OMAHA’S HEART-BREAKING 1PT LOSS TO PITTSBURGH
(PITTSBURGH, PA. – June 10, 2017) Outside of the Chicago Bliss, the Eastern Conference has proven to be a closer race for the 2nd Playoff spot, than expected. The Atlanta Steam were tied with Omaha and had only a one-game lead over Pittsburgh heading into this game. Which is why this mid-season Eastern Conference match-up of Omaha Heart vs. Pittsburgh Rebellion proved to be so important as it relates to the Eastern Conference Playoff run.
However on this beautiful Spring night as the sun set alongside the Monongahela River, the Pittsburgh Rebellion were not really focused on the Playoffs, the Rebellion were simply seeking an assurance that the franchise was headed in the right direction. What better opportunity than a match-up versus the beatable Heart, despite Omaha trouncing the Pittsburgh earlier in the season 32-6. However, since that loss, Pittsburgh has started to gel offensively especially the play of quarterback Morgan Spencer has shown signs of life. The bad news, moments before kickoff the Rebellion received word of starting running back Sonia Osselborn would not be cleared due to a on-going ankle sprain. In the words of New England Patriots head coach, Bill Billchick, ‘Next Man Up’, that next ‘woman’ up was the 5’1 Astrid Cruz, ironically enough, a New England Liberty free-agent running back.
Cruz answered the call in a big way in the first half, rushing for 43 yards on just 7 carries, registering 2 touchdowns. The other offensive story was the play of Jolie Efezohae, who has been the most dominant receiver in the LFL, averaging an amazing 24 yards per catch in the first half.
Omaha once again stabled their passing game in the 1st half with Alex Drake only attempting 4 passes and completing 1, as well as throwing an interception. In the absence of starting running back Nikki Bernhardt, the Heart have really relied on the legs of Shaylnn Durham, who quietly racked up 31 first yards with an impressive 5.2 per carry average. The two Omaha touchdowns in the 1st half came from a 1yd Drake run and a 10 yard Rayna Holubar run.
It was refreshing to witness an entertaining and competitive Eastern Conference game through one half of play with Pittsburgh taking an unexpected 14 to 13 lead.
In the 2nd half, Omaha would finally pay the piper, as Alex Drake’s continued physical play caught up to her, Drake was knocked out of the game. Heart offensive coordinator Dontae Allen has been criticized for using the legs versus the arm of Drake through the first half of the season. As Drake went down, so did Omaha’s hopes of presenting the threat of an aerial attack. However, prior to leaving the game, Drake did manage an impressive touch pass over the Pittsburgh secondary and into the hands of Lindsey Howell for a 12 yard touchdown pass, to give Omaha a 20 to 14 lead in the 3rd quarter.
With Drake out and Howell not having the best resume at the quarterback position, it was no secret Omaha’s focus would be the run game. Knowing Howell’s history at the position in 2016, the Rebellion defense tightened up, at times placing 5 to 6 defenders at or near the line of scrimmage, daring Howell to beat them with her arm. The adjustment paid off, with Omaha being held to that sole Drake to Howell touchdown pass and the Rebellion defense held when it was most crucial.
The much maligned Morgan Spencer was given a golden-opportunity by the Football Gods, with 1:08 left in the 4th, Pittsburgh trailed 20 to 14 with one timeout. Spencer and the Rebellion offense wasted no time, completing a 19 yard touchdown pass to Efezohae to tie the game 20 to 20. After the touchdown and in advance of the extra point, you could hear a pin drop at Highmark Stadium as the all-important extra point attempt was looming, it could either result in a tie game and Overtime, or the Pittsburgh Rebellion’s first-ever franchise win. As Spencer dropped back to pass there was little doubt she would be looking in the direction of Efezohae, she did and completed an outside shoulder tear-drop to Efezohae giving Pittsburgh a 21 to 20 lead with under 40 seconds remaining.
Howell and the Omaha offense were simply out-matched by a fierce Pittsburgh defense in the final seconds, as the thousands in attendance witnessed history, the Rebellion’s first franchise W.
Next up for Omaha a match-up with No.1 ranked Chicago Bliss at Ralston Arena on July 21st. Pittsburgh will head west to Los Angeles to battle the silver and black on July 8th.
|Passing Yards (Net)||31||81|
|Total Offense Plays-Yards||47-174||33-157|