THE GLASS SLIPPER DOES NOT FIT FOR ATLANTA, AS SEATTLE REIGNS 38-28 IN LEGENDS CUP 2017
(LOS ANGELES, CA) The most entertaining, intensely battled and emotionally-driven Legends Cup in history, came down to a final drive, in fact a 4th & 1. To set the stage, this Legends Cup would feature the best Quarterback match-up in the game’s history, as Atlanta’s 4th year Quarterback Dakota Hughes faced a longtime veteran, Seattle’s KK Matheny, who had won a Legends Cup championship in 2014.
Each team took very different paths to the big-game, Atlanta trying to field athletes that specifically could get them over the hump of beating the Chicago Bliss while Seattle wondered what its future would be like without its most dominant player, Danika Brace.
Boxer Mohammed Ali had a great saying and very appropriate for both of these two teams offseasons, “A fight is won or lost, well before I dance under the lights”. Meaning, your fate is often decided well before the game is played, in the LFL that fate is determined in the off-season.
In the offseason, Atlanta not only retained its key veterans but had the strongest rookie class of any LFL team, adding eventual ‘Rookie of the Year’ nominee Jessica Salazar who proved to be valuable on both sides of the ball, corners Quilla Franklin and Amber Clark, the latter becoming the best cover corner in the league as well as Citric Fox-Birdwell, a hard-nosed tackling safety.
Seattle had to replace the irreplaceable, Danika Brace, the tall task fell on the shoulders of Chris Michaelson, the ‘Hall of Fame’ coach hit the free-agent market and landed a trio of difference-makers in Dallas Desire free-agents Michelle Angel, Danielle Hawkins and the most impactful free-agent pick-up of 2017, Jade Randle. While the Mist coasted through its regular season with an undefeated run, its free-agents specifically Randle had a tough time. Randle struggled to connect with Quarterback KK Matheny and was often moved around various defensive positions, keep in mind, we are talking about 2016’s League MVP. It wasn’t until the final regular season game and the Western Conference Championship until Randle became Randle, re-establishing herself as a dominant receiver and an even more destructive force on the defensive side of the ball.
Being a strong sports book favorite of 7 points, Seattle was definitively the favorite coming into Legends Cup 2017. Atlanta was riding the high of finally beating the Chicago Bliss en route to a Eastern Conference championship, the concern would be, was the Eastern Conference championship, the Legends Cup for the Steam?
The tone was set very early, only 15 seconds into the game, KK Matheny and Jade Randle, silenced critics that said, there was no chemistry between the 7yr Quarterback and 2nd yr Wide Receiver, as the pair connected on a 35 yard touchdown. The most impressive aspect of it, being Randle’s YAC, ‘yards after the catch’ that saw Randle throw off Atlanta defenders like rag dolls, even All-Fantasy safety Adrian Purnell.
Atlanta did answer later in the 1st Quarter with an impressive 6 play 35 yard drive, capped by the rookie, Jessica Salazar spinning her way through the Seattle defense and into the end zone with a 20 yard touchdown run. The Salazar score tied the game at 6-6. Surprisingly, Atlanta scored again prior to the end of the 1st Quarter when ‘Hall of Fame’ inductee Lauran Ziegler and Dakota Hughes connected on a 6yd touchdown pass to give Atlanta a 14-6 lead. The 2nd Quarter belonged to the Western Conference champs, as a pair of touchdown passes from Matheny first to Stevie Schnoor and the second to Randle, allowed Seattle to regain the lead 18-14, going into Halftime.
At Halftime, fans and viewers realized they were being treated to what a Legends Cup should be, competitive and fiercely fought. The locker rooms included what you would expect from Seattle, a Chris Michaelson tirade that tried to light a fire and in Atlanta’s locker-room, something more alarming if you were a Steam fan, a very calm environment, perhaps too calm. The concern being, was Atlanta content with just being in the game versus truly wanting to win the game. Again, was the Eastern Conference championship, enough of a milestone for the Steam?
That questions was answered in the 3rd Quarter as Atlanta mounted the most impressive drive of the game, a 9 play 35 yard drive that once again ended with a Salazar touchdown run, as Atlanta would regain the lead at 20-14.
Unlike Mayweather vs McGregor, this was an actual fight that would prove to go the distance, as Seattle would answer right back with a 3 play 35 yard drive on the back of its work-horse or should I say, The Bull, as Schnoor ran in a 12yd touchdown run, with Seattle re-taking the lead, 24-20.
Atlanta was not quite ready to throw in the towel, as this was in the eyes of many, a team of destiny, answering with another Hughes to Ziegler touchdown reception with yet another lead change, Atlanta being up 28-24.
As the final seconds of the 3rd Quarter tick-tocked off the clock, the 4th Quarter would be as you would want it to be as a fan, simply ‘A Battle’. Seattle flexed its muscle early, doing what LFL Color Commentator Bobby Hewko often says, ‘Dance with the one that got you here’, in Seattle’s case that would be The Bull and the run game. The speedster Dominique Malloy and Stevie Schnoor added a pair rushing touchdown in the 4th. Despite Seattle’s dominance in the 4th, the game still came down to a final drive. Atlanta’s defense, which became its strongest unit in the post-season, needed a stop to allow its offense a chance.
An Atlanta offense that was primed for a heroic drive earlier in the 4th when Hughes threw a pass off her back leg that sailed into the arms of Seattle safety Michelle Angel, who led in the league in interceptions in 2017.
With 1:58 remaining in the game, Seattle was in a position to win its 2nd Legends Cup championship in three years, if it could simply get a first down. On its first three plays, Seattle did what everyone in the arena expected, including Atlanta’s defense. The first play, Brittany Demery and Amber Clark keyed on Schnoor to tackle her for a 1 yard loss. When you dance with The Bull, sometimes you get the horns, that was the case on 2nd down as Schnoor tore off an 9 yard run. Now Seattle was 2 yard away from a Legends Cup championship. On 3rd down, again The Bull, but yet again Demery held her to a 1y yard run. So the entire 2017 season, came down to a 4th & 1.
With a 1st down, Seattle advances, with a stop, Atlanta’s offense gets one more chance. As once again everyone expected Schnoor to get the rock, a beautifully set up mis-direction play would see the ball end up in the belly of Dominique Malloy and Malloy delivered, picking up the 1st down and winning, Legends Cup 2017.
Immediately following the game, you could see the emotion on the faces of the Seattle veterans and younger plays who had yet to win a championship, long-time vet like Shea Norton who broke down in tears, Michelle Angel, Jade Randle and Danielle Hawkins who could not stop smiling as the confetti reigned down on their shoulders. Even head coach Chris Michaelson got choked up during his trophy presentation speech, realizing what the team just accomplished, despite the loss of its most dominant player.
Atlanta left the field dejected but in some ways encouraged, here’s a team who finally did the improbable, beat Chicago but more importantly was in a position at several points in Legends Cup 2017, to win it. Two gift-wrapped interceptions dropped, one by Ziegler and another by Clark, the latter could have been returned to the house for six. Either of those interceptions would have led to a completely different turnout. Nonetheless, do not be surprised if Atlanta becomes the favorite in 2018 to win it all, with its very impressive 2017 rookie class having an entire off-season under the system and returning key veterans still hungry for their first championship. Certainly Dakota Hughes does not want the stigma that plagued the Miami Dolphins great Quarterback Dan Marino, a great Quarterback, just could never win the big-game.
|Passing Yards (Net)||104||99|
|Total Offense Plays-Yards||42-155||36-199|