Tri-Cities Fever quarterback Houston Lillard said Monday night that neither he nor his teammates want the 2011 Indoor Football League season to end.
"We don't want to leave each other right now," said Lillard.
Well, they'll get at least a couple more weeks together after the Fever upset the Colorado Ice 45-42, thanks to Gary Cismesia's 39-yard field goal with 1.5 seconds remaining.
With the victory, the Fever (12-4) moves on to the Intense Conference finals, where it will visit the Allen Wranglers (12-4) on Saturday, July 9. The IFL takes the Fourth of July weekend off.
"This felt as good as any victory I've ever had," Fever coach Adam Shackleford told the Herald after the game. "Just because of where we were coming from and where we are now. If you look at the last two years and the progress of this football team and its turnaround, I think that has all been brought to a head with that one kick."
But it wasn't that easy before Cismesia's kick.
The two teams traded scores to open the game, before the Ice scored 21 unanswered points.
Up 14-7, Colorado's Eric Childs intercepted Lillard. On the first offensive play after that, Ice quarterback David Knighton -- the IFL's comeback player of the year -- connected with Jason English on a 32-yard TD pass and a 21-7 lead.
On the next Fever series, Lillard again was intercepted, this time by Josh Morris, who returned it down to the Tri-Cities 9. Knighton took the next sanp and hit Lemans Casimier for a 9-yard touchdown pass and a 28-7 Colorado lead.
"A couple of balls got away from me in the first half," Lillard admitted. "But everybody was still upbeat and we were gonna keep fighting."
That was despite the fact Tri-Cities lost wide receiver Joey Hew Len (rib) and linebacker Brandon Wilson (separated shoulder) in the second quarter.
One of the biggest plays of the game was turned in by the Fever defense late in the first half.
Colorado led 35-21 and had the foiotball at the Tri-Cities 14 with 1:26 left until halftime. But seven plays later, the Ice couldn't get the ball into the end zone. Knighton scrambled in the waning seconds and was tackled from behind by Fever defensive lineman Christopher Lyle as the clock ran out.
"That play was big," said Shackleford. "Their quarterback takes off to run. I know what (Colorado coach Collins Sanders) is saying. If it's not there throw it away. That certainly changes the game."
Shackleford also noticed something when the teams were walking off the field.
"They looked tired at halftime," said Shackleford. "I think it was our stamina. I really do. Although they had rest, our guys work hard off the field. I told them that if we work hard in the third quarter, we can own them in the fourth. Leaving that locker room at halftime, our guys felt they were gonna make a game of it."
Which is what happened.
The Fever defense gave up just seven second-half points -- Colorado had just four offensive series in the final two quarters, one ending on downs and two others on missed field goals.
Meanwhile, Lillard starting clicking with his receiving corp -- minus Hew Len.
"When Joey went out early that didn't help," Shackleford said. "We had to turn to Jackie Chambers. He made a couple of big fourth-down plays."
But the big go-to guy was Steven Whitehead. The diminutive but speedy receiver caught the team's final three TD passes -- 12, 12 and 34 yards.
The last one came with 4:55 remaining and tied the game at 42-42.
"Their defense stayed in a zone the whole time," said Lillard. "But in the fourth quarter they went to man-to-man coverage. I know our receivers are better than their secondary."
Lillard said he went over to Whitehead.
"I told him I wanted to give him the ball," he said. "He told me he wanted the ball."
The Fever defense made one more stop after Whitehead's third TD, as Ice kicker Rocky Stevens' 55-yard field goal attempt was well short. Fever kick returner Dennis Rogan returned the ball 25 yards out to the Tri-Cities 20 with 59 seconds remaining in the game.
Lillard moved the offense down to the Ice 24 with 5.5 seconds remaining, setting up Cismesia's clutch kick.
"I was thinking absolutely nothing," Cismesia said about the kick. "I was just thinking about what I was doing in practice. The air is so thin here that the ball just travels."
And with his kick sailing perfectly through the uprights, the Fever players get at least a few more weeks together.
"We're like brothers," Lillard said. "We're staying in a hotel together. You go out of your room out into the hall and into another teammate's room. We live together as brothers."
And they don't want family time to end.
Notes: Colorado ends its season at 11-4. ... Shackleford said the team will get most of the remainder of this week off for much-needed rest. The Fever hasn't had a bye since April. ... Wilson and Hew Len may be done for the season. But Shackleford did say receiver Justin Jarvis and defensive lineman Brian Rackley are here in the Tri-Cities, ready to play. ... Dennis Kennedy had 61 yards rushing for the Fever -- 45 of which came on a touchdown run. He also made a key fourth-down reception for a first down to keep the final drive going. ... Lillard finished with 216 yards passing and four TD passes. ... Whitehead caught six passes for 98 yards. ... Linebacker Joseph Thornton led Tri-Cities with 10 tackles, while Lyle and Rogan each had nine. ... Ice linebacker Prince Hall, who played at Central Washington University, had a game-high 15 tackles.