definitely playing tonight, despite still favoring his ankle earlier this week at practice.
"The plan is to play," Kellett said.
Kellett made his season debut for the Fever on May 3 against Central Valley, leading Tri-Cities to a 49-48 victory -- its first win of the season -- on a last-second touchdown pass to Phil Goodman.
Without Kellett, the Fever has won its past two games behind Prosser product Tali Ena. Ena has filled in nicely, completing 56 of 88 passes for 684 yards and 14 touchdowns with four interceptions.
But the last two weeks has been a second coming of the much-maligned Fever defense.
Tri-Cities has forced 11 turnovers and allowed just 33.5 points per game in wins over Stockton and Boise. The 11 takeaways are three more than the Fever had in its first seven games.
Tri-Cities has also moved up to ninth in af2 in pass defense, allowing 216 yards per game.
"We're starting to work well with each other," said defensive back Charles Ealy, who had two interceptions in last week's victory. "We are starting to trust each other."
The Fever defense held Boise to just 18 first-half points last week as the offense build a 31-point lead early in the third quarter. However, from that point, the Fever went on cruise control as Boise frantically played catch-up, making the final margin closer than it should have been.
"If we want to be a great team, we have to be consistent," Walker said. "That's all we've talked about this week: finishing."
George Williams, who ranks first on the af2 all-time scoring list (1,084 points) and most career touchdowns (179), is expected to follow the Fever bus back from Fresno, according to Walker.
Williams had 23 touchdowns for Boise before being suspended and then eventually released two weeks ago.
-- Fullback Michael Hodges has been activated from the injured reserve list and is expected to start this week. Hodges has not played since partially tearing his MCL in the Fever's loss at Peoria on April 26. To make room for Hodges, Charles Bryant has been placed on the practice squad.
-- Lineman Marcel Burrough (6-foot-6, 330 pounds) will make his Fever debut tonight.
-- Clay Groefsema is expected to make his first start of the season for the Coyotes at quarterback. Groefsema, who accounted for 90 touchdowns in 13 games for Central Valley last season, rejoined the team two weeks ago.