Sunday night’s season-opening loss to the Tri-Cities Fever did little to diminish the confidence of the Nebraska Danger’s players and coaches.
Tri-Cities, which advanced to last year’s Indoor Football League championship game, outscored the Danger 28-13 over the final three quarters to pull away for a 38-23 victory Sunday night at the Heartland Events Center. Still, Nebraska coach Mike Davis said he saw some encouraging signs.
“Our offensive line played great and our defensive line played great — I’m happy with that part,” Davis said. “We missed a lot of tackles and our timing was a little off on offense, but for us to be able to play with Tri-Cities, being that they’re one of the top two or three teams in the league, it showed that my guys never quit.
“We’re going to be just fine.”
The Fever (2-0), which is based in Kennewick, Wash., opened the season with a 70-44 victory over the Everett Raptors on Feb. 25 before traveling to Grand Island for its road opener. Despite taking an early 10-0 lead, Tri-Cities found itself tied with the Danger 10-10 after the opening quarter and led just 17-16 with 6:02 remaining in the first half.
“Tonight, I thought we had some first-game mistakes that we didn’t make in our first game,” Tri-Cities coach Adam Shackleford said. “Part of it was being on the road with a lot of rookies for the first time and part of it was just doing things that we haven’t done in a long time — it was a little discouraging.
“What I liked was that we fought through those things … made some big plays and were able to hold on against what I think is a very good (Danger) team.”
The Fever got another big performance from dual-threat quarterback Houston Lillard, who was 14-of-27 passing for 208 yards and three touchdowns and also rushed 11 times for 66 yards and another score. Edward Berry had five receptions for 96 yards and a TD and Steve Whitehead had seven catches for 57 yards and a TD and also had a rushing score for Tri-Cities, which outgained the Danger 298-217 in total offense.
Making his first IFL start, Danger quarterback Terry Mayo finished 16-of-39 passing for 193 yards and two TDs. However, the former Central Florida signal-caller was intercepted three times, including once in the end zone with two seconds left in the first half and later at the Fever 1-yard line 41 seconds to play.
“Like any quarterback, I’ll take the blame when we don’t play as well as I know we can,” Mayo said. “There are a lot of things that we can fix. We’re a young team. Everybody can see that we’re explosive, we’re fast and we’ve got a great offensive line, a great offensive coordinator and coaches, so even though we lost tonight, I feel very confident about the rest of the season with what’s going on.”
Mayo’s top target was Kayne Farquharson, who had six receptions for 39 yards. Chris Bell finished with five receptions for 85 yards and two TDs for the Danger (0-1).
“We had some bright spots, but I’d give our overall offensively play a grade of 60 or 65 percent,” Bell said. “We’re still a new team and on offense, we’ve still got a few kinks to work out. As receivers, we have to do a better job of catching the ball, but overall, it was all right game.
“We just have to put it all together.”
The Danger kept itself in the game by forcing two turnovers and a key fourth-down stop late in the first half. Defensive back Darnell Terrell had a fumble recovery and broke up the pass on Nebraska’s goal-line stand with 17 seconds remaining in the first half, while defensive lineman Kyle Thomas had a fumble recovery every in the fourth quarter.
Tri-Cities took a 10-0 lead on its first two possessions. Lillard hit Berry on a 45-yard TD pass after the Danger missed a field-goal attempt on its opening drive and then Fever kicker Michael Taylor helped convert an interception into a 51-yard field goal with 7:42 left in the first.
Nebraska got the board with an Alex Tejada 35-yard field goal with 4:11 in the first quarter and was then handed a prime scoring opportunity when Terrell recovered a Fever fumble caused by Patrick Wells. On the next play, the Danger tied the score at 10-10 on Mayo’s 16-yard scoring pass to Chris Bell.
The Fever retook the lead at 17-10 on a 3-yard TD run by Whitehead with 11:09 remaining in the second quarter. Nebraska had a chance to tie when Bell caught another TD pass from Mayo — this time from 11 yards — with 6:02 to go in the second, but Tejada’s point-after kick failed.
Tri-Cities went ahead 24-16 with 3:37 left in the first half on Lillard’s 15-yard TD pass to Whitehead. The Fever tried to punch in one more score before halftime, but was denied when Terrell broke up a fourth-down pass at the Danger 1 with 17 seconds to go.
Nebraska then got a scoring chance of its own as Mayo connected with Bell for a 38-yard pass to the Fever 11-yard line. However, Tri-Cities defensive back Lionell Singleton intercepted Mayo in the end zone with two seconds remaining in the half, ending the threat.
Trailing 31-16, the Danger got its lone score of the second half when Erick Jackson scored on an 8-yard run to cut the deficit to 31-23 with 3:54 remaining in the third quarter. However, Nebraska’s offense was stopped on fourth-and-goal at the 1 with 8:29 to play with the Fever leading 38-23.