For the first 29 minutes of Saturday night’s Tri-Cities Fever game against the visiting Cedar Rapids Titans, things weren’t looking so good.
With one minute remaining in the first half, Tri-Cities trailed 30-14.
“We’re down 30-14 in the first half, and you start seeing some of the guys’ eyes,” said Fever defensive back Rudell Crim. “I’m yelling ‘Hey! We’re all right!’ ”
Turns out Crim was correct, judging by the Fever’s eventual 70-68 Indoor Football League shootout victory in front of 2,500 fans.
That final minute of the first half turned out to be key to get Tri-Cities back into the game.
Fever kicker Brady Beeson connected on a 52-yard field goal with 1 minute left until intermission, cutting Cedar Rapids’ lead to 30-17.
Beeson’s ensuing onside kick could not be fielded by the Titans, and Tri-Cities linebacker Boris Lee recovered. Three plays later, Fever quarterback Dante Warren hit Tre Young for a 12-yard TD pass, cutting the Titans’ lead to 30-23.
On the next kickoff, Desmond Tardy fielded the squib in the end zone, but Young knocked it out of his hands. In the ensuing mad scramble for the ball, Tri-Cities’ Keithon Flemming pounced on it in the end zone for a touchdown. The game was tied at 30-all, and there was still 33 seconds left in the half.
T.J. Simmons hung on to the ball on the next kickoff. But on a second-and-9 from his own 7, Cedar Rapids quarterback Charles McCullum was sacked by the Fever’s Malcolm Riley in the end zone for a safety, and Tri-Cities had a 32-30 lead.
“I think being able to put points on the board before halftime was big,” said the Fever’s Lee.
And even though Cedar Rapids kicker Radamez Rubio was able to connect on a 27-yard field goal as time expired, and the Titans able to go into intermission with a 33-32 lead, everyone knew it was a game.
Cedar Rapids coach Mark Stoute was beside himself over his team’s one-minute breakdown.
“We were not mentally in sync,” said Stoute. “You cannot win on any one play. Charles taking that sack was another mistake. Why not just throw the ball away? Our problem is we’re making mental mistakes, trying to focus on making the big plays.”
McCullum, who has given the Fever fits over the last few seasons while playing for either the Kent Predators or the Everett Raptors, was disappointed in his team’s play.
“That little 14- to 16-point turnaround, we lost some momentum,” said McCullum. “But we got it back with the field goal at the end of the half. Then we kind of came out in the third quarter and played worse.”
The Fever opened the second half with a quick touchdown, as Flemming rushed in from 19 yards for a 38-33 Tri-Cities lead.
And then it happened again: another Cedar Rapids special teams mistake. Simmons returned the kickoff, but the Fever’s Young knocked the ball out of his hands and Lee recovered.
Five plays later, Warren hit Flemming for a 6-yard TD pass and a 44-33 Fever lead.
From there, it became a shootout — as if it wasn’t already — as the teams kept trading scores.
“And I didn’t want a shootout because I didn’t know if we had the experience at quarterback and other positions to match them in one,” said Fever coach Adam Shackleford.
“We treated the game like a boxing match,” added Crim. “We’re gonna take some blows and we’re gonna give some blows.”
It looked as if the Titans had found the upper hand when Trevor Glomski blocked a Beeson 48-yard field goal attempt. When Laron Council rushed in from 4 yards out for a touchdown one play later, Cedar Rapids held a 54-51 lead with 11:54 to play.
The Fever answered, as Warren ran in from 8 yards for a touchdown with 7:21 left to play for a 57-54 Tri-Cities lead.
In a game of big plays, the biggest came on the next possession.
On a second-and-5 at the Fever 8, McCullum found Carl Sims open at the back of the end zone. The pass was a little behind Sims, and the receiver got a hand on the ball. But it popped up in the air, and Tri-Cities defensive back Dennis Rogan caught it six yards deep into the end zone.
Rogan turned and ran, racing up the sidelines until 56 yards later he had scored a touchdown for a 63-54 Fever lead with 6:03 to play.
“(The Titans) thought the ball hit the wall,” said Shackleford. “But it was about time we got a break.”
It took Warren one more touchdown run, this one for 11 yards with 42 seconds remaining, to clinch the game.
“We called a pass play,” Warren said. “I went to my 1, then 2 receivers on my checks. It was just cloudy. I saw an opening. Luckily my tackle (Trevon Williams) peeled off his guy. I saw a guy reach for my leg and I jumped. When the crowd went nuts, I knew I was in.”
Now 3-6, the Fever had won two games in a row for the first time this season and have some new-found confidence.
“Winning again gives us the momentum we need,” said Lee. “I think now we have the confidence to make a run for the playoffs.”
“The last couple of weeks practice has been exciting,” he said. “When we have adversity, we come together. The next game is the most important game of the season.”
NOTES: The Fever’s next game is at Wyoming on Saturday. Cedar Rapids DL Michael Graise may have separated his elbow late in the fourth quarter. The game was stopped as he was tended to. Stoute wasn’t sure of Graise’s condition after the game. ... Brian Pray had a strong game for the Titans, catching nine passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns. ... McCullum accounted for seven touchdowns — four passing and three rushing. He was 13-for-18 for 231 yards. ... Warren led the Fever in rushing with 75 yards, and he scored four times. Flemming added 64 yards of rushing. ... DBs Simmons and Cashmin Thomas each had 10 tackles for the Titans. ... Crim led the Fever defensively with 10 tackles. The Fever was familiar with a number of the Titans. McCullum, Thomas, Graise and Walner Leandre all played for the Everett Raptors last season before that franchise folded. The Raptors and the Fever played each other four times last season. Of course, Titans assistant head coach Sean Ponder was Everett’s head coach last season. ... Another Cedar Rapids-Tri-Cities connection: The Tri-Cities was the beneficiary when the owners of the Cedar Rapids Silver Bullets decided to move that Continental Basketball Association franchise to Kennewick back in 1991. The team lasted four seasons at the Toyota Center before it was folded.
Cedar Rapids 16 17 8 27 — 68
Tri-Cities 7 25 19 19 — 70
CR—Laron Council 29 pass from Charles McCullum (kick failed)
TC—Dante Warren 8 run (Brady Beeson kick)
CR—FG Radamez Rubio 12
CR—McCullum 3 run (Rubio kick)
TC—Tre Young 27 pass from Warren (Beeson kick)
CR—McCullum 4 run (Rubio kick)
CR—Council 3 run (Rubio kick)
TC—FG Beeson 44
TC—Young 12 pass from Warren kick failed)
TC—Keithon Flemming fumble recovery in end zone (Beeson kcik)
CR—FG Rubio 19
TC—Flemming 19 run (pass failed)
TC—Flemming 7 pass from Warren (run failed)
CR—Bryan Pray 3 pass from McCullum (McCullum run)
TC—Warren 2 run (Beeson kick)
CR—Pray 48 pass from McCullum (Rubio kick)
CR—Council 4 run (Rubio kick)
TC—Warren 8 run (Beeson kick)
TC—Dennis Rogan 56 INT return (Beeson kick)
CR—McCullum 1 run (Rubio kick)
TC—Warren 11 run (Beeson kick)
CR—Tardy 14 pass from McCullum (Rubio kick)
RUSHING—CR, Council 11-32, McCullum 8-39. TC, Warren 15-75, Whitehead 1-5, Flemming 14-64.
PASSING—CR, McCullum 13-18-1-231. TC, Warren 12-26-1-125.
RECEIVING—CR, Lacey 2-12, Pray 5-118, Sims 3-37, Tardy 1-14, Council 2-50. TC, Whitehead 5-45, Flemming 2-12, Miller 1-7, Young 4-61.
FIRST DOWNS—CR 18, TC 23. FUMBLES-LOST—CR 2-2, TC 1-0. PENALTIES-YARDS—CR 10-61, TC 7-49 .