Spokane Empire coach Adam Shackleford knows watching the videotape isn’t going to be pretty but the outcome will look just fine in the win column.
Spokane overcame itself and the feisty Tri-Cities Fever to post a hard-earned 53-51 victory in front of a season-high crowd of 6,507 Friday night at the Arena.
The Empire, Intense Conference leaders (7-1 overall), won their fifth straight game and third this season over the Fever, who dropped to 3-6.
“Ugly. It was ugly,” Shackleford said. “The film is going to look terrible but you can’t question the heart, character and resiliency of this football team.”
The Empire was sloppy on both sides of the ball – and on special teams with a pair of missed PATs and a Steven Wakefield kickoff that sailed out of bounds – in the first half. There were several defensive breakdowns and quarterback Charles Dowdell tossed two interceptions. Penalties erased a Josh Ferguson interception and a Trevor Kennedy touchdown reception.
It added up to a 31-18 halftime deficit that Spokane erased in the first seven minutes of the third quarter. Kennedy scored from 3 yards out and Carl Sims hauled in a 21-yard touchdown pass to give Spokane a 32-31 lead.
“We were kind of lackluster in the first half,” Dowdell said. “In the second half, we woke up and played like the championship team we want to be.”
Tri-Cities went back on top 34-32 on Bobby Zalud’s impressive 54-yard field goal and again, 42-40, on Patrick McCain’s touchdown pass to Akeem Foster.
Kennedy’s 6-yard TD run gave Spokane the lead for good, 46-42, late in the third quarter. Linebacker Nick Haag stripped the ball loose from receiver Dejuan Miller and Spokane recovered, leading to another Kennedy touchdown run that pushed the Empire’s advantage to 53-42.
Tri-Cities pulled within three and added another point on a rouge when Kennedy wasn’t able to get out of the end zone on a muffed kick return.
Spokane’s defense came up with another huge turnover. Defensive back Tyree Robinson pulled down an interception in traffic in the back of the end zone with 3:33 left, appearing to surprise players from both teams.
“Me and my defensive teammates knew our backs were against the wall and we had to make a play for the offense,” Robinson said. “They were holding us up. When I caught it, I started running and I looked at my teammates and they were just jumping up and down.”
Spokane converted on fourth-and-5 when Dowdell zipped a 10-yard pass to Sims. Dowdell found Sims again for 8 yards and Kennedy sealed it with a 3-yard run on fourth-and-1 from the Fever 21.
“That just shows the kind of team we are. When things don’t go well we come around for each other,” Dowdell said. “When I’m not having my best game, it’s good to have weapons around me like the offensive line, the receivers and Kennedy.
“The fourth-down conversions were huge. As an offense it’s good to have the ball in our hands and be in control of our destiny.”
Kennedy, who leads the Indoor Football League in touchdowns, added five more against the Fever. He ran for 119 yards on 19 attempts. Shackleford said he’s received a few inquiries from NFL teams about Kennedy so “we’re going to use him as long as we have him.”
Dowdell passed for 189 yards and four touchdowns to four different receivers. Sims hauled in 10 catches for 112 yards.
Subscribe to The Spokesman-Review’s sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.