There was a lot of anticipation for Saturday night’s game between the Chicago Bliss and Omaha Heart, as the Heart showcased a team with many veteran acquisitions, who came to help turn their season around and lead a team full of rookies. The outcome was not what Omaha expected as they were shutout again for the fourth time this season in route to their lackluster 0-4 start.
The big story leading up to Saturday’s game was quarterback Anonka Dixon, who after three years out of the league, was joining the Heart to lead the offense and help the young team make plays. In Dixon’s prime, the all-fantasy MVP quarterback was able to run past defenses and throw the ball the length of the field finding her receivers for big touchdowns. Due to the league’s improved defensive play since 2011, when Dixon last played, and the fact that she had very little practice time with her new team, she was not a positive factor in Omaha’s play Saturday night against the Bliss.
Defensive players today in the Legends Football League, especially for Chicago, are faster, stronger, and understand the game much better than the players of past seasons. This fact was a surprise for Anonka Dixon as she quickly realized it was much more difficult to scramble and elude defenders to make plays and find her open receivers. The Chicago Bliss contained Dixon and only allowed her to complete one of six passes on the night.
As Chicago’s defense was preparing to face Omaha’s new offense, Bliss head-coach, Keith Hac was implementing a game plan that was the complete opposite compared to his offensive play calls from the past. The run-heavy Chicago Bliss, that feature the best running back in the league, ChrisDell ‘Ferrari’ Harris, only handed her the ball three times in their win against the Heart. In fact, the Bliss threw the ball 71 percent of the time Saturday night, compared to the 22.8 percent in the other three games this season and the 2014 season total of 21.8 percent, which was a league low in terms of passing ratio.
In Chicago’s last game against Atlanta, Harris had 22 rushing attempts out of Chicago’s 35 offensive plays in the game, and in their 2014 championship season the Ferrari carried the ball 73 times out of the Bliss’ 170 total offensive plays. As the league stresses the importance of having a balanced offense to showcase all of the talented players, Chicago needed to work on their passing game to get other key players involved offensively.
Leading up to the game, wide-receiver Alli Alberts, who has become recognized as one of the best athletes in the league today, had only caught ten receptions in her last nine games, averaging just over one reception per game. That changed against the Heart, as Alberts had six receptions in the game for 60 yards, which was the same amount of receptions she had the entire 2014 season. Her quarterback Heather Furr, who has taken some criticism over the years for Chicago’s inability to rely on the passing game, threw the ball 25 times Saturday night, completing 15 of her passes, four of which were touchdowns. In the three games prior this season, Furr only threw the ball a combined 21 times, so this game she was able to showcase her throwing ability more than the previous three games. In fact, in the six games of 2014, Furr only threw the ball 37 times, an average of just over 6 passes per game.
Chicago started out on offense Saturday night, and quickly got the passing game going. From their own 13 yard-line, Heather Furr faked the hand-off to Harris, dropped back and delivered a strike, deep down the middle of the field to Alli Alberts for a 22 yard gain. On the ensuing three plays, Furr threw three incomplete passes as she had a difficult time locating her receivers on an over-thrown pass and two short quick-passes to her receivers. The Omaha Heart defense had an answer for the fourth down play, as they stopped Furr’s run five yards short of the first down.
The stop was big in the red-zone for Omaha’s defense, which had all the fans at the Ralston Arena excited and on their feet. The defense was the pride and joy of the Omaha Heart in 2014, so there were high hopes Saturday night, as nose-tackle Sarah Robinson made her return this season, joined by free-agent acquisitions in corner-back Heather Hudson and defensive-end Leekplay Paye. Despite the 40-0 loss, Omaha’s defense was greatly improved and with another month of preparation, could very well give Atlanta and Chicago a good battle the last two games of the regular season.
Omaha took over from their 12 yard-line, and on first down, Dixon completely overthrew Jenna Holt, as she aired the ball 40 yards down the field. The next three plays, Omaha failed to run for first down yardage and Chicago took over from the Heart’s 21 yard-line. On third down and seven yard to go, Furr connected again with Alberts for a deep pass down the middle, as Alberts brought the Bliss deep inside the Heart territory to the six yard-line. On first and goal it was time to let the Ferrari out, as ChrisDell Harris ran six yards untouched for the first score of the game. A completed extra-point put the Bliss up 7-0 with 2:06 remaining in the first quarter.
On first down, Omaha’s offense resembled the turnover prone team of late, as Dixon fumbled a ball that rolled it’s way into the end-zone, where it was recovered by Yahshi Rice putting Chicago up 14-0 after the completed extra-point with less than two minutes remaining in the quarter. Quick turnovers offensively were the culprit to Omaha’s blowout losses this season, as Chicago and Atlanta were at times able to put up 14 points in less than 30 seconds in their other games.
Omaha’s next drive ended after two plays, when Alli Alberts intercepted Dixon on second down, which was the first of Alberts’ two interceptions on the night. Chicago took over and during an eight play drive failed to get the the first down, after a Furr pass completion to Harris was less than a yard short of the first-down marker with 5:20 left in the second quarter.
Omaha took over at the their 15 yard-line and began a ten play drive that ended with a fourth and goal rushing attempt by the speedy Heather Hudson, who was just two yards short of the end-zone. That was the closest Omaha had come this season to putting points on the board. The Heart displayed some flashes of good offense as Dixon completed a pass to Hudson for an eight yard gain, and running-back SarahJane Thompson ran the ball hard. Thompson was another mid-season roster bolster, as she returned after playing in previous seasons for Omaha. She quietly had a solid game running the ball, as she had seven good rushing attempts for the Heart for over forty yards on the night.
With under a minute to play Chicago quickly scored after an 11 yard run by Nneka Nwani and two big pass plays as Furr connected with Harris for 19 yards and 17 yards for a touchdown with 16.8 seconds remaining in the first half. A failed extra-point attempt left Chicago up 20-0 at halftime.
Despite not scoring any points, that was the best first-half of football that Omaha played this season, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The defense only allowed two Bliss offensive touchdowns as the other score was the fumble recovery in the first quarter that Chicago scored on.
The second-half was all Chicago as Omaha turned the ball over three more times on a Dixon interception to Alberts, and two fumbles recovered by Chicago. Omaha only converted one first down on their six possessions in the second-half. It was clear that the Heart offense needed much more practice with the new quarterback and players, as they failed to get anything going the rest of the game.
Heather Furr shined in the second half as she completed eight more passes three of which were touchdowns to Chabria Survillion, Alli Alberts, and rookie Stephanie Murry. Before the game Furr told the media, “Everyone see’s us as the running team, that’s all we do, that’s all we can do, but that’s so not true.” She went on to say that for once she can finally say, “the Bliss are going to pass”. That is just what the Bliss did in the win against Omaha and Furr backed up her statement, that it is in fact not true that the only thing the Bliss can do is run the ball. Furr finished the night 15 for 25 passing for 126 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Another story that went under that radar during Saturday night’s win, was the fact that the Bliss clinched the Eastern Conference regular season championship. The 4-0 Bliss could lose their last two games of the regular season and still win a tie-breaker with the Atlanta Steam if that were the case, due to the head-to-head record.
It will be interesting to see if the Chicago Bliss throw the ball anywhere near 71 percent of the time against the Atlanta Steam in their last game of the regular season, August 15th or in the playoff match-up against the Steam the following week. In their last game against Atlanta, Chicago threw the ball just 14 percent of the time and completed one pass to Kim Perez in the week 5 win on Mother’s Day. The Steam field a much better defensive secondary than the Heart, and Atlanta has a pass rush that gives Furr a tough time as she tries to locate her open receivers. The Chicago running game has been the issue for Atlanta, so it will be a test to see if they have an answer for it in either of the next two games against Chicago.
After week 9 this season, The Eastern Conference stands at Chicago 4-0, Atlanta 2-2, and Omaha 0-4. Three match-ups remain in the East, the next being Friday, July 10th when Atlanta heads into Omaha to play their final game against the Heart this season. The final two games of the regular season will feature the East, as the Heart play their final game of the 2015 season at home against the Bliss Sunday, August 8th in a 1pm kick-off in the Ralston Arena. The following week in Chicago, the Bliss welcome the Steam to Toyota Park for their third contest of the year as Atlanta looks to defeat Chicago for the first time.
– Text by Colton Cull, originally posted on LFL360.com
Don't miss the latest Legends Football League games every Saturday at 9/8c, only on Fuse.
Find Fuse in your area with our channel finder.