The Atlanta Steam (3-3) came into Sunday’s playoff matchup with plenty of confidence, having beat up on the Omaha Heart all season long. Moreover, they touted 2 MVP candidates in quarterback Dakota Hughes and wide receiver Lauran Ziegler, which is quite possibly the most dynamic combination on offense in the Legends Football League. As for the Chicago Bliss (6-0), they haven’t lost a game since early in the 2013 season. They also have a league-leading quarterback in Heather Furr, who likely feels snubbed by MVP voters and running back Chrisdell “Ferrari” Harris, who averages 6.6 yards per carry and is dreaded by linebackers across the league.
This was a home game for the Chicago Bliss, which only intensified the microscope on Atlanta’s 2 MVP hopefuls. While young, Hughes has proven that she can deliver textbook strikes downfield, it also helps to be throwing to the league’s best receiver. Ziegler is phenominal at the wide receiver position, with 20 catches and an average of 11.2 yards per catch. Her 7 touchdowns nearly doubles the 2nd best receiver in the LFL. She has the frame, speed and hands that most receivers dream of. The Atlanta Steam have built up quite the reputation for being young and explosive, but the Chicago Bliss are chasing their third championship in a row and have very little respect for a team that’s established itself against the LFL’s lowliest franchise of all-time (Omaha).
The game kicked off on a designed play by Atlanta that would see the ball kicked short in hopes of catching the mighty Bliss off-guard. Instead, Chicago would field the kick well enough to hold onto it and begin with great field position at Atlanta’s 21-yard line. Right away, Furr went to work throwing the football. On what appeared to be a broken play that ended as an incompletion, Atlanta was flagged for being offsides. A mistake which can be expected from an inexperienced playoff team in the playoffs.
Following the penalty, Chicago began gnashing into the heart of the Steam with the powerful legs of Harris, who’s rightfully earned the name “Ferrari”. On the very next play, the Bliss would show pass formation and an outside blitz put Furr into the ground. Atlanta had indeed come to play ball. Striking blood first, however, Furr connected with Harris on the ensuing play for a touchdown.
The Chicago crowd immediately became energized as Harris walked from the endzone determined to earn a Legends Cup birth. As they lined up for the conversion, Furr gave a hard count which drew Atlanta offsides once more. She’d already picked up on the fact that the Steam were nervous and inexperienced, proving she is cut from the cloth of a champion. Furr would push her way into the endzone for 2 more on the next play via a quarterback keeper up the middle, extending their lead to 8-0.
Atlanta opened up their first drive with a designed quarterback run which was meant to flex their speed a bit. Instead, Bliss defenders quickly swarmed into the backfield and threw Hughes to the ground several yards behind the line. Chantell Taylor got credit for the sack and her message was clear, Atlanta was no longer playing the Omaha Heart. The relentless pressure on Hughes would continue for several minutes, even forcing her to nearly throw an interception at one point, which is uncharacteristic, having only thrown 1 all season. While the Steam’s blockers looked flustered and confused, Chicago looked like a championship defense.
The Bliss’ plan had become evident with around 5 minutes to play in the 1st quarter. They wanted to run the ball well on offense while displaying barbarism on the defensive side of things. Even when Atlanta got to Furr, she would make a play with the football. The 1st quarter would come to a close the same way it had been played as Chicago ran hard and Atlanta did what it could to hold up against the barrage. The Bliss led things at the end of the 1st quarter, 8-0.
The 2nd quarter would begin with Chicago trying a bit of trickery with an end-around reverse which was fumbled in the backfield, eventually recovered and then tossed for an incompletion in the endzone. It could have worked very well for Chicago as Atlanta was thinking run, while at the same time, it could have ended with Atlanta recovering the fumble and turning the tide of the ballgame. This has been the worry with Chicago all season long. Without trickery or throwing the dump pass to their star running back, they can’t seem to strike deep down the field. It resulted in a turnover on downs, which finally saw Atlanta’s two MVP finalists (Hughes, Ziegler) return to offense.
The Steam would immediately lean on their running game in hopes of opening things up downfield. Nothing doing, as the Bliss defenders were all over the field and quickly shut the Steam’s running attempts down. Atlanta would eventually charge down the field on the back of two Bliss penalties. Their progress would be halted, however, as they were then flagged for a pair of penalties as well. One of them against their own head coach for unsportsmanlike conduct. On the reception that followed, Atlanta’s Ziegler would try her best to motivate the players in red and black.
Atlanta would follow up with a deep strike to the endzone, hitting Ziegler, who was ruled out of bounds. The Steam would challenge the call and ultimately lose the challenge. It had become the theme for the night with the Atlanta Steam. They would either shoot themselves in the foot with a penalty or miss a golden opportunity by missing a read or dropping a pass.
It was more of the same throughout most of the 2nd quarter but somehow, with only 7 seconds remaining before the half, Furr tossed a pass under pressure that was completed to Alli Alberts for a touchdown. She’d finally become the pocket passer that fans have been waiting for. Again, Furr drew the inexperienced Steam defense offsides on the conversion to move the Bliss closer to the endzone. Harris would add 1 more point on a handoff as the Bliss went into halftime leading 21-6 after Atlanta’s Hughes threw deep, only to be picked off by Chicago’s Alberts as time expired.
For the Atlanta Steam and their fans, the 1st half had been horrifying. Not only were they forced to play defense throughout most of the half, which took their big-strike offense out of the picture, but they had not contained the run and made countless mistakes on defense. Meanwhile, for the Bliss and their fans, it was buisness as usual. Chicago runs the ball in strangulating fashion as they control the clock. They’ve been able to slow down the most explosive teams, and Atlanta had proved no different. Their plan was to chew into the Steam defense and grind out yards with the Ferrari, then let their defense play tough.
Early in the 3rd quarter, Chicago’s Furr caught fire in the passing game once more, proving her critics wrong as she landed several tactical strikes downfield. Connecting with wide receiver Jamie Fornal down the sideline really seemed to bring the Chicago crowd to life. She’d found her stride and used the momentum to once again return to the running game at which time Harris scored on a nasty run up the middle. She wasted little time in charging to the Steam bench and giving them a gesture of farewell.
Atlanta’s players seemed to be beaten mentally at that point and it was on their faces. For the Ferrari, the Steam were only standing in the way of her next victims, the Seattle Mist, and she had no problems letting their coaching staff know it. Taking offense, Atlanta blitzed in to prevent Furr from doing anything on the point after attempt, leaving the Bliss with a commanding 27-6 lead. It would be the last sign of life Atlanta would show in the 3rd quarter. Meanwhile, Chicago would pile on another touchdown. Adding an extra point, the Bliss led 33-6.
Barring a miraculous comback against one of the strongest franchises in LFL history, Atlanta was all but beaten. They had struggled all game to contain Chicago’s star running back and now the Bliss would go to her in order to dwindle the clock down. Atlanta would try its hand at striking deep, time and again, as Hughes displayed her fantastic arm-strength. Chicago expected it, though, and was there to break things up on each attempt.
Just as she’d done all game long, Chicago’s Harris struck paydirt on a running play as she rumbled through the arm-tackling of a worn-down Atlanta defense. It was the nail in the coffin for the Steam, who’d lost all hope. Chicago would take a landslide 41-6 lead and that’s where the game would end.
The Atlanta Steam left Sunday night’s game a battered roster full of talent. Having come into the game with 2 MVP hopefuls in Hughes and Ziegler, nothing really got going offensively for the Steam. If anything, their running game was non-existent. Combined with the fact that Chicago ran the ball well all night long, the Steam couldn’t keep their playmakers on the offensive side of the football long enough to accomplish anything. They’ll head into the off-season in search of ways to improve their running game, as well as their defense’s ability to stop the run.
For the Chicago Bliss, things went according to plan. It’s certainly not the prettiest or most exciting offense to watch, but they continue to run the ball with authority and do it virtually uncontested. Absolutely nobody has an answer for Chrisdell “Ferrari” Harris. Because of her effectiveness, quarterback Heather Furr only needs to manage the ballgame – which she does mistake-free. Add deep-threat Alli Alberts and the league’s most belligerent defense and you have the recipe for a dynasty.
The Chicago Bliss will now travel to the Legends Cup in Seattle on Sunday, August 23 to face the Seattle Mist (5-1). Both teams have earned their way into the LFL’s most-anticipated matchup of all-time. For Chicago, it’s about making history as they will chase their 3rd consecutive Legends Cup while keeping their undefeated streak alive. They will rely on Furr’s ability to manage the football game without making mistakes, leaving their Ferrari to pound the Mist into submission with her punishing running game.
As for the Seattle Mist, they will be in front of a home crowd that absolutely believes it’s their destiny to win. At quarterback, Matheny has the ability to change any football game on a single play, while Brace is an architect on the gridiron, playing both sides of the ball flawlessly. No matter how you slice it, the 2015 Legends Cup should be one of the most epic games our sport has ever seen.
– Text by John M. Davis, originally posted on LFL360.com
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