There is no mystery about who the dominant teams in the Eastern Conference are this season. Being that each conference has three teams, resulting in one team not advancing to the playoffs, it is safe to say that the two teams competing in the Eastern Conference playoff game this season will be Chicago and Atlanta. With the Omaha Heart starting off the season 0-3, giving up a whopping 190 points defensively and failing to put any points on the board, any victory for them against the Bliss or Steam this season would be a huge surprise.
After back-to-back losses to the Steam and Bliss, the Omaha Heart went down to Atlanta for the third consecutive week to try and put together a worthy performance. After giving up 79 and 49 points to the Steam and Bliss respectively, most predicted that Atlanta would be able to have their way with another blowout win. That was indeed the case Saturday night as the Heart failed to stop Atlanta and were again shutout for the third consecutive time this season.
The week 4 game was all about the Atlanta Steam and their high-powered balanced attack offense, led by quarterback Dakota Hughes. Hughes put together a great passing game with five touchdowns spreading the wealth to Adrian Purnell, CoCo Montgomery, Jodie Nettles, and Lauran Ziegler twice during the game for touchdowns. Dakota has shown so far this season that she is arguably the best quarterback in the league and with the weapons around her, expect for her to put up big numbers each week.
The first play of the game the Steam went to their passing game and Dakota Hughes found Lauran Ziegler on a 29 yard touchdown pass to start the scoring for the night. Hughes and Ziegler are quickly turning into one of the best QB-WR duo’s in the league.
When the Heart took over on offense, things got ugly fast. Backup quarterback Jenna Holt went down with a strained hamstring on a two yard scramble, leading Omaha to rely on their running-back Jessica Ripp to take the snaps under center. The Heart surprisingly were able to move the chains against the Steam defense on a few good runs by Amanda Hogan, but a Ripp fumble, recovered by Atlanta ended their hopes of marching down the field and scoring.
On their next possession, Atlanta again scored as Hughes found her tight-end Adrian Purnell resulting in a 19 yard touchdown pass completion. Purnell is a veteran in the league known more for her defensive skills, but certainly a dominant player on both sides of the ball and she has brought a much needed intensity and energy to the Atlanta Steam this season. Purnell isn’t afraid to tell it like it is, as seen in a clip where she coined her Steam team as a “bunch of classy ass-holes” during a half-time locker room speech.
The rest of the first half, Atlanta worked on their running game which they look to utilize against Chicago. A balanced attack will be their best chance to beat the Bliss this season. The international acquisition of Australian LFL athlete, Jayne Caldwell, will certainly improve Atlanta’s ground game as she possesses size and agility, much like ChrisDell Harris from Chicago. The Steam have speed at running-back in Nas Johnson and Jessie Locklear, but both lack in size. The addition of Caldwell provides depth and another dimension to the running game.
In her first game in the US, the Steam gave Caldwell two of her four rushing attempts in the first half where she rushed for gains of 15 and 9 yards. Ziegler and Hughes both scored in the second quarter on the ground bringing the half-time score to 28-0.
This half-time score was an improvement for the Heart compared to their 44-0 half-time deficit in Week 2, but it is still clear that Omaha has a lot of work to do in regards to the fundamentals and understanding the offense and defense assignments. Head coach Dontae Allen has taken a lot of criticism for his team’s performance and he feels the heat, as he is trying to put together a team that can compete in this league.
One positive for Omaha from the first 20 minutes of play Saturday night was their ability to run the ball at times. They had streaks of solid gains by their backs Amanda Hogan and Shaylnn Durham on the ground, but the Heart offense needs to hold onto the ball and quit making costly penalties in order to put together a good drive and find the endzone.
Atlanta Steam head coach Dane Robinson was not thrilled with his team’s performance in the first half as he expects his team to perform to perfection, especially against a weak opponent. He knew that if Omaha was able to run the ball against his defense, then it would be extremely difficult for him to stop the Chicago Bliss running game led by ChrisDell ‘Ferrari’ Harris.
Omaha came out the second half receiving the kickoff. With a change at quarterback to Ashley Dickinson, because Jessica Ripp needed to be in the backfield, the Heart failed to move the chains and turned the ball over on downs after four consecutive run plays.
Atlanta decided to stick to their running game in the third quarter as Nas Johnson scored on a 35 yard touchdown run with 6:20 remaining in the third. Nas Johnson is a key weapon for Atlanta’s offense and she will need to have a big game against Chicago next week.
Late in the third, Caldwell had her other two rushing attempts of the night, netting gains of 5 and 8 yards, leaving her with 4 rushes on the night for 37 yards. Atlanta also looked to Caldwell on extra point attempts for their final four touchdowns of the game, where she converted on 3 0f 4 runs for the extra point.
Later in the third, Lauran Ziegler again scored on the ground for her third touchdown in the game, putting the score at 42-0 in the third.
In the fourth, Dakota Hughes was antsy to get the passing game going again which resulted in a big quarter for her offensively. She was able to connect with her veteran receiver and mentor Jodie Nettles for a touchdown pass as well as finding Lauran Ziegler and CoCo Montgomery for scores through the air the final quarter of the game.
Hughes finished the game 7 for 9 passing with five touchdowns and no interceptions and one rushing touchdown. Lauran Ziegler was her favorite target Saturday night as she caught three receptions, two for a touchdown and rushed for 15 yards scoring twice on the ground.
After the 62-0 week 4 loss, Omaha now has a six week break during which they will try and regroup to come out and compete when they host the Chicago Bliss June 13th at the Ralson Arena. It will be crucial during this time off for head coach Dontae Allen to get his team focused on the fundamentals of football and understanding the playbook. Practice reps are extremely important for the rookie-based team.
After four weeks of LFL football, The Eastern Conference stands at Chicago 2-0, Atlanta 2-1, and Omaha 0-3. Week 5 features a rematch in Chicago as the Steam head to Toyota Park May 10th, to take on the Bliss in an historic, first-ever LFL Sunday 1pm kickoff under the sun.
– Text by Colton Cull, originally posted on LFL360.com