Tri-Cities Fever

Shackleford, Fever prepare for trip to Kent

KENNEWICK -- The smartest thing Tri-Cities Fever head coach Adam Shackleford did Saturday night?

"I sat back at halftime and listened to my defensive assistants (coordinator Ryan Lingenfelder and Cleveland Pratt)," said Shackleford. "They made adjustments at halftime, and they did an outstanding job making those adjustments."

So good, in fact, that the Fever held the first-place Fairbanks Grizzlies to six second-half points and Tri-Cities -- trailing 33-24 at intermission -- rallied for a 44-39 Indoor Football League victory.

It was the Fever's first IFL win and raised its record to 1-3, as Tri-Cities heads to Kent (2-3) for a 3 p.m. game Sunday at ShoWare Center.

Saturday's win "was a roller coaster ride," Shackleford admitted after the Grizzlies took a quick 20-0 lead. "We came out flat, and I still don't know the reason. We faced a good football team. Maybe it was a combination of that with maybe having another week off. But we certainly came back and battled."

Part of that reason is getting the right mix of players in.

"We've got a good defense," Shackleford said. "We moved some guys around. Carldayle Brantley has played well. It feels like the right puzzle."

Last week, Shackleford added some indoor experience when he signed offensive lineman Jason Donnal, wide receivers Joey Hew-Len and Tim Simmons, linebacker Chris Hunsaker and running back Antoine Rutherford.

"And a couple of new guys are coming in this week," Shackleford said. "We're trying to stock the roster with the best talent we can."

The changes meant a big difference for the offensive line.

Donnal joined Donald Fondren and center Kenneth Ackerman to protect quarterback Andy Collins, who was sacked just once by Fairbanks, as compared to nine times two weeks ago against Kent.

Part of that was Fairbanks' defensive scheme didn't call for as much pressure, but the other part was Kent has a pretty good pass rush.

"Last week was Donald Fondren's first game, and this week we saw a huge improvement," said Shackleford. "Donnal came from the Cleveland Gladiators and he was there just last week."

Lineman Tavita Thompson -- who was ejected in his first two games -- left the Fever before Saturday's home game.

"He got some other opportunities," said Shackleford.

-- One guy who was not happy Saturday night after the game was Fairbanks coach Sean Ponder.

"The whole game came down to a couple of plays," said Ponder. "I give all of the credit to Tri-Cities. But two of their interceptions and that last play on the goal line, those were illegal defenses."

Ponder felt that the blitz by Fever strong safety Kwame Agyeman -- in which he hit Fairbanks quarterback Justin Rummell and popped the ball up to Tri-Cities' DB Montavis Pitts, who returned it for a touchdown -- was an illegal blitz.

"You've got to call that," Ponder said.

And the goal-line stop at the end, "all of their guys were bunched in. You can't do that," he said.

"I know the rules," Ponder continued. "I don't mind losing the game straight up. And yes, we missed some kicks and we only scored six points in the second half. But those are three 7-point plays right there.

"Our owner spends a lot of money to send us down here," Ponder continued. "It's tough. What do I tell my guys in the locker room after a game like this?"

-- Shackleford understands Ponder's pain, whether those plays were illegal or not.

Not long after the Fever lost its home opener to the Kent Predators by a 55-49 score on March 27, the offensive formation used by Kent was ruled illegal.

The Predators used a full-house backfield -- two fullbacks in front of quarterback Charles McCullum.

"It has been deemed illegal by the league," Shackleford said. "We felt like it was illegal during the game, but the officials didn't."

w It's interesting to see the confidence in a team after its first victory.

"A lot of teams would have folded (after trailing 20-0)," said Fever defensive lineman Blair Boynton.

Pitts, who had two interceptions in the game, just thinks the team needs to be together week in and week out after having so many byes early in the season.

"When we had those bye weeks, some guys went home, some didn't," said Pitts. "It kind of messed up the team chemistry. Now we're playing for 10 straight weeks. The chemistry will get better."

Boynton agrees. But he knows things will still be tough.

"I feel every team in this division (Alaska, Billings, Fairbanks, Kent and Tri-Cities) is a playoff contender," he said.