INDOOR FOOTBALL: Axemen fall to Tri-Cities, 51-50, as last-second field goal attempt blocked
BEMIDJI -- Bemidji Axemen kicker Josiah Powell had his 33-yard field goal blocked with 16 seconds remaining and the Tri-Cities Fever escaped with a 51-50 win in Indoor Football League action Saturday at the Sanford Center.
The decision to kick the field goal came after three timeouts -- two by the Axemen (5-5) and one by the Fever (4-6). Bemidji had appeared to be ready to go for a fourth and four conversion before a Tri-Cities timeout was called.
“We were fully prepared to go for it,” Bemidji head coach Robert Fuller said. “That is how tough of a decision it was. It should have been an easy field goal, but we were not blocking very well tonight.”
Powell made a 47-yard field goal earlier in the game.
Tri-Cities took the lead with 55 seconds left in the game.
The Fever climbed within one point on the second effort of running back Brandon Wilson’s three-yard touchdown run with 54 seconds left and opted to go for a two-point conversion that was successful on a shovel pass from quarterback Houston Lillard to Steven Whitehead to take the late lead at 51-50.
After trailing for nearly all of the first three quarters, Tri-Cities quickly erased a 43-30 deficit early in the fourth quarter. Lillard connected with Harry Peoples on the first play of the quarter and found Jackie Chambers for another touchdown just minutes later to tie the game.
“It was a devastating loss,” Fuller said. “We left a lot of points on the board and it was frustrating. Ultimately, that was what cost us the football game.”
The Axemen led 27-18 with less than a minute left in the first half, but Lillard recovered a bobbled snap, avoided two sacks, and found Whitehead for his second touchdown of the quarter to trim the deficit to 27-24 at the break.
Axemen quarterback Cody Kirby did damage with both his arm and his legs in the first half as he threw a pair of touchdowns in the first quarter before running in two one-yard scores in the second quarter.
The Fever struck first with a 41-yard field goal from Brady Beeson in the game’s opening minutes, but the lead was lost and never regained after a touchdown pass from Kirby to Ryan Balentine with 8:53 left in the first quarter.
The long field goal was the lone bright spot for Beeson and the Tri-Cities kicking game as the team was haunted by missed field goals, extra points, and failed two-point conversions for the rest of the night.
Bemidji played most of the second half without offensive lineman Josh Whitebird, forcing defensive lineman Jordan Morgan to step in and play offense.
“That’s just Jordan’s mentality,” Fuller said. “He is one of our best defensive lineman, so him having to step in and play offense really hurt us on both sides of the football.”
Despite giving up 51 points, Bemidji’s defense stepped up with two big turnovers in its own end zone. In the first half, it was an interception from Adam Lucas, while in the second half Ceasar Rodriguez recovered a fumble in the end zone to prevent Tri-Cities from cutting into a one-possession lead.
“Coming up with those big defensive stops is what allowed us to keep the lead when the offense was faltering,” Fuller said. “Unfortunately, we needed one or two more.”
Kirby finished the game completing 19 of his 30 passes for 234 yards and five touchdowns to go with his two rushing touchdowns.
His favorite target was Balentine, who hauled in ten passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns in the absence of Nick Truesdell -- who missed the game due to an upcoming workout with the Green Bay Packers next week.
Lillard matched Kirby’s five touchdowns and added 226 yards on 19-of-38 passing while connecting with Chambers nine times for 95 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Bemidji’s task to get back above the .500 mark will not be an easy one as it will travel to take on undefeated Sioux Falls (9-0) next Saturday.
Fever 51, Axemen 50
Tri-Cities 10 14 6 21 -- 51
Bemidji 14 13 16 7 -- 50
Tri- Beeson 41-field goal. 12:41.
Bem- Balentine 19-pass from Kirby. PAT, Powell kick, 8:53.
Tri- Chambers 31-pass from Lillard. PAT, Beeson kick, 8:03.
Bem- Jarboe 5-pass from Kirby. PAT, Powell kick, 4:45.
Bem- Kirby 1-run. PAT, Powell kick, 6:23.
Tri- Whitehead 33-pass from Lillard. 2-point conversion, 6:08.
Bem- Kirby 1-run. PAT, Powell kick blocked, 2:01.
Tri- Whitehead 7-pass from Lillard. 2-point conversion failed, :18.
Bem- Matthews Jr. 33-pass from Kirby. PAT, Powell kick, 12:39.
Tri- Lillard 3-run. PAT, Beeson kick no good, 9:48.
Bem- Powell 47-field goal. 6:57.
Bem- Browder 14-pass from Kirby. PAT, Powell kick no good, 1:19.
Tri- Peoples 14-pass from Lillard. PAT, Beeson kick, 14:55.
Tri- Chambers 9-pass from Lillard. PAT, Beeson kick no good, 11:52.
Bem- Balentine 25-pass from Kirby. PAT, Powell kick, 10:06.
Tri- Wilson 3-run. 2-point conversion, :54.