SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- For almost the entire season, the high-powered Sioux Falls Storm offense has been the center of attention for fans, coaches, players and media.
But on Saturday night, the Storm defense took center stage, leading Sioux Falls to the United Bowl title by defeating the Tri-Cities Fever 37-10 in front of 4,500 fans at the Sioux Falls Arena.
"They were very good," Fever coach Adam Shackleford said. "We just couldn't block them up front."
The Indoor Football League title game was up for grabs for the first 30 minutes. But the Storm defense put the clamps on the Fever's high-scoring offense in the second half, pitching a shutout.
"Their defensive line played real well," said Fever quarterback Houston Lillard, who was sacked five times. "But it's hard to make decisions when there is so much pressure coming down. And their secondary stayed where they were supposed to be."
The Fever played a great first half, trailing 17-10 at intermission.
Sioux Falls had led 10-0 after James Jones scored on a 5-yard run on the game's opening drive and Storm kicker Parker Douglass added a 22-yard field goal.
But the Fever fought back to tie the score, with a 41-yard Gary Cismesia field goal and a 32-yard scoring strike from Lillard to Jackie Chambers.
"We talked about standing toe-to-toe with them, and we did that in the first half," Shackleford said.
Even when Sioux Falls quarterback Chris Dixon hit James Terry for a 24-yard touchdown pass with 4:47 left in the half, the Fever remained in the game.
The Tri-Cities defense got three stops in the first half.
"We were there," Lillard said. "They probably wanted to be up by more. We kept it in striking distance."
And the Fever was to get the ball first in the second half.
But Tri-Cities' chance to tie the score faded when Storm linebacker Brian McIntire tackled Fever running back Dennis Kennedy for a 7-yard loss on a third-down pass play, setting up a Cismesia field-goal attempt.
Cismesia was wide left on the 33-yard kick.
And then things started to unravel.
Dixon moved the Storm offense 45 yards in five plays, culminating in a 19-yard Dixon-to-Jones touchdown pass for a 24-10 lead.
McIntire then put the nail in the coffin on the next Fever series.
Lillard tried to throw a pass to the flat, but McIntire intercepted it and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown and a 31-10 lead.
The Fever offense had chances to score on the next two series -- in both instances getting to Sioux Falls' 1-yard line. But the swarming Storm defense pushed Tri-Cities back both times, keeping the Fever out of the end zone.
Sioux Falls got eight defensive stops in the game.
"They had better players than we've seen before," Lillard said.
Sioux Falls coach Kurtiss Riggs, whose team finished with a 16-1 mark, said that while everyone was giving Dixon accolades, "they were missing our best element, which was in the trenches. We were able to get in Lillard's face all night long."
That defensive line, coupled with McIntire's game-high 14 tackles, forced the Fever to abandon its rushing game. Tri-Cities rushed 11 times for 4 yards.
Lillard finished the game with 146 yards passing, and Chambers caught three passes for 59 yards.
Defensively, Lionell Singleton led the Fever with 10 tackles, while linebacker Joe Thornton added eight.
Dixon finished with 154 yards passing, 61 of those to Terry on six catches.
It was Sioux Falls' fifth indoor football title since 2005 in various leagues.
For Dixon and eight other Storm players who led Billings to titles in 2009 and 2010, it was their third consecutive IFL title.
For the Fever, it was still a great season, as Tri-Cities finished 13-5.
"I'm not going to let one bad game spoil this season," Shackleford said. "We felt like we were the best team in our conference. We just were not the best team in the league."
Not Saturday night, anyway.
"We came out and played hard," Lillard said. "We have to tip our hat to (Sioux Falls). Our defense did a hell of a job, but we didn't capitalize on things."