By: Jim Wallin (LFL360.com)
TAMPA, FL – The Tampa Breeze and Game MVP Adrian Purnell (2 catches,45 yards, 2 TD) inflicted severe turbulence on the Cleveland defense most of the evening, ultimately forcing the visiting Crush into a late holding pattern before ultimately crashing the visitors’ hopes of a first-ever win into the ground with seconds remaining to propel the home team to much-needed 31-29 victory.
After a nearly heart-stopping sequence of second-half scoring between the two inter-conference foes, Tampa’s defense held firm on a Marija “The Enforcer” Condric’s (12 rushes,83 yards, 1 TD) two-point conversion rushing attempt, negating the impact of Cleveland WR Theresa Petruziello’s third touchdown of the evening with mere seconds remaining in what proved to be the play of the game.
The Breeze, aided by a late Tiffani Powers red zone touchdown run and subsequent one-point conversion by RB/WR Liz Gorman, appeared to have the contest wrapped up with 30 seconds remaining after an extremely physical and competitive second half.
But Cleveland’s Petruziello (3 catches, 77 yards, 3 TD) used great awareness to to not tighten the contest minutes earlier, as she grabbed a deflected pass from QB Abbie Sullivan (8-15, 101 yards, 3 TD) with 2:30 remaining in the contest to bring the visitors to within one point, but also slipped behind the talented Breeze secondary in a do-or-die scenario for a touchdown to once again give the Crush an opportunity to tie the game.
After the two teams respectively traded unsuccessful opening drives, Breeze QB K.K. Matheny (4-11, 58 yards, 2 TD) wasted no time making her mark, connecting on a deep 38-yard pattern to Purnell, pushing Tampa to an 8-0 advantage. Cleveland countered quickly, as Sullivan led a swift offensive, culminating in a powerful plunge by Condric, cutting the lead to 8-7 and lifting the visitors’ prospects. However, whatever optimism may have been derived from that drive was ultimately extinguished on the final play on the half, as Matheny ‘s throwing precision was on full display, specifically in a tactical strike to Purnell to lift the hosts to a 16-7 halftime lead.
The two teams exchanged blows, literally and figuratively, throughout the night as Cleveland’s Tamar Fennell (1 rush/7 yards) was ejected late in the first half after becoming entangled in a physical altercation with Tampa’s Julie Rolfe (1 catch/7 yards).
Tampa’s Gorman engineered another impactful performance, (2 rushes/12 yards, 47 total yards, 8 solo tackles) while Petruziello and Aisha Brown led the Crush on defense with four tackles apiece.
Cleveland hosts Philadelphia next weekend in a must-win contest for the Crush while Tampa awaits a late-season home date with Orlando, with the strong likelihood of a playoff berth hanging in the balance of that contest.
However, at least for tonight, the Breeze effectively kept their season alive and will almost certainly have their future directly tied to the success of their next performance.
Photos courtesy of Joe Petro, LFL National Director of Photography, Randy Settle, Jonathan Lorentz and Don Montague, Official Photographer of the Tampa Breeze.
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