KENNEWICK -- It’s a good thing the Tri-Cities Fever players have an extra week off before the Indoor Football League playoffs begin.
They’re going to need that time to heal from their wounds.
And even though the Fever finished the regular season with a 66-34 victory over the Wyoming Cavalry, in front of 3,300 fans Saturday night at the Toyota Center, the team could have used an infirmary after the contest.
Still, Tri-Cities found a way to win.
“I told our guys at halftime that this is not about skill,” Fever coach Adam Shackleford said. “We have to gut it out and get it done with a win. We have to come together as a group.”
And that’s what happened.
But let’s be clear: the Fever never trailed in this game. It’s just that it took Tri-Cities some time to shake a Cavalry team that was missing two of the league’s top receivers in Dante Dudley and Jasonus Tillery.
“Dante works in Rapid City, and at the last minute, he had trouble trying to get the time off,” Wyoming coach Dan Maciejczak said. “And Jasonus found out earlier this week that he was invited to the Miami Dolphins’ three-day minicamp.”
But to be fair, the Fever wasn’t at full strength, either.
Not even suiting up were defensive lineman Jake Killeen (knee), offensive lineman Robert McNac (knee) and defensive back Lionell Singleton (back).
“Even if this had been a playoff game, I probably wouldn’t have suited up Killeen and Singleton,” Shackleford said.
But things got worse during the game.
Tri-Cities lost offensive lineman Ryan Tolar in the first half, when an elbow infection seemed to be getting worse.
“I took him out,” said Shackleford, who had someone take Tolar to the hospital at halftime.
Shackleford immediately left after the game to go check on his lineman.
“He would have never taken himself out of the game,” Shackleford said. “But I could see it was hard to breathe for him.”
That left the Fever with just one true offensive lineman protecting quarterback Houston Lillard.
Running back Dennis Kennedy also left the game when his knee bothered him too much.
“I probably shouldn’t have played him, either,” Shackleford said.
Still, with all of that, the Fever exploded in the second half, outscoring Wyoming 35-12 to put the game away.
“With a team like that, they were playing some unorthodox defense,” said Lillard, who finished with 165 yards passing and four touchdown passes. “In the second quarter, I started figuring them out.”
One thing that seemed to be working was the Tri-Cities defense, which kept Wyoming from scoring on five of its first eight possessions.
“It all came down to watching some film on them,” said Fever defensive back Rudell Crim, who had two interceptions, returning one 45 yards for a touchdown. “We knew where we needed to be.”
Crim’s interception return followed Edward Berry’s 7-yard touchdown run that opened the game, giving the Fever a 14-0 first-quarter lead.
In the second half, Lillard found Tre Young a number of times.
“Coach pretty much said at halftime that he wanted us to continue to fight,” said Young. “Just focus on the task at hand.”
Young finished with six catches for 49 yards and three touchdowns.
And Berry found the end zone twice.
“We just ran different plays,” Berry said. “We had to try to figure them out.”
So what’s next for the Fever, finishing the regular season at 12-2 and the Intense Conference champion?
The playoffs, which begin June 22 at home, and most likely against the Colorado Ice.
But before that, there will be some rest, with many of the players headed home for 4 or 5 days.
“Long season, man,” Kennedy said.
FEVER 66, CAVALRY 34
Wyoming 0 22 6 6 — 34
Tri-Cities 14 17 21 14 — 66
TC—Edward Berry 7 run (Brady Beeson kick)TC—Rudell Crim 45 interception return (Beeson kick)
W—Eddie Thompson 10 pass from Matt Strand (Thompson pass)TC—Dennis Kennedy 1 run (Beeson kick)TC—Jamar Howard 8 pass from Houston Lillard (Beeson kick)W—Emery Beckles 37 pass from Strand (pass failed)TC—FG Beeson 17W—Tony Ostheimer 31 pass from Strand (Thompson kick)
TC—Kennedy 1 run (Beeson kick)TC—Berry 4 pass from Lillard (Beeson kick)W—Strand 1 run (pass failed)TC—Tre Young 3 pass from Lillard (Beeson kick)
W—LaVaughn Macon 3 pass from Strand (pass failed)TC—Young 28 pass from Lillard (Beeson kick)TC—Young 1 pass from Kasey Peters (Beeson kick)
RUSHING—W, Josh Schleusner 3-3, Strand 2-(-4), Keithen Valentine 5-12. TC, Berry 2-7, Kennedy 4-3, Lillard 2-14, Kasey Peters 1-5, Young 1-2.
PASSING—W, Schleusner 0-1-0-0, Strand 25-45-2-219. TC, Lillard 17-26-1-165, Peters 4-4-0-(-6).
RECEIVING—W, Robbie Klinetobe 1-0, Schleusner 2-11, Beckles 2-42, Thompson 4-35, Macon 11-84, Valentine 4-16, Ostheimer 1-31. TC, Berry 5-68, Kennedy 1-5, Player N/A 1-6, Steven Whitehead 5-26, Young 6-49, Howard 3-5. FIRST DOWNS—W 17, TC 18. FUMBLES-LOST—W 0-0, TC 0-0. PENALTIES-YARDS—W 16-116, TC 5-51.