The road back to the United Bowl – the Indoor Football League’s championship game – has been the goal of the Tri-Cities Fever since the season started.
The Fever posted its best regular season record in franchise history (12-2) to earn the Intense Conference’s top seed and the right to host the first two rounds of the playoffs.
The Fever has continued its success right on through the playoffs to earn a rematch with defending champion Sioux Falls at 5:35 p.m. PDT this Saturday night for the IFL title. The Storm beat the Fever 37-10 in last year’s championship game in Sioux Falls.
“The road back to the championship is never easy,” said Fever coach Adam Shackleford. “You have to have a lot of things go your way.”
He is speaking from experience. The Fever’s playoff run this season was almost halted before it even got going. In the first round against No. 4 seed Colorado, the Fever fell behind 31-13 in front of a stunned home crowd at the Toyota Center. Not only was the Fever trailing by 18 points, the Ice had the ball and the Fever seemed out of sorts.
Then in the matter of the final minute of the first half everything changed thanks to a Jake Killeen interception. The Fever went on to score two touchdowns in the final 17 seconds of the second quarter to get to within 31-26 at halftime. That started a string of 25 straight points as the Fever took a 38-31 lead before pulling out an impressive 52-42 win.
Up next was the Wichita Wild, who needed a last-second field goal to beat Allen in the first round. After beating the Wranglers on a Monday night the Wild had to scramble to get to the Tri-Cities for a Friday night game.
This short turnaround meant limited time to prepare for the Fever coaching staff against a team it had never played before. A few extra late night’s paid dividends in shutting down a stiff running game of the Wild as the Fever played a complete game and walked out with the Intense Conference title with a 51-30 win two weeks ago.
That win secured a spot in Saturday’s game against the best team in the league and the favorite to win a second straight IFL title. The Storm has reeled off 19 straight victories and won 32 of its last 33 games, including two wins over the Fever already this season.
How much do those previous two match ups mean at this point?
“We know we can play with these guys,” Shackleford said. “We just need to come out and execute and limit our mistakes.”