KENNEWICK — Steven Whitehead was all smiles after Saturday night’s Tri-Cities Fever season-opening Indoor Football League victory, a 70-44 rout of the visiting Everett Raptors in the Toyota Center.
“Did you see him?” said Whitehead, the speedy Fever receiver who caught three touchdown passes. “Did you see Houston, huh?”
Whitehead had a reason to be excited. He is a trainer, and he helped train Fever quarterback Houston Lillard in the offseason.
On Saturday, Lillard looked in tip-top condition, passing for 132 yards and five touchdowns, as well as rushing for 36 yards and two scores himself.
“I felt good out there,” said Lillard. “One thing I learned early on last year was I was just as clueless as the new guys coming in. But tonight, I knew what I wanted to do and I knew where I wanted my (receivers).”
Lillard was in command of the offense almost all night.
But with all of his pinpoint passes, it was a second-quarter, 13-yard touchdown run where he broke a tackle with a stiff-arm that impressed his teammates.
“That’s a play called quarterback cut,” said Whitehead. “We called that play seven times tonight. I think we called it all of three times last season. I was like ‘Whoa!’ watching him. I was speechless.”
Fever coach Adam Shackleford said it was a great first game out of the chute.
“I think it will be a great learning tool when we watch the game film,” Shackleford said. “We kept our composure tonight. I know Everett might complain about the officials, but I think they did a good job. We kept our composure tonight. We didn’t keep jumping offside like they did. We didn’t get 15-yard penalties like they did.”
It’s hard to believe that in a high-scoring offensive shootout like this, that the play of the game may have been a defensive one.
But it was.
The Fever held a 42-20 lead near the end of the second quarter when Everett quarterback Charles McCullum — who had an outstanding game with seven TD passes — connected with Travis Poole on a 17-yard scoring strike with 4 seconds remaining until intermission.
The Raptors cut the lead to 42-26 and would get the opening kickoff in the third quarter.
McCullum moved his team all the way down the field into the red zone. In fact it was a first-and-goal situation at the Fever 1-yard line.
Two runs for losses and a McCullum incompletion quickly turned it into a fourth-and-4 situation.
Everett coach Sean Ponder never hesitated going for the touchdown. But McCullum’s slant pass was batted away at the last second by Fever defensive back Marquise Liverpool, giving Tri-Cities the ball.
“I was looking to take away any inside route away from them,” said Liverpool. “(The receiver) ran a post from the outside.”
Ponder was upset after the play, thinking pass interference should be called.
He declined to comment after the game.
Lillard then marched the Fever 45 yards downfield in seven plays, culminating in a 14-yard TD pass to Whitehead.
So instead of it being a one possession game, it was again at two possessions — Fever leading 50-26 — and the Raptors never really threatened again.
“Nobody pays attention to that stuff,” said Lillard. “But the defense has to do it’s job for us to win. That was big.”
Shackleford warned his team at halftime about Everett’s chance to close the gap.
“We told the guys that it doesn’t matter how many points we score,” said Shackleford. “Everett could make it a one-possession game.”
Dennis Kennedy also had a strong game for the Fever, finishing with 100 yards of total offense and two touchdowns.
“That has a lot to do with our veterans helping the other guys come along,” said Kennedy.
Fever 70, Raptors 44
Everett 12 1412 6 — 44
Tri-Cities 21 21 15 13 — 70
TC—Stanley 2 run (Taylor kick)
E—Piper-Jordan 30 pass from McCullum (kick failed)
TC—Kennedy 11 run (Taylor kick)
E—Sanders 30 pass from McCullum (run failed)
TC—Lillard 7 run (Taylor kick)
TC—Lillard 13 run (Taylor kick)
TC—Whitehead 7 pass from Lillard (Taylor kick)
E—Piper-Jordan 35 pass from McCullum (Sanders pass from McCullum)
TC—Berry 9 pass from Lillard (Taylor kick)
E—Poole 17 pass from McCullum (run failed)
TC—Whitehead 14 pass from Lillard (Lillard run)
E—Gay II 45 pass from McCullum (run failed)
TC—Whitehead 17 pass from Lillard (Taylor kick)
E—Piper-Jordan 45 pass from McCullum (pass failed)
TC—Kennedy 4 run (kick failed)
E—Sanders 5 pass from McCullum (pass failed)
TC—Berry 5 pass from Lillard (Taylor kick)
RUSHING—Everett, Gay 8-38, McCullum 3-6, Poole 1-(minus 1). Tri-Cities, Kennedy 10-41, Lillard 9-36, Peters 2-(minus 3), Stanley 3-15, Whitehead 1-(minus 3).
PASSING—Everett, McCullum 15-31-2-269. Tri-Cities, Lillard 14-19-1-132, Peters 1-3-0-17.
RECEIVING—Everett, Gay 3-61, Piper-Jordan 4-114, Poole 3-44, Snders 4-45, Tatum 1-5. Tri-Cities, Berry 3-26, Kennedy 5-55, Stanley 1-5, Whitehead 6-63.
FIRST DOWNS—Everett 12, Tri-Cities 23.
FUMBLES-LOST—Everett 1-1, Tri-Cities 0-0.
PENALTIES-YARDS—Everett 20-111, Tri-Cities 6-13.
Total time: 3:15.