(CHICAGO, IL.) It was a balmy and humid night in Chicago as two of the LFL’s premiere teams would meet, to see who will represent the Eastern Conference in Legends Cup 2018 vs. the Austin Acoustic.

The Nashville Knights had received much of the headlines dating back to a controversial off-season that saw the team poach much of the Seattle Mist championship roster, including its head coach. While the Chicago Bliss have kept somewhat under-the-radar, making no big splashes in free-agency and developing institutional talent.

As the 2018 season began, you could instantly see Nashville and Chicago were the two elite teams and destined to meet in the Eastern Conference Championship. Seconds ticked off the Western Conference Championship and the Cinderella team of the 2018 season, the Austin Acoustic advanced to Legends Cup 2018. But if you asked LFL analysts, they would say, it did not matter who won the Western Conference. The winner of the Eastern Conference Championship was going to be the definitive favorite to win it all.

The tension at Toyota Park stadium could be cut with a knife as a tense moment kicked-off the game when both head coaches Danika Brace and Keith Hac, who were adversarial during the season, did not even make eye-contact during their pre-game interview.

Hac had petitioned the league to place sanctions on the Knights, limiting them to a maximum number of free-agent signings. Ultimately, the league did envoke the free-agent policy, greatly under-cutting the Knights roster of veteran talent.

All of this tension would be the cloud above this game. A game that would feature the league’s best defense in Chicago versus the league’s best offense in Nashville.

In the first half, it was all defense for both teams. While both defenses bent at times, neither broke, not yielding a single first-half point. Primarily because of the play of Kristin Morrison and Alli Alberts of Chicago and Jade Randle of Nashville. Uncharacteristically, last season’s Legends Cup championship Quarterback KK Matheny also threw for a pair of first-half interceptions, which greatly impacted Nashville. For Chicago’s offense, it was all first-year starting Running Back Javell Thompson carrying 6 times for 36 yards. ‘Rookie of the Year’ Nene Gleaves would respond for Nashville on the ground with 4 touches for 33 yards.

The humid night was already wearing on a Nashville roster that played its starters on both sides of the ball, you could see the exhaustion on their faces as the left the field at halftime. Chicago who came into the game extremely confident, also wavered from that confidence, never having faced Nashville prior and realizing they were in a dogfight.

At halftime, the typical yells of Keith Hac could be heard in the Bliss locker room while the Knights locker room was much quieter and more tactical.

The 3rd quarter started much like the 1st half, a lot of defense and both offenses being overwhelmed at times. Chicago with an unlikely hero posted the game’s first touchdown, Aussie Quincy Hewitt hauling in an improbable 15 yd touchdown reception from fellow Aussie and best-friend, Jayne Caldwell, giving Chicago a 6-0 lead.

The Chicago crowd came to life, Nashville knew it had to keep pace. Matheny responded, guiding a 4 play 35-yard scoring drive capped with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Jade Randle, a play in which Matheny had to improvise after her protection broke down. The Knights offense was also plagued through most of the night by very poor play by Center Nicole Phillips, who routinely snapped the ball well over Matheny’s head or at her feet.

Going into the final 10 minutes of play (4th Quarter), it was evident this would truly be a clash of the titans. Both defenses again tightened up, not allowing any scoring until the final 22 seconds of play. It would be Chicago’s Thompson who ran in a 1-yard touchdown to extend Chicago’s lead to 12-6 with only twenty-two seconds remaining.

Now offensive coordinator Chris Michaelson and quarterback KK Matheny found themselves in a position to have to drive the length of the field in only twenty-two seconds, against arguably the best defense in LFL history.

Matheny’s first pass would be dropped by the normally sure-handed Danielle Hawkins. However, the 5’2 champion Quarterback would find rookie-standout Whitney Palmer on the following play for a 20-yard completion and a Nashville timeout. Now with five seconds remaining, Nashville would have one more opportunity at a game-tying touchdown, with the opportunity to win with an extra point conversion. As Matheny fielded yet another poor snap from Center Phillips, Matheny launched the errant pass that would land in the hands of former Defensive Player of the Year Kristin Morrison, who proceeded to return the pick 6 and what many thought – would advance Chicago to yet another Legends Cup. That would not be the case, at least not yet. As a Chicago encroachment penalty would negate Morrison’s athletic play.

The Chicago penalty now provided time for one more play and advanced the ball to Chicago’s 10-yard line. Did Matheny have some magic left in her arm? As Matheny dropped back to pass, Dominique Malloy would flash open, but Matheny threw it late and right into the arms of Safety All Alberts who closed-in quickly on the pass. Much like a Hollywood-movie, the longtime Bliss Safety playing in her final game in Chicago, would return the walk-off pick 6 and win it for the Bliss.

The look of devastation would be on the face of Nashville players as they walked off the field in disbelief while the champagne poured once again for Chicago. The Bliss was headed to Austin to play in Legends Cup 2018 with what many believe is an average Quarterback and a very average offense, but then again, championships are won by defense. Chicago’s defense held a Nashville offense that averaged 67 points in the regular season, would post only 6 points in the biggest game of their season.

Nashville now has an entire off-season to gauge which of its high-powered free agent signings would return in 2019. For Chicago, with a Legends Cup win, they can become the winningest franchise in LFL history.

Nashville Chicago
Score 6 18
First Downs 9 8
Rushes-Yards (Net) 19-86 21-66
Passing Yards (Net) 119 94
Passes Att-Comp-Int 22-9-3 14-8-0
Total Offense Plays-Yards 41-205 35-160
Fumble Returns-Yards 0-0 0-0
Kickoff Returns-Yards 0-0 0-0
Interception Returns-Yards 0-0 3-47
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 1-1
Penalties-Yards 3-47 2-10
Possession Time 21:21 18:39
Third-Down Conversions 1/8 2/8
Fourth-Down Conversions 2/5 2/5
Red-Zone Scores-Chances 1/3 1/3