When all was said and done it came down to “heart”. Coach Tony and the Minnesota Valkyrie could walk out of the Resch Center in Green Bay,WI with their head’s held high as they ended up victorious, 28-25. It wasn’t always a thing of beauty for the Valkyrie in terms of execution (especially defensively) but they did enough to hold off the hard charging Chill, who were led by a very impressive QB in Anne Erler.
“Let’s Go! Let’s Go!”
Eventual MVP of the game Jana Skrtic pumped her team up prior to taking the field for the pregame stretching and warm ups. The intensity from both teams could be felt as early as walk throughs in the afternoon. That same intensity was mixed with some definite nerves and the fear of the unknown as both teams were about to experience their first LFL game, in a rivalry, in front of thousands at the arena, and millions on MTV2.
“This will be one moment you will always remember…your first game…our first game…go out there and execute and pick each other up. Let’s win this thing!”
Coach Tony’s speech to the Valkyrie just before the team took the field only added to the excitement of the players. Once at the curtain separating them from the battle field the two teams met, the tension and animosity in the air of the tunnel in the Resch Center could be cut with a knife as they waited to be introduced. Once the intro music started playing the competition began before the first whistle between the teams as the rallying cries from each attempted to be louder than the other.
Cydney Froelich kicked off the first game of the LFL season at just past 9 pm central standard time and a hard hitting, high scoring affair was set in motion. The Chill were stopped on their first possession after great tackles by Whitney Meierotto and a great deflection by Cydney Froelich caused a turnover on downs (LFL has no punting). The Valkyrie quickly made the Chill pay with a nice run by RB Lisa Bastien for a 1st down and an end around motion hand off to Meierotto who ran in a touchdown with 9:49 remaining in the 1st half. After an offensive pass interference call on a successful catch on the two point conversion fade route by Froelich, Valks ran the same exact play with the same result minus the penalty to make it 8-0 Minnesota.
After a 12 yard dump pass to Angela “Big Momma” Matthews for a touchdown and an Erler run for a 1pt conversion made it 8-7 Minnesota, the Valk offense began it’s impeccable execution all over again. Jana Skrtic’s fake hand off and Lisa Bastien’s acting led to even the referees being faked out and missing that Jana had run 15 yards down field with the ball and that Bastien didn’t have the ball at all. The refs attempted to place the ball where Bastien was tackled, only to almost be hit by Coach Tony’s challenge flag forcing them to review the play. After seeing Skrtic had the ball after all the right call was made, as well as an impression to all that the coaching staff of the Valkyrie had done some great work with Jana and the RB’s on their fake hand offs and play actions. The following play Bastien this time did take the ball and ran it in for a touchdown, followed by a failed 2 pt conversion from the 5 yard line, Valkyrie led 14-7 with 1:58 remaining in the 1st.
A great two-minute drill run by Anne Erler was capped off with a beautiful crossing route touchdown to Jessica Peyton with only 12 seconds left in the half cut the Valkyrie lead to 14-13. Minnesota’s offense still had something to say with a 14-13 lead and 12 seconds to play though, bringing back memories of the ’98 Vikings’ Cunningham to Moss connection. Skrtic hit Meierotto on a go route down the right sideline and Meierotto made a beautiful one handed grab that she amazingly was able to rip away from the Green Bay CB as they fell to the ground only 10 yards away from the end zone with 2 seconds to play in the half. That would be the final highlight of the half though as Skrtic’s final second pass went begging, leaving a frantic first half score of 14-13 Valkyrie.
“Get me one 4 n’out and we got this! They can’t stop us!”
Coach Tony was begging his defense in the halftime locker room to clamp down and contain the often scrambling, play extending and accurate out of the pocket passing Anne Erler after an impressive first half for the Chill QB. Coach Nguyen was very upset by a first half he felt the Valkyrie dominated offensively and had let some chances go to extend the small lead they had by failing to get defensive stops.
After a Jocelyn Bendijo return started the second half, Skrtic and the offense picked up right where they left off for the Valkyrie offense. Another perfectly executed fake hand off by Skrtic, this time on an end around motioning Meierotto, allowed the QB to fight into the end zone for the touchdown followed by a shovel pass to Bastien for the two point conversion. The lead was pushed to 22-13, and after 3 offensive plays yielding nothing more than a few yards the Chill were faced with a 4th down and Coach Tony’s half time wish seemed to be coming true. But then, as happens in athletic competitions, an elite athlete made a play that changed the game and would’ve been “the play” that would be remembered as the play that lead to the eventual win for the Chill.
After rolling out, Erler was hit and attempted to lateral it to her RB, it bounced back to the Valkyrie 1 yard line live, yet Valkyrie and Chill players started to stop playing assuming Erler was down prior to the fumble. Erler was the only player to play until the whistle (or lack there of), getting up, picking up the ball and then scampering through 4 to 5 Valkyrie missed tackles 47 yards to pay dirt. Just when it had seemed the Valkyrie were about to put distance between them and the Chill, Erler looked like she had swung all the momentum the Chill’s way.
To add to the sinking feeling in the Valkyrie’s stomachs, early in the next possession their star RB Lisa Bastien went down untouched after getting a hand off and partially tore her achilles tendon. The clock read 6:52 to play and the score was 22-19 Minnesota. After the huge play by Erler and now the injury to their lead running back, things were starting to stack up against the Valkyrie and the thousands of Chill fans in the Resch Center knew that possibly a stop here would give the Chill their chance at their first lead.
Skrtic earned her eventual MVP status in this drive though, Kellie Gillespie for a 10 yard TD stretching the Valkyrie lead to two possessions, 28-19 with only 6:11 to play. Green Bay wouldn’t quit, but the long scoring drive that burned up 4 minutes left them down 3 with 2 minutes to play and only one option of the “under 5 minute second half onside kick”. The kick went to the Valks, and after a 1st down rumbling run by RB Leekplay Paye, Skrtic only had to take a knee twice to run out the remainder of time in the first game of the LFL’s third season. The celebration started as Froelich and Meierotto exchanged an Aaron Rodger’s Title Belt Celebration at midfield, surely much to the shagrin of the Green Bay faithful in attendance.
The Valkyrie weren’t perfect, the game would’ve been over earlier with a few less miscues but for Coach Tony the win is what he wanted and the win is what he and the team got. The ball isn’t always going to bounce your way, injuries will happen, crowds will boo you, yet it is how a team responds to all of that adversity that decides who wins and who loses. Tonight the Valkyrie responded with heart, and after receiving the game ball from LFL Commissioner Mitchell Mortaza Coach Tony reminded them of that fact, “It’s all about heart and staying together. They got the breaks but we had the heart!”
The Valkyrie now look to get healthy and prepare for their showdown with two time LFL champion LA Temptation on October 14th in Minneapolis at the Target Center.
Photo courtesy of Joe Petro, LFL National Director of Photgraphy.