The Atlanta Steam had over two months to prepare for their Legends Football League game against the Omaha Heart on Saturday night, as they last took the field May 10th in a loss against the Chicago Bliss. Though the game on Saturday night carried no significance as far as playoffs are concerned, it was important for Omaha and Atlanta to take this game very seriously. Omaha fields a team that is full of rookies and every game the Heart play this season is crucial for their improvement and experience. For Atlanta, the players needed to take the field again and “get the rust off” as they prepare for the Eastern Conference Championship against the Chicago Bliss, taking place August 15th.
Atlanta was able to play their final regular season game in front of their home crowd on Saturday night and ‘The Factory’ (Arena at Gwinnett Center) was a packed house. This season the Steam offense, lead by the passing prowess of Dakota Hughes, has put up astounding numbers and Steam fans have been able to witness a lot of offense this season. Atlanta has scored twenty-three touchdowns combined this year at home in the two games against Omaha and the season-opener against Chicago.
This season Atlanta appears to have the talent and depth to be a contender for the Legends Cup, with the kind of season they are having and the offense seems to keep improving. However, the reality is Atlanta has played the awful Omaha Heart three times, and from Omaha’s lack ability this season, any team in the LFL could have gone 3-0 against the Heart and put up big numbers offensively. When you consider that fact that the 3-2 Steam have only actually beaten one team (Omaha), it’s hard to gauge exactly how good they are this season.
The Chicago Bliss have had Atlanta’s number, and dating back to the Legends Cup Championship last season the Steam are 0-3 against their now Eastern Conference rival. Atlanta has shown they can compete with the Bliss, but until they finish with a win, Chicago will remain the top dog in the East. Atlanta surely does not want to be known as the team in 2015 that put together three blowouts against the Omaha Heart but failed to top the Bliss in all three of their contests. The Steam are no doubt focusing on finding an answer for Chicago’s running game, but that still didn’t distract them from what they needed to do on Saturday night against the Omaha Heart, as they finished the night with a 71-13 victory and sent a battered Omaha team back home.
The Heart now 0-5 this season, had given up 230 points through their first four games and failed to score. That was by far the worst differential that the league has ever seen from one team through four games, in fact no team had ever gone four consecutive games without reaching the end-zone. After their loss on Saturday night, the Heart have given up an average of just over 60 points per game, something that the league and coaching staff must address in the offseason. Omaha had two goals on Saturday night, which were to score their first points of the season and try to get their first win. They failed to get the victory against Atlanta but their goal of crossing the goal-line was attained, twice.
Atlanta started the game receiving the kick-off from Omaha as the Heart deferred upon winning the coin-toss. Atlanta’s Nas Johnson started things off with a 34 yard kick return down to Omaha’s 13 yard-line. The next play from scrimmage Coach Dane Robinson appeared to have his Steam offense in a wild-cat formation with Lauran Ziegler in the shotgun formation next to running-back Nas Johnson. On the play Ziegler targeted her quarterback Dakota Hughes who ran a post route beating her defender, but failing to get to the off-target Ziegler pass. This was an interesting play call as the other wide-receiver, Jodie Nettles, is the team’s back-up quarterback and definitely possesses a more accurate arm than Lauran Ziegler. Two plays later Nas Johnson ran in her first of three touchdowns on the night. A failed extra-point pass attempt by Hughes left the Steam up 6-0 with just over eight minutes remaining in the first quarter.
Omaha took over on offense and it appeared that they would mount their first scoring drive of the season when on a third down and five to go, from their own 20 yard-line, Anonka Dixon faked a handoff and took the ball around the right side, cut back, broke three tackles and scampered 28 yards down to the two yard-line, where Lauran Ziegler caught her from behind. On the play, Atlanta’s defense displayed the reason it cannot stop the Chicago Bliss running game lead by ChridDell ‘Ferrari’ Harris. Linebacker Leanne Hardin over pursued up the middle, being forced out of the play, and Adrian Purnell, Dina Wojowski, and Ciara McMillan all had an easy opportunity to take down Dixon on the play but each failed to properly wrap up. The fact that the rest of the players, especially Lauran Ziegler were just standing around expecting Dixon to be taken down was the biggest concern for the Steam defense as they prepare to face the Chicago running-game in the playoffs. All great defenses play until the whistle and swarm tackle the ball carrier.
Each time Omaha had been in the red-zone this season, they seemed to make mental mistakes by either a dumb penalty or a fumble which hindered their chances of scoring. That is exactly what happened on this drive as the very next play, when receiver Amanda Hogan was called for a false-start penalty and the next four plays Omaha failed to reach the end-zone. Mental mistakes and the inability to handle the ball offensively should be a huge concern for head-coach Dontae Allen and his coaching staff. At any level of football, that type of poor play reflects greatly on the coaching staff, considering that many of the rookies have been practicing since March and have had four previous games to learn the fundamentals and their offense.
After the first quarter Atlanta lead by only a score of 6-0, as they continued their offensive drive into the second quarter. However, the second quarter Atlanta displayed their quick strike offense as they scored five more touchdowns in the second quarter, three of which came within 3:00 to go in the half. The rushing touchdowns by Nas Johnson, Dakota Hughes and Jayne Caldwell along with Hughes’ touchdown passes to Jodie Nettles (42 yards) and Lauran Ziegler (35 yards) and a safety forced by Dina Wojowski brought the half-time score to 43-0. The 37 points Atlanta scored in the second quarter is a league record and displays just how poor the Omaha team is this season.
Early in that second quarter, Omaha’s offense was tested with the injury to their newly acquired quarterback Anonka Dixon who was starting her second game for the Heart. Most would believe that without Dixon in the line-up their scoring chances in Saturday’s game would have been absolutely out the window. Without a true backup quarterback on the team, rookie Lindsey Howell took over for a series and a half before wide-receiver Heather Hudson started taking snaps. Hudson’s play at quarterback to finish out the second quarter was tough to watch as she had never played the position and only seemed to possess the ability to run the ball.
Going into halftime, it was clear that Atlanta was on their way to a third dominating blow-out victory against the Omaha Heat this season. Atlanta certainly did not play perfect football, which will be needed in the playoffs to beat Chicago but it was clear they hadn’t lost a step during their two-month break.
During halftime, the downtrodden Heart came together and decided that their one goal in the second-half of the game would be to score. If bets would have been placed on the likelihood of them scoring, many would have bet against them as their starting quarterback was out for the remainder of the game and all Atlanta would need to do is contain the run game, as Hudson clearly did not show any signs of being able to successfully pass the ball.
To start the third quarter, Omaha received the Ziegler kick and started their drive from their own 14 yard-line. Too many people’s surprise they capitalized on a 6 play scoring drive with all plays being rushing attempts by Amanda Hogan, Heather Hudson and Sarah-Jane Thompson. Even on the drive when Omaha was within the 10 yard-line they had a false-start penalty, which led most to believe they would fail to reach the end-zone again this season. However, Hudson finished the drive with a 12 yard touchdown run against Atlanta’s starting defense despite their 43-0 lead. Atlanta displayed again why most doubt their chances at beating the Chicago Bliss in the Eastern Conference Championship this season.
Atlanta scored two more times in the third quarter on a Hughes to Adrian Purnell touchdown pass and a Johnson touchdown rush, bringing the score at the end of three to 57-6.
Three minutes into the fourth, Atlanta still with the 57-6 lead lined up again in what appeared to be a wildcat formation as Ziegler doesn’t possess much of a passing ability. With Hughes in a slot receiver position she was targeted again, this time on a short post route where the ball was in and out of her hands before being intercepted by Omaha’s Sarah-Jane Thompson.
That turnover lead to another scoring drive by Omaha when Heather Hudson completed a 23-yard touchdown pass to Sarah-Jane Thompson with 4:23 remaining in the game, bringing the score to 57-13 after a Hudson extra-point rush was good.
Atlanta did not take their foot off the gas, as Dakota Hughes stayed in the game the remainder of the fourth quarter. Atlanta scored two more times on a Ziegler rush (35 yards) and on Hughes’ fourth touchdown pass of the night with 40 seconds remaining in the game.
Hughes finished the night completing 9 of 13 passes for 182 yards and four touchdowns, no interceptions. Those numbers earned the young 20 year-old quarterback MVP on the night.
The Eastern Conference now stands at Chicago 4-0, Atlanta 3-2 and Omaha 0-5. The last regular season match-up in the East takes place in Omaha on August 8th when the Heart play Chicago one week before the playoffs begin.
– Text by Colton Cull, originally posted on LFL360.com
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