SPOKANE, Wash. (February 19, 2016) – The Spokane Empire will go on the road to kick off the 2016 Indoor Football League season and take on the Tri-Cities Fever at the Toyota Center in Kennewick this Saturday, February 20th with a 7:05 p.m. PT kickoff.
This week's game will be available live on radio via AM 700 ESPN Spokane with Keith Osso and Mike Peterson on the call. Fans can also view the game online via IFLLive.TV.
The "Civil Turf War: Battle for the Washington Territory" this Saturday will be the first time that the Spokane and Tri-Cities franchises have squared off since the 2009 season when the former Shock, now Empire, and Fever played in the af2. Over the course of the 2016 IFL regular season the two teams will meet four times.
Head Coach Adam Shackleford has returned to Spokane for his second stint with the franchise after spending the last six seasons with the Fever (2010-2015). Over the course of his six seasons in Tri-Cities, Shackleford led the team to two Intense Conference titles, two United Bowl appearances (2011, 2012), and four playoff berths.
For the Fever, Ryan Lingenfelder returns to Tri-Cities to begin his first season as Head Coach and fifth total year with the organization. Ligenfelder was a part of Adam Shackleford's staff from 2010-2012 as he served as the Defensive Coordinator. During those seasons, the Fever defense was ranked at the top of numerous statistical categories. In 2013, Ryan was named the Head Coach of the IFL's Wyoming Cavalry and would go on to join the AFL's New Orleans VooDoo in 2015 as a line coach.
Despite entering the 2016 season as the only expansion franchise in the IFL, the Empire was able to land a number of players with indoor experience and talented rookies.
"We're very excited about the group we've put together," said Empire Head Coach Adam Shackleford. "We have a great mix of veteran talent and leaders, plus some rookies that we feel can have an immediate impact for us."
One of the key off-season acquisitions for the Empire was quarterback Charles Dowdell (6-0, 210, Saginaw Valley State) who will get the start at quarterback for the season opener. He'll be joined in the backfield by IFL rookie offensive specialist Trevor Kennedy (6-0, 205, Mercyhurst). Despite entering training camp competing as a wide receiver, Kennedy impressed the coaching staff with his running ability and earned the starting job.
On the edge, the Empire will field a group of experienced play-makers in veteran receivers Carl Sims (6-0, 190, Western Illinois), J.J. Hayes (6-4, 210, Lamar), Justin Helwege (6-5, 220, Central Washington), second-year IFL and former AFL Shock receiver Samuel Charles (6-3, 210, Edward Waters), and Darryl Thompson (5-8, 180, Texas A&M Commerce) who also has indoor experience.
In the Empire trenches, each side of the ball consists primarily of young talent. Out of the four offensive lineman, two are rookies. Similarly, Spokane will be fielding three rookies on the defensive line along with former Shock nose-guard Dominique Duster (6-0, 320, North Alabama) and Toby Jackson (6-4, 265, Central Florida) who has spent time in the NFL and AFL.
Despite the youth up front, the Empire coaching staff has been impressed on both sides of the ball.
"The offensive line has really come together over the course of training camp and shown they can work well with one another," said Shackleford. "Defensively we feel like we have a great group that can really mix it up between rushing the passer and stopping the run."
Linebackers Nick Haag (6-3, 240, Assumption) and Pasquale Vacchio (6-1, 230, Buffalo State) are expected to make plays in both run and pass defense situations while the defensive secondary has high expectations after being one of the highlight groups of training camp.
"We kind of hand-picked our guys that we wanted between players we've coached before and then guys that we competed against in the past," said Empire Defensive Coordinator Ameer Ismail. "I think with everything put together, it's going to be fun to watch everyone flying around and making plays."
As the Empire were busy putting together their off-season roster, the Fever went under a similar rebuild under first-year Head Coach Ligenfelder. Tri-Cities' opening weekend 25-man roster consist of 16 first-year players.
Early reports out of Tri-Cities point to Hunter Wanket getting the start at quarterback. Wanket (6-3, 225, Central Connecticut) has indoor experience as he spent time with the IFL's Bemidji Axeman in 2014 and has also played in the PIFL. As a part of Lingenfielder's game plan, however, he stated that he does intend to utilize a dual-quarterback system with Patrick McCain (6-5, 230, Jacksonville) in short yardage and red zone situations. McCain saw action in one game last year with the Fever as he completed 8-of-18 pass attempts for 124 yards and two touchdowns while adding 61 rushing yards and one score on the ground.
The Fever receiving corps consists of five players all over 6-foot-3. Three rookies will be anchored by two returning veterans in Dejuan Miller (6-5, 225, Oklahoma) and DeJay Lester (6-3, 210, Wyoming) who each have extensive experience in the indoor game. Last season, Miller was second on the team with 62 receptions for 514 yards and eight touchdowns. Lester played in four games for Tri-Cities and hauled in eight receptions for 106 yards and two scores.
Former Washington State defensive and veteran IFL lineman Brandon Rankin (6-3, 280) has returned to Tri-Cities in 2016. Rankin had also spent time in Spokane with the Shock. He'll be joined on the line by Roosevelt Holliday (6-2, 305, Eastern Illinois) who spent time with the NFL's New York Jets and three rookies.
In the defensive secondary the Fever will begin the season with five defensive backs (three rookies) on the roster and two athletic linebackers in Marcell Coke Jr. (6-1, 225, Norfolk State) and Leon Jackson (6-2, 225, Deleware). Jackson was second on the team last year with 62.5 total tackles, 16 tackles for loss, two sacks, and two interceptions in nine games. His 62.5 tackles in nine games was good for third in the league for average per game (6.9).
As the two franchises prepare to rekindle their inter-state rivalry with opposing coaching staffs extremely familiar with one another, we are set for an exciting "Civil Turf War" in Washington on Saturday.