Tri-Cities Fever coach Ryan Lingenfelder called Saturday night’s game against the visiting Billings Wolves essentially a playoff game.
So it’s understandable that Fever players were disappointed after their 49-44 loss to the Wolves, dropping Tri-Cities two full games behind Billings and Nebraska with five games to play in the Indoor League Football season.
“It’s quiet (in the locker room),” said Fever defensive lineman/linebacker Brandon Wilson. “Because it went from things being in our control to not.”
“It’s deflating, honestly,” said Fever wide receiver Dejuan Miller, who had a strong game for Tri-Cities with five catches for 91 yards and two touchdowns. “Honestly, offensively I think we just stagnated in that third quarter. We couldn’t get anything going for some reason.”
The third quarter was the difference in the contest.
The Fever led 36-26 at intermission, but Billings came out of the locker room on fire, scoring on its first three possessions with touchdown passes — two by starter Mason Espinosa and one by backup Cory Murphy.
That gave the Wolves a 20-0 run, and a 46-36 lead that they would never surrender. All of this happened in the first 8 minutes and 2 seconds of the second half.
“I told our guys at halftime, that if they wanted to save the season, they better go out and make a run,” said Billings coach Chris Dixon. “We turned it around quick.”
Meanwhile, the Fever struggled during that run.
In order, the team turned the ball over on downs; fumbled away the following kickoff; and missed field-goal attempts of 23 and 48 yards.
All together, the Tri-Cities offense was 1-for-7 in scoring possessions in the second half.
“We felt good coming out of the half,” said Fever quarterback Hunter Wanket. “Offensively I think we just stalled a bit.”
Team is still alive
While the loss is disappointing, the postseason is still a realistic goal for Tri-Cities.
Here’s how: Three of the five Intense Conference teams will make the playoffs.
Here are the standings: Spokane 8-2, Billings 5-6, Nebraska 5-6, Tri-Cities 3-8, and Colorado at 2-9.
Assuming Spokane has clinched the top playoff seed, that leaves the remaining two spots for the final four teams.
Judging by the combined records of opponents, the Fever has the best path to a berth, even though Tri-Cities is two full games out of a spot.
Tri-Cities’ remaining opponents (Spokane, Green Bay twice, Billings and Nebraska) have a combined record of 24-30.
Nebraska (with Wichita Falls twice, Spokane, Colorado and Tri-Cities) is next at 25-27.
Billings (with Colorado, Spokane twice, Cedar Rapids and Tri-Cities) follows at 29-25.
Colorado (Billings, Spokane, Sioux Falls, Wichita Falls and Nebraska) is last at 34-19.
All of this, of course, is contingent on the Fever starting to win.
But there definitely will be some scoreboard watching over the final month of the season.
“We will fight to the finish,” said the Fever’s Wilson. “We need to take care of what we can. But that’s the plan: to keep fighting.”
You must gain a yard
Some fans may have had questions as to why the clock kept stopping in the final minute of the game, when no one was calling a timeout.
Dixon said it’s because his quarterback, Murphy, needed to gain positive yardage for the clock to run.
“He needs to not be so scared,” Dixon said. “He couldn’t even get a yard.”
Had Murphy done so, the Wolves could have run the clock out.
Instead, that allowed the Fever to actually have a chance on offense in the final 41 seconds to win the game.
But Pat McCain’s desperation pass was intercepted by Billings’ Michael Green in the final seconds. It was Green’s second pick in the end zone area in the final quarter.
Murphy did enough damage, though, rushing for 87 yards as the Fever defense had a tough time defending him.
Final attendance was a lackluster 2,158. … Wanket, who left the game on the final drive when he was thrown into a dasherboard, said after the game he was OK. His neck and head were a little sore. ... Fever WR Akeem Foster left the arena with ice on his ankle after taking a hit in the game. ... Wolves WR Mark Henderson, who used to play for Lingenfelder at Wyoming, had five catches for 104 yards and three TDs, including a highlight reel one going over the wall. ... Fever RB Rob Brown rushed for 54 yards. He also took the opening kickoff back 54 yards for a score. It was the second consecutive game Brown scored on the opening kickoff. ... Top defenders: for the Fever, it was DB Aaron Ray with seven tackles. LB Marcell Coke Jr., added six tackles and scooped up a fumble and ran it back 15 yards for a score. Vincent Taylor led Billings with 10 tackles. ... In a battle between the IFL’s top two teams Saturday night, host Sioux Falls (10-1) beat Spokane (8-2) 63-50. QB Lorenzo Brown tossed five TD passes for the Storm, while receiver Caleb Holley had six catches for 110 yards and four TDs. Linebacker Tyler Knight had an astounding 18 tackles and two interceptions. For Spokane, QB Charles Dowdell threw for 291 yards and five TDs. But Dowdell also tossed four interceptions.
TC – Rob Brown 54 kickoff return (Daniel Zeidman kick)
Bil – Alexander McCray 7 run (Blake Erickson kick)
Bil – Mark Henderson 35 pass from Mason Espinosa (Erickson kick)
TC – Akeem Foster 25 pass from Hunter Wanket (Zeidman kick)
TC – Brown 5 run (kick failed)
TC – Marcell Coke, Jr., 15 fumble return (pass failed)
Bil – Cory Murphy 5 run (kick failed)
Bil – Henderson 27 pass from Murphy (kick failed)
TC – Dejuan Miller 14 pass from Pat McCain (Zeidman kick)
TC – FG 17 Zeidman
Bil – Joe Morrow 14 pass from Espinosa (kick failed)
Bil – Henderson 23 pass from Espinosa (Erickson kick)
Bil – McCray 2 run (Erickson kick)
TC – Miller 8 pass from Wanket (Foster pass from Wanket)
Bil – FG 22 Erickson
RUSHING — Bil, Murphy 16-87, McCray 10-24, Henderson 1-minus 3. TC, Brown 12-56, McCain 1-11, Wanket 1-5.
PASSING — Bil, Espinosa 8-20-0-126, Murphy 4-7-1-48. TC, McCain 10-26-1-112, Wanket 5-10-1-50.
RECEIVING — Bil, Henderson 5-104, Willie Downs 3-35, McCray 2-18, Morrow 2-17. TC, Miller 5-91, Foster 2-40, Brown 4-22, Chris Gant 3-19, McCain 1-minus 10.
FUMBLES-LOST: Bil 3-2, TC 0-0. FIRST DOWNS: Bil 21, TC 10. PENALTIES-YARDS: Bil 12-139, TC 5-32.