By: Andrew Kramer (LFL360.com)
Photo: Joe Petro/LFL PHOTOS
We are now just hours away from another battle between the Philadelphia Passion and Tampa Breeze. And for the second straight year, a Lingerie Bowl berth is on the line as they square off in the Eastern Conference playoff Sunday at 4PM ET live on MTV2.
Both teams had very different journeys to get where they are today. Philadelphia cruised through their competition all season long, outscoring their opponents by a total of 176 points. With the exception of several moments in the first half of their game against the Baltimore Charm, the Passion were in control of every game they played.
Tampa had to work a little harder for their victories. They did have a blowout win in Toronto, and were on the wrong end of one in Philly, but their other two W’s were by a total of four points. Both of those games were decided in the final minutes as well, so clearly, they could have gone either way.
But at this point in the season it doesn’t matter how you got here, all that matters is that you’re here. Moments after the Breeze defeated the Orlando Fantasy and clinched their playoff berth, both Philly and Tampa began preparations for their fifth meeting in the past three seasons.
The Passion have an edge. They haven’t lost a single one of their games to Tampa, compiling a 4-0 lifetime record, including a 48-0 victory back in September. Don’t expect Passion Head Coach Chandler Brown to let his team ease up at all just because of that stat, however.
“The teams a million percent better that we’ll be playing against,” Brown says, referring to his opponents this weekend. “They’ve got all their players back and they have arguably the best player in the league. We know they’ll be coming out to play. At the end of the day, no matter how many times we we’ve beaten them, the score will be 0-0 at the start of the game and there will be 34 minutes to play. Our approach in this game means everything and we have to go out and play well for 34 minutes in order to leave with a win”
“Everyone grows,” Passion OL Lauren La Bella says, “so, of course, they’ve learned from all their mistakes and they have a completely different team. I don’t even look at that last team we beat as Tampa because they didn’t play a Tampa game, so we have a whole new game.”
Passion RB Marirose Roach also knows not to put too much emphasis on the past. “Every game we play is a new game. The 4-0 thing is a lot of hype. I tell myself that any given Sunday you can go up against an opponent that may be an underdog and they can play like champions. The last time we faced them they had some key players missing so it’s safe to say they’re going to have a different game plan. When we step on the field, we’re prepared for whatever comes our way.”
Roach and her teammates will indeed have to form a new strategy. Tampa will literally be putting a new group on the field Sunday. Starters KK Matheny, Tiffani Powers, Tracy Willmer and Bryn Renda all missed the last game when these two teams met. Add them to the mix with Liz Gorman and the numerous other skilled players the Breeze throw at you, and the Passion no doubt will have their work cut out for them.
The Breeze have a tough challenge as well, but their game plan seems pretty simple…stop Roach. That’s, of course, much easier said than done, but Tampa believes if they can limit MR’s production, they’re in great position to pull out the win.
“If we can stop Roach, we have all the confidence in the world,” Breeze Head Coach Yo Murphy says. “Go back to the game earlier this season. Take out Roach’s production (103 yards rushing/5 touchdowns) and obviously it’s a different ball game. You can’t disregard their other players, because they have other players that can make plays, but for them, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. They give her the ball and they’ve been successful. Our plan is to make them go to Plan B or even Plan C and see what happens.”
“We’re 100% sure if you shut (Roach) down, you shut down the team. Bottom line,” Gorman adds. “I love Marirose Roach. I think she’s an amazing person and an amazing player, but I do think they are a team built around one player. I know they have many talented players, but they rely heavily on their running game.”
Completely shutting down Roach may be a nearly impossible task. It would almost be like trying to slow down a runaway train with your bare hands. But the Breeze appear to have something up their sleeves.
“We’re doing something completely different,” Matheny says. “I have full confidence in our defense’s ability to minimize her production. We know we’re not going to completely stop her, but hopefully we can slow her down and stop her from putting points on the board. If we can slow her down and get our offense rolling we’re confident we can come away with this win.”
Stopping Roach does not guarantee a Breeze victory as the Passion roster is filled from top to bottom with talented players, just as beating Tampa four consecutive times doesn’t mean Philadelphia is automatically in line for a fifth win over them, as the Breeze, too, have a dominant team. It all comes down to execution on game day, and we’ll find out soon enough how things play out.
“We’re so eager to get on the field,” Roach says. “It’s like a ticking time bomb trying to maintain our calm and focus. We’ve been waiting so long, so we’re just eager to get out there and play.”
“They’re great competition and this is the reason I play football,” Matheny says, “for games like this. “It’s going to be a big stage and I’m looking forward to stepping up to the challenge.”
“Our goal is to make it 5-0 against them,” Passion LB/OL Heather Roy says. “Go hard and play every play like it’s our last. It’s burning inside. We just want it. It’s in our hearts.”
“I believe that people underestimate us,” Gorman adds. “I want to win this game more than any other one in my career.”
We can go back-and-forth all day long, but let’s save some action for the field, because in the end, that’s where the real talking is done.