Kennewick, WA. – The Spokane Empire went on the road in Week 1 of their inaugural IFL season and defeated the Tri-Cities Fever by a final score of 60-51.
The Empire jumped out to a 13-0 lead thanks to back-to-back Tri-Cities fumbled snaps that led to Spokane recoveries. Spokane quarterback Charles Dowdell found the end zone three times, first on a seven-yard run and then twice on passes (five-yards to Hayes, 13-yards to Sims). The Fever were able to capitalize in the first quarter off of an errant kick by the Empire, giving them possession on their own 20-yard line that resulted in a 30-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Hunter Wanket to receiver DeJay Lester. The quarter would close with the Fever converting on a 35-yard field goal to bring the game within two scores as the Empire led 20-10.
Spokane opened the second quarter backed up on their own one-yard line after having trouble fielding the Fever's kickoff. Despite the field position, the Empire would put together an impressive seven play 49-yard scoring drive which would be capped off by a 20-yard touchdown pass from Dowdell to receiver J.J. Hayes who would go up and over two Tri-Cities defenders in the corner of the end zone to extend the Empire lead to 27-10. The Fever would go on to connect again on a long field goal (36-yards) and then hold Spokane on fourth down to set up a 10-yard touchdown pass from Wanket to receiver Akeem Foster to close out the first half 27-20 in the Empire's favor.
The two teams would go on to match scores in the third quarter. After the Empire opened the half with the ball which resulted in a fumble in their own red zone. Tri-Cities would capitalize with a one-yard rushing score by quarterback Patrick McCain, however, would leave the Fever trailing 27-26. Spokane would go on to respond with back-to-back scores. The Empire put together a seven-play drive that would be capped off by a one-yard rushing score by running back Trevor Kennedy who made a strong second effort to push his way into the end zone through two Fever defenders. Defensive lineman Brett Bowers would then record the lone sack of the game to set up a long field goal which would be missed by the Fever. Spokane quarterback Dowdell would go on to connect with receiver Samuel Charles on a diving, corner-route catch for a 30-yard score to give the Empire a two score lead at 39-26 with just over three minutes left in the quarter.
Tri-Cities quickly responded with a one-play drive and 35-yard touchdown pass from Wanket to Lester and then following a Spokane fumble on the ensuing possession, the Fever would find the end zone on a seven-yard pass from McCain to Foster to even the game at 39-39 with just under 14 minutes remaining.
A key moment down the stretch would come on an eight-point series for the Empire. After a one-play scoring drive via a 16-yard rushing score by Kennedy, Spokane would convert the point after attempt and then score the first rouge point of the 2016 IFL season by tackling the Fever return man in his own end zone to take a 47-39 lead.
After the Fever found the end zone on a seven-yard pass from McCain to Lester, a failed two-point conversion attempt would leave them trailing. Spokane would seize the opportunity to extend their lead and find the end zone on what would be the catch of the game as Empire receiver J.J. Hayes made an incredible one-handed catch in traffic while on a crossing route and take it in for a 21-yard score. Leading 54-45, the Empire would then hold the Fever on fourth-down to set up a 17-yard passing touchdown from Dowdell to receiver Carl Sims. Tri-Cities would score one final time on the night via a six-yard pass from Wanket to Dejuan Miller, but another failed two-point attempt and onside kick attempt would allow the Empire to run out the clock and get their first win of the season, 60-51.