Tri-Cities Fever

Tri-Cities Fever hang tough in Indoor Football League playoff race

The Tri-Cities Fever take on the Billings Wolves in their second home game of the season at Toyota Center.
The Tri-Cities Fever take on the Billings Wolves in their second home game of the season at Toyota Center. Tri-City Herald

The Tri-Cities Fever enter Saturday night’s home game against the Billings Wolves with a 3-7 record.

Yet with six Indoor Football League games remaining, the Fever are in the thick of the playoffs.

Yes, it’s true.

Three teams in the Intense Conference will make the playoffs, and here are the standings at this point: Spokane 8-1, Nebraska 5-6, Billings 4-6, Tri-Cities 3-7 and Colorado 2-8.

Only Spokane seems assured of a playoff spot.

That’s why Fever coach Ryan Lingenfelder says Saturday night’s 7:05 contest with the Wolves is huge.

“It’s a playoff game this weekend,” he said Friday afternoon after the Fever’s practice at Toyota Center. “We have to win this game. (Billings coach) Chris Dixon has to consider this a playoff game for his team too.”

A win by the Fever on Saturday would clinch the season series against Billings, with one game to come June 18 in Montana. The teams opened their three-game series March 5 in Kennewick, with Tri-Cities winning 47-41.

Lingenfelder is shooting for his team to host a first-round playoff game.

“I think if we win against Billings, can split against Green Bay, and we’ve got to beat Nebraska (in the regular-season finale June 25), then we’d get to host a playoff game,” Lingenfelder said.

But first things first: The Fever are concentrating on Billings on Saturday.

The Wolves will have a different quarterback than Dak Britt this time. Britt was released earlier this season.

Mason Espinosa has been playing a lot, but Lingenfelder said his team is preparing for backup Cory Murphy, who finished last week’s 75-28 loss to Spokane.

“We think they’re gonna play the other quarterback,” Lingenfelder said. “He runs the ball more, and Dixon likes that.”

LAST WEEK’S LOSS: The Fever just couldn’t get anything going in Cedar Rapids, losing 58-17.

“We’ve been resilient the entire year,” Lingenfelder said. “But last week, we weren’t.”

The team practiced in knee-high grass outdoors this week, putting the pads on and getting after it.

Lingenfelder likes what he sees with his squad going into Saturday’s game.

“They’ve got that resiliency back,” he said.

Pat McCain will start again at quarterback.

“Hunter Wanket is taking on the role of backup quarterback and fourth wide receiver,” Lingenfelder said.

CHANGES: In the three weeks since the Fever’s last home game, Lingenfelder has made a few changes to the roster.

Recently signed are OL William Harris, WR Chris Gant, K Bobby Zalud and OL Lemone Buford. The team also activated LB Marcell Coke Jr. from the short-term injured reserve list.

The Fever released WR DeJay Lester, LB Leon Jackson Jr. and K Daniel Zeidman. OL Viondy Merisma and WR Sheldon Galloway have been placed on short-term IR.

NOTES: Fever DB Dee Maggitt Jr. is tied for the IFL lead in interceptions (seven). Maggitt is fifth in kick returns, averaging 19.9 yards. … Billings’ defensive secondary is still strong. Chris Frierson is tied for second in the league with eight pass breakups. Teammates Michael Green and Norris Wrenn III are tied for fifth with seven. … Green is Billings’ leading tackler with 61, while Stephen Godbolt leads the Fever with 50. … The Fever held a football camp Friday night for youths ages 5 to 13.