It has been two months since the Spokane Empire and Tri-Cities Fever last played each other.
That was Feb. 20 — the Indoor Football League season opener for both teams — and it ended with a 60-51 Spokane victory at Toyota Center.
The two teams will meet again at 7:05 p.m. Saturday at Toyota Center.
Since the opener, the Fever have gone 3-3 while the Empire have gone 4-1.
“We’re playing well,” Empire coach Adam Shackleford said. “We’ve eliminated a lot of our early-season mistakes. I think we had 11 turnovers in the first four games, and just one since.”
Meanwhile, after an 0-2 start, the Fever have won three of their past five games, including April 15 at Colorado. The 39-31 win was Tri-Cities’ first road victory of the season.
In that win, Fever quarterback Pat McCain threw for 178 yards and three touchdowns, and he ran for 45 yards and a score.
Receiver Dejuan Miller caught four passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns.
But it was the Fever defense that held Colorado at the 1-yard line on three consecutive plays in the waning seconds to clinch the victory.
The Fever will need that same type of defensive performance Saturday night to beat Spokane.
“We’re going to play the percentages,” Fever coach Ryan Lingenfelder said. “I’ve broken down every one of (Spokane’s) offensive plays, every one of their offensive situations. And we’re going to play the percentages.”
That could call for a lot of run stoppage.
Spokane rookie running back Trevor Kennedy leads the IFL with 62.7 rushing yards per game. He also has scored 15 rushing TDs.
Kennedy is playing so well that former Fever running back Andrew Pierce, who signed with Spokane a few weeks ago, is relegated to backup.
“We’re forcing teams to load the box, and that’s opening the passing lanes for (Empire quarterback) Charles Dowdell to hit receivers,” Shackleford said.
Part of the reason Spokane has been able to move the ball is the Empire’s offensive line, which includes former Fever OL Mike Trice (recently acquired in a trade with Sioux Falls).
“I believe this offensive line is the best I’ve had since 2009,” Shackleford said.
Lingenfelder wants Dowdell to throw the football.
“His legs are what makes him dangerous,” Lingenfelder said. “I’d love him to throw the football 50 times.”
Meanwhile, the Fever have developed a new dangerous offensive weapon in running back Rob Brown, a cut casualty earlier this year by Spokane.
“Right now, Rob is our most productive player,” Lingenfelder said.
The Fever are 2-1 since Brown arrived, and he gives them a threat in the backfield, making key rushing gains.
But he’s also dangerous out of the backfield in the passing game.
“In the passing game, the defense has to be aware of him,” Lingenfelder said. “Both Wichita Falls and Colorado (the last two Fever opponents) peeled their defensive end off to cover him. He does a lot without the ball.”
NOTES: This game features a lot of outstanding defensive backs. The Fever’s Dee Maggitt leads the league with five interceptions. Teammates Boubacar Cissoko and Stephen Goldbolt have three picks each, and so do Spokane’s Josh Ferguson and Demetruce McNeal. … Maggitt is fourth in the IFL in kick return yardage (21.1 yards per return). … Two weeks ago, Lingenfelder released kicker Steven Wakefield based on his kickoff accuracy. He signed Daniel Zeidman, a kicker out of Idaho State. Wakefield has since been picked up by the Empire and will be in a Spokane uniform Saturday night. … Fever owner Teri Carr expects one busload of Spokane fans at Saturday night’s contest, down one from the season opener. Carr also said the Fever have one busload of fans heading to Spokane on April 29, when both teams will meet again. … The league announced this week that Salt Lake City will be the IFL’s newest franchise for the 2017 season. Carr said there will be more announcements of new franchises later this season.