BILLINGS, Mont. -- The Tri-Cities Fever wouldn't go quietly this time.
But in the end, the result was the same -- a Billings Outlaws victory.
The defending champions of the Indoor Football League saw the Fever rally from a 26-7 deficit to take the lead early in the third quarter of their IFL first-round playoff game at the Billings SportsPlex on Sunday.
Led by quarterback Chris Dixon, the Outlaws took back the lead near the end of the third quarter and never lost it again, coming away with a 54-45 win.
Billings (13-2) moves on to the Intense Conference semifinals next weekend, while the Fever's season ends at 7-8.
Tri-Cities played Billings four times this season, losing all four games.
And like last weekend's regular-season finale -- a 68-40 loss to the Outlaws -- the Fever dug themselves a hole at the start. This time it was a 19-point deficit when Dixon connected with James Walton for a 5-yard TD with 2:56 to play in the first quarter.
But Tri-Cities bounced back, scoring four of the next five touchdowns.
Houston Lillard hit Brandon Copeland for a 23-yard scoring strike, then Copeland dived in from the 1 for a TD run.
Billings answered with a 3-yard Dixon-to-Carl Sims TD pass.
But when Lillard hit Johnny Walker from 3 yards out with 27 seconds remaining in the first half, Billings led just 32-27 at intermission.
The Fever, which deferred at the coin toss to receive the second-half kickoff, moved 31 yards in two plays to open the third quarter: a 20-yard Lillard-to-Copeland pass, and an 11-yard Ray Little TD run to give Tri-Cities its first lead at 35-32.
The lead changed hands three more times in the third quarter:
w Billings back on top 38-35 on a 1-yard Timothy Brown run.
w Tri-City leading again 42-38 on a 2-yard Lillard run.
w Billings getting the lead back for good at 45-42 after Dixon connected with Walton for a 5-yard scoring strike.
The Fever couldn't answer after that, as Brett Jaekle missed on a 42-yard field goal attempt.
Dixon added another TD pass, this one 19 yards to Walton, to extend the Outlaws' lead to 52-42 in the fourth quarter.
"We made too many mistakes in the fourth quarter," said Fever coach Adam Shackleford. "We got screwed in the fourth quarter with several calls."
The Fever defense stopped Billings' offense twice in the fourth quarter, but Tri-Cities failed to respond.
A Fever holding call in the end zone gave Billings a safety, and Lillard tossed an interception to end the other drive.
In the end, it was too much Dixon again.
The quarterback who was first-team all-IFL but failed to get the league MVP or most valuable offensive player award finished with 162 yards passing, five TD passes, 134 yards rushing and another TD run.
He was serenaded by the Billings crowd with chants of "MVP! MVP!"
Walton finished with three TD catches, while Sims had four catches for 72 yards and two TDs.
Lillard had 206 yards passing for the Fever with three TD passes, but he also had two interceptions.
Copeland finished with eight receptions for 82 yards and a TD.
Defensively, Tri-Cities was led by Jo Artis Ratti with nine tackles. Cyrus Mulitalo added eight, while Montavis Pitts had seven.
Kelly Rouse led Billings with eight tackles, while Michael Eby added seven and Travonti Johnson had six.
"When you go on the road, you've got to beat the team, the crowd and the officials," Shackleford said. "We didn't do it."