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Empire win opener 60-51 over Tri-Cities

By Ben Reynolds Correspondent

KENNEWICK, Wash. – The rivalry begins…again.

The Tri-Cities and Spokane renewed their rivalry on turf Saturday night as the Empire pulled out a hotly-contested 60-51 victory at the Toyota Center.

While the league may be different and Spokane is now called the Empire those details didn’t seem to matter as the teams battled back and forth in the first of four meetings this season.

“I have a lot of great memories down here,” said Empire coach Adam Shackleford, who coached the Fever the previous six seasons. “There were a lot of mistakes tonight; I think it was our veterans that were the difference.”

The rivalry continues when the Fever visits Spokane for the first time on March 29.

Spokane used a late-fourth quarter charge to pull away from the Fever, who continued to battle back after trailing by as many as 17 points in the first half. The Empire scored back-to-back touchdowns on passes from Charles Dowdell, the first a nifty catch by JJ Hayes as the Empire took a 60-45 lead with 4:56 left in the game.

Dowell finished the night with seven passing touchdowns and another rushing.

“These were two young teams battling,” Shackleford said. “We were finally able to put a few things together there in the fourth quarter.”

The Empire had control most of the night, however, two second-half fumbles allowed the Fever to get back in the game. The Fever capitalized on the second fumble to tie the game at 39 with 13:48 left in the game. On fourth-down Pat McCain hit Akeem Foster in the back of the endzone.

The Empire got off to quick start thanks to back-to-back turnovers by the Fever on its first two possession of the game. On the first play of the game, Fever quarterback Hunter Wanket lost his grip on the ball and Dominique Duster recovered. Two plays later, Dowdell scampered in on an 8-yard keeper just 27 seconds into the game.

On the Fever’s next possession, a high snap ended a promising drive for the Fever. The Empire recovered and took advantage of the short field, capped by a 5-yard touchdown reception by JJ Hayes from Dowdell to push the margin to 13-0.

Dowdell led the Empire offense to touchdowns on its first four drives, and completed 7 of 11 first-half passes for 68 yards and three touchdowns.

The Fever, down 27-10, scored the final 10 points of the first half to cut the margin to one possession at halftime.

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