A RIVALRY IS OFFICIALLY BORN AS CHICAGO EDGES ATLANTA, 27-24
(ATLANTA, GA. – Tuesday, April 14, 2015)
When the LFL re-structured its conferences and added more games between each of the teams, with its tagline of ‘More Games. More Rivalries’, it could not have foreseen how true the line would become when discussing Chicago vs Atlanta. Even in the minutes following Atlanta’s 24-18 loss in the 2014 Legends Cup to Chicago, Atlanta safety Jenny Mac and quarterback Dakota Hughes are seen in a photo which they carefully arrange in two colorful words, FUCK CHI.
Even in pre-game warm-ups, Atlanta Quarterback Dakota Hughes was warming up as Chicago’s Alli Alberts appears to accidentally blindside her as she was running a pass pattern. After the hit, the ‘Rookie of the Year’ showed she is no longer a rookie as she stood up to Alberts and made her back away, of course that ignited the match that was destined to be lit on this night.
In the off-season an animosity between the two continued to build as reports of surfaced of Chicago head coach Keith Hac’s dislike for Atlanta head coach Dane Robinson because he was awarded the 2014 ‘Coach of the Year’, when Hac felt he deserved the award. Between feuding players and coaches, the scene was set for perhaps the most memorable season-opener in LFL history on Saturday, April 11 in Atlanta.
While many analysts had predicted a high-scoring game, the 1st quarter was anything but, headlined by a pair of under-estimated defenses, as much of the talk when it comes to Atlanta vs Chicago revolves around their offenses. At the end of the first 10 minutes of play, the score was 0-0 as Chicago mounted an 8 play 26 yard drive only to turn it over on downs and as did Atlanta, going only 7 yards on 4 downs.
Chicago did mount the first scoring drive of the game early in the 2nd quarter when Heather ‘Rockstar’ Furr found Alli Alberts for a 6 yard touchdown pass, to take a 7-0 lead. The Furr touchdown pass was one of only 7 pass attempts by Furr all-night, more on that later. The Steam offense did answer by mounting a drive from its own 15 yard line to the Chicago 12 yard line, only to turn it over on downs. It was at that point, when The Factory (Arena at Gwinnett Center) crowd started to become a little restless as Chicago took over.
On the ensuing play, Chicago center Jamie Barwick who was filling in for All-Fantasy center Hallie Jiskra flew a shotgun snap well over Furr’s head and into the end-zone. Lucky for Chicago that Furr was able to jump on the ball, but was touched in the end zone, resulting in a Atlanta safety to cut the Chicago lead to 7–2. The safety gave the Atlanta hopefuls a sense of a victory over Goliath being possible. It also ignited the Atlanta offense, which mounted the most impressive drive of the night with a 13 play 35 yard scoring drive which was capped by a Jessi Locklear 2 yard touchdown to give Atlanta a 9-7 lead, going into halftime.
A striking difference inside Chicago’s locker-room at halftime was a lack of yelling and panic, it felt as if we’ve been here before and we will find a way to win. That sense of confidence showed early in the 3rd Quarter as Chicago’s offense put together a 6 play 48 yard scoring drive, when Furr piled into the end zone and Chicago took over the lead, 13-9. The drive included 4 Furr rushing attempts, as Furr has developed more into a Wildcat Tim Tebow type of Quarterback vs a traditional pocket passer like Atlanta’s Dakota Hughes.
Demonstrating its quick-strike offense and reminding fans that quarterbacks throw the ball, Dakota Hughes engineered a three play drive that included a 26 yard touchdown dart to Jodie Nettles and Atlanta again took the lead at 15-13. Going into the 4th Quarter, the game turned into a heavyweight bout, literally, as the teams exchanged some on the field blows and hard hits. Chicago, not one to shy away from physicality, re-asserted itself with a championship-team like 7 play 35 yard. drive, ending with a 5 yard Furr to Nneka Nwani touchdown pass. the score was brilliantly set up as Chicago rushed 6 of the 7 plays, ultimately setting up the Atlanta defense for the tight end release play giving Chicago a 21-15 lead.
After the Chicago score the pressured reverted back to the 20yr old Hughes and the Atlanta offense, Hughes completed two straight long pass plays with the first being a 18 yard pass to Coco Montgomery and the second being a 13 yard pass to Ziegler, advancing the ball to the Chicago 4 yard line. Then the unexplainable happened, veteran running back Nas Johnson was replaced by rookie Jessi Locklear who lost 5 yards on her first carry and fumbled on her second carry. This decision to play an untested rookie in a key sequence of the game would be one of two fatal mistakes the Atlanta coaching staff would make on this night.
Now with only 5:00 minutes remaining in the game with a 21-15 lead, Chicago was content on keeping their game-plan in place which would call for more of the Ferrari on the ground. The Ferrari acted more like an F-150 battering Atlanta defenders, in true legendary running back form, Harris simply wore down the defense as the game went on. The drive appeared to be the final nail the coffin of Atlanta when Harris took a toss left in from 6 yards out to give Chicago a commanding 27-17 lead with only 3:00 minutes remaining in the game.
Hughes & Co., now known simply as the ‘Cardiac Kids’ for their late game heroics, (flashback to Atlanta vs Jacksonville in 2014), once again kept their cool and marched down the field on a 6 play scoring drive that only took 1:30, bring the nail-bitter game to 27-24. Hughes looked like a seasoned franchise quarterback, engineering a flawless 2 minute offense attack.
With a 1:30 remaining, the obvious coaching strategy was to kick an onside kick. Despite having a timeout remaining, the math simply did not work to Atlanta’s favor to attempt to line-up its defense against Chicago’s offense and hope for quick 4 downs. As Chicago was sending in its hands-team to prepare for the inevitable onside kick, Atlanta’s coaching staff made its second and final fatal coaching mistake. Head coach Robinson elected to play defense and not onside kick. You did not have to be an MIT graduate to realize there was simply not enough time, even with a timeout, considering the LFL has a :35 play clock, all Chicago would have to do was run out the clock.
The Bliss did just that, with its victory formation, Furr took three knees and that was it. One of the best opening games in league history, ended with perhaps one of the most bone-headed coaching calls LFL fans will ever see.
While this was only one of three match-ups between Atlanta and Chicago, it certainly appeared as though it was Atlanta best chance at beating the champs.
Atlanta will not have long to lick their wounds as they travel to Omaha for a battle with a relatively new and unknown Heart roster on Saturday, April 18. Chicago will nurse a few injuries and prepare for its home-opener on April 25, also vs Omaha.
Chicago’s primary concern remains the one-sided offensive attack, which on this night included only 7 pass attempts (only one of which over 5 yards), 28 rushing attempts, 11 of which came from Harris and another 11 from Furr. The question remains, can you continue to win without a quarterback as defenses adjust to your run scheme, which Atlanta did for most of the night, perhaps better than any other teams previously.
Round 2 and Round 3 of this heavyweight bout will be in Chicago, with the next one being Sunday, May 10, the LFL’s first-ever Sunday afternoon outside stadium game.
|Passing Yards (NET)||31||137|
|Total Offense Plays-Yards||35-176||42-195|
Chicago Bliss Individual Stats
Atlanta Steam Individual Stats