By Jim Wallin
Photos: Joe Petro, Mark Rigney/LFL PHOTOS
MEXICO CITY (May 5, 2012/LFL360.com) – Buoyed by a strong all-around team effort, including Game MVP performances by quarterbacks Nikki Johnson and Heather Furr, the Western Conference convincingly captured a historic 37-7 win over the Eastern Conference before an enthusiastic crowd at the iconic Palacio de los Deportes.
Johnson (4/8, 59 YDS., 2 TD, INT) led several impressive drives, showing flashes of brilliance and resourcefulness to help the West secure the conference’s first-ever All-Fantasy Game win, while Furr (Offense: 1/2, 23 TOTAL YDS., 2 TD, INT — Defense: 1 Fum. Recovery), the 2010-11 LFL MVP, made her impact on both sides of the ball.
The turning point in what was an evenly-matched game occurred in the final six minutes of the first half, as the West forced three turnovers and capitalized twice to turn a 7-6 deficit into an 18-7 halftime advantage. First, Kam Warner intercepted East QB Stacy Moon (4/15, 64 YDS., TD, 5 INT) at the one-yard-line, setting up an impressive drive that resulted in Johnson connecting with WR Cassandra Strickland on a 17-yard touchdown strike to regain the lead. Then, on the heels of another interception, this time by S Jessica Hopkins, Johnson took matters into her own hands, rushing for a 10-yard touchdown to bury the opponents in a multiple possession deficit.
Tempers flared between coaches moments into the second half, as West Head Coach Tony Nguyen took exception to the East’s Liz Gorman’s kickoff sailing out of bounds, targeting East Head Coach Chandler Brown in a brief on-field physical altercation that resulted in offsetting penalties.
Regardless of any extracurricular activities, the second half showcased two of the league’s rising stars, in West RB ChrisDell Harris (7 ATT., 60 YDS, TD) and East RB Tamar Fennell (10 ATT., 75 YDS.), as the two speedsters quickly proved that they belong among the very best in the game, making strong All-Fantasy Game MVP bids. Another strong performance was turned in by the East’s Lauran Ziegler (5 ATT., 26 YDS., 36 TOTAL YDS.).
Both teams suffered their fair share of injuries as well, with the West losing starting CB Ericka Smith very early in the contest due to a lower-body injury and, later, Moon, who was apparently knocked out by a violent blow delivered by DE Tessa Barrera. It is unclear if the league office has reviewed the play or if disciplinary action will be taken.
Defensively, the West stood tall most of the night, as the combination of Barrera, Hopkins (1 INT.), Warner (1 INT), Furr (1 Fumble Recov.), Harris (1 INT), Monique Gaxiola, Ogom Chijindu (1 INT) Briawna Shultz and Whitney Meierotto successfully kept the potentially explosive East offense out of the end zone. Gaxiola set the tone early, with multiple pass defenses on the opening drive, while Chijindu and Meierotto largely shut down the duo of Paronish and WR Taylor Thompson for most of the evening.
Perhaps playing on a different level than her East teammates, as least statistically in this contest, was Ziegler, who picked off two errant passes, cementing her reputation as the most dangerous pass defender in the league.
The scoring commenced nearly three-minutes into the game, as Furr connected with TE Cydney Froelich for a 13-yard touchdown to give the West an early 6-0 advantage.
But the East countered on their next possession, as QB Stacy Moon and WR Whitney Paronish largely engineered an effective three-play drive, culminating in a 27-yard strike in what would ultimately give their team what would prove to be its only lead, 7-6.
Despite outpacing the West in rushing yards, total yards and first downs, the East failed to convert one fourth down conversion and victimized themselves by committing six turnovers.
The series now shifts to Australia, as the Eastern and Western Conferences chase global supremacy on the Gold Coast, with games in Brisbane (June 2) and Sydney (June 9).
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