Tri-Cities Fever

Fever hangs on for second victory

KENNEWICK -- In the high-scoring Pacific North Division of the Indoor Football League, sometimes the difference between winning and losing is just a defensive play or two.

Sounds funny, but it was true Saturday night at the Toyota Center, where the Tri-Cities Fever hung on to defeat the Alaska Wild 56-48 in front of an estimated 1,800 fans.

For the most part, neither defense could stop the other team's offense with much consistency. And both teams were using backup quarterbacks in starting roles.

For the Fever, rookie Houston Lillard stepped in for regular starter Andy Collins, who was out with a bad shoulder. Lillard performed admirably, throwing for 214 yards and six touchdown passes.

"Houston's a confident kid and he played with a lot of confidence tonight," said Fever coach Adam Shackleford, whose team moved out of the division cellar with a 2-5 record.

Lillard singled out his linemen -- Jason Donnal, Kenny Ackerman and Donald Fondren -- for their play.

"Coach did a good job of preparing me this week," said Lillard. "But I didn't get sacked one time tonight."

Meanwhile, Jamie Williamson took over for the Wild (2-7) after Donald Carrie hurt his hamstring last week. Williamson passed for 221 yards and six TDs himself. He also scored on a run.

In essence, the teams traded the lead seven times in the first half until big defensive play No. 1 occurred.

Lillard had just connected with Fever receiver Brandon Copeland on a 9-yard TD pass, giving Tri-Cities a 28-22 lead with 1:06 remaining before intermission.

On the ensuing kickoff, Wild return man Damein Henderson had the ball slapped out of his hands -- Fever linebacker Derek Nicholson was given official credit -- and Dwain Crawford fell on the ball.

"There was a group of people holding (Hernderson) up, and then the ball came out," said Crawford. "Instead of being up by seven at halftime, we were up by 14."

Because two plays later, Lillard hit Copeland again -- this time for a 7-yard scoring strike -- and Tri-Cities went into the half up 36-22, never to trail again.

Copeland, playing in front of his parents who were visiting from North Carolina, finished the game with nine catches for 116 yards and four TDs. Some of that was Alaska concentrating on stopping Fever standout Thyron Lewis, leaving Copeland and Kevin Heard open.

"Fortunately, (the Wild defense) was leaving me open in zones," said Copeland.

The Wild wouldn't go away, however, answering the Fever score for score in the second half.

And when Williamson connected with receiver Mike Maciejewski on a 4-yard TD pass, cutting the Fever lead to 49-48 with 1:39 left, the game was up for grabs.

Alaska tried an onside kick that went out of bounds at the 11, and Wild coach Darnell Lee told his defense to let the Fever score. Tyson Thompson did on the next play on a run, giving Tri-Cities a 56-48 lead with 1:25 left.

On the next possession, Williamson moved the Wild down to the Tri-Cities 5 with 57 seconds remaining when big defensive play No. 2 happened.

As Williamson looked for room to run, Nicholson -- again -- ripped the ball out of his arms, allowing Fever DB Lionell Singleton to fall on it to clinch the win.

"I had to do something," said Nicholson. "Somebody had to make a play."

Somebody did, as the Fever earned its second win.