The Seattle Mist (5-1-1) moved closer to their first ever Legends Cup Championship by defeating the LA Temptation (3-3-1) on Sunday, 28-24. In beating their Western Conference rivals, Seattle took a huge leap toward fulfilling what they believe is their destiny. Fans expected a close contest with this one and it certainly did not disappoint. In a game that featured an emerging Seattle squad facing off against a franchise that was once considered the most-dominant in the Legends Football League, plenty of hitting and trash talking was sure to take place.
The big story coming into this game was a battle of quarterbacks with Ashley Salerno considered one of the LFL’s best ever at the position and Seattle’s KK Matheny an MVP finalist this season for her stellar quarterback play. Both franchises knew that it would fall to their signal callers to get things done. From the beginning, however, a defensive battle began to unfold. Led by Monique Gaxiola, who finished the game with 2.5 tackles. It was a campaign of hard-hitting and physicality as the LA Temptation’s defense held the high-octane defense of Seattle scoreless in the first quarter. They seemed to get to their assignments fast and make things difficult for a Seattle team that’s used to scoring fast.
Finally, the first points of the game landed as LA’s Ashley Salerno scored from 6 yards out on a running play with less than a minute to play. They would convert for 2 points on a run by Carmen Bourseau, giving the Temptation an 8-0 lead as the first quarter came to a close.
Early on, it appeared that the LA Temptation had control of the ballgame and that their defense would be able to smother Seattle’s offense. Quarterback KK Matheny, would have none of it. To begin the second quarter, Matheny lined her troops up with the look of a consummate veteran, which is something she’s done all season long. Her poise under pressure has been the key reason that many believe Matheny is now reaching elite status in the LFL. Once against delivering some of her magic, Matheny landed a deep strike down the middle of the field, completing a 22-yard pass to Megan Hanson for a touchdown. Seattle would follow up the score by converting as Matheny found Jessica Hopkins in the end zone for 2 points, tying the score at 8-8.
The Temptation would begin their next drive with plans of running, but found very little success as a tough Seattle front quickly stopped them on every attempt. LA’s Ashley Salerno began going to the air, but Seattle’s secondary was all over the field and safety Jessica Hopkins seemed to be a couple of steps ahead of Salerno’s thinking on the field. Once again, there appeared to be a defensive battle taking shape as both teams struggled to find any real chance of scoring.
Finally, with 26 seconds left to play in the half, the LA Temptation scored after several rumbling runs up the middle which saw the Seattle Mist trenches bending just a bit. Sherri Awagah accounted for the touchdown with the 2-point conversion successful, again by a rush from Awagah.
Rather than hanging their heads, down 16-8, Seattle followed KK Matheny back into battle. In true John Elway fashion, she scrambled down the field to bring them within striking distance. Once again, Matheny would scamper for a big gain, running out of bounds and forcing a stoppage of the clock. With 5 seconds left to play, Matheny would connect on a pass to wide receiver Bryn Renda for a touchdown. The play is must see for all fans as Matheny put the ball where only Renda could make the catch. The ensuing conversion would fail, leaving the Seattle Mist trailing at halftime 16-14.
By halftime, it had become obvious that fans would likely be treated to yet another stunning finish, as is usually the case with these two teams. Because of their history and rivalry within the Western Conference, both LA and Seattle know each other well. It showed, as big-hitting and hard-nosed defensive play was the story of the first half.
Following halftime, the third quarter began as a defensive one with each team doing what it could to prevent the mistakes that often lead to losses in games so close. With 7:56 remaining in the 3rd quarter, however, Matheny fired a 14-yard laser in the end zone to connect with running back Mele Gilmore. Matheny would then rush for 2 more as the conversion was successful and Seattle would take its first lead of the game, 22-16.
Again, for the remainder of the 3rd quarter, defense would be the story. LA remained within striking distance while Seattle’s defense, anchored by MVP finalist Danika Brace and saftey Kadi Findling, was playing championship-caliber football. Salerno hadn’t been a big factor in the first three quarters of football and dropped catches by her receivers were a big part of LA’s inability to successfully attack with the passing game. LA would really need to finish strong in order to deliver a win to the LA fans.
With 5:11 to play in the 4th quarter, Salerno delivered a deep strike down the sideline to Amber Reed for a 33-yard gain and shortly after, Sherri Awagah would bully her way into the end zone and LA would convert on the following play, giving the Temptation a 24-22 lead with roughly 4:30 left to play in the ballgame.
The LA Temptation appeared to be heading to the familiar territory of a Legends Cup appearance as time continued to fall from the clock, working against any comeback hopes of the Seattle Mist.
Then, with only 1:51 remaining in the ballgame, Matheny solidified her place among the elite players in the LFL and earned a spot among the pages of Seattle sports history as she connected with Brace deep for a 32-yard touchdown pass. A failed conversion attempt would still earn the Seattle Mist a 28-24 lead with less than 2 minutes to play.
Following the lead change, Mist players looked energized and alive on the sidelines while their counterparts looked stunned. At one point, as Mist fans celebrated in the stands, even fans wearing Chicago Bliss gear looked on in disbelief.
Now it was time for the Hall of Fame nominee to lead her team downfield with a 2-minute offense. With 1:51 remaining on the clock, from LA’s own 15-yardline, Salerno looked poised and ready to get the final score needed to send LA back to the Legends Cup.
On first down, Salerno connected with tight end Danielle Harvey for a 25-yard pass play that completely took the wind out of Seattle’s sail. A nervous Mist sideline gazed at the clock as the sideline markers moved in position for LA’s 1st and Goal from the 10-yardline, with still plenty of time for LA to find a way to score and eat up some of the time remaining.
The next play Seattle didn’t help themselves with a delay of game penalty as one of the Mist defenders took too long getting off after Awagah's 1-yard gain. With another 1st and goal for LA from the 5-yard line, Seattle braced for LA’s next play.
The Temptation offense went to Awagah on the ground again, who upon being struck by Seattle’s Megan Hanson, lost the ball which was recovered by Seattle’s Lashauda Fowler at their 6-yard line. The only turnover of the game came at a crucial moment for both teams and it would cost the Temptation big in this game.
The game would end 28-24 with the Seattle Mist earning a Legends Cup birth and their Western Conference rivals, the LA Temptation, being sent home defeated. For LA, Ashley Salerno finished with a disappointing 4-for-13 with 81 yards and 0 touchdowns through the air. She was also sacked twice. There is no doubt that she expected her receivers to be more effective and make the plays that they have made all season, but multiple dropped passes didn’t help the LA aerial assault.
There are also several things to be taken away from this showdown of athletic giants. KK Matheny and Danika Brace are certainly both worthy of MVP consideration. Matheny would finish the night 5-for-10 with 94 yards and 4 touchdowns. More importantly, she proved herself time and time again in the clutch. Meanwhile, Danika Brace continues to be a dominant force on both sides of the football. She is, perhaps, the most complete athlete in the LFL.
The Seattle Mist will now fly home to the ShoWare Center in Seattle to play a virtual home game on Sunday, August 23rd against the star-studded Chicago Bliss (6-0) for the Legends Cup. If there was any kind of preview for the Legends Cup matchup, it was the look on Bliss fans’ faces in attendance as Seattle’s KK Matheny connected with Danika Brace for the game-winning touchdown. That play, executed so flawlessly in front of a rowdy Chicago crowd left no question that the Mist are for real. They had finally seen firsthand why Matheny is growing to legendary status with football fans in the Emerald City. The Mist have started the culture of playing like there is no tomorrow. Now they will get their chance to prove themselves against a Bliss team that’s hoping to make history.
– Text by John M. Davis, originally posted on LFL360.com
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