The 2015 Legends Cup Championship game, taking place in the Pacific Northwest, was the most anticipated game in Legends Football League history. One team searched for its legacy as history would be rewritten, while the other believed in its own destiny of becoming the next LFL Champion.
It was a game that started out lopsided in the first half and quickly turned into another must see game, as the Mist edged the Bliss 27-21. Fans were at the edge of their seats during a game that went down to the final minute and for the second straight year, the Legends Cup finished with an onside kick attempt as the team seeking to get the ball back was down by six points.
Seattle won the coin toss and elected to defer on the opening kickoff, indicating that they were ready to take on a Chicago Bliss offense that has been led by a dominant ground attack all season long. Indeed, they were ready. The Mist defense forced the Bliss into a quick four-play turnover on downs as Chicago faced a 4th-and-1 from their own 20-yard line. Game MVP, Stevi Schnoor, came up big reading the Bliss inside hand-off to Nneka Nwani and stopped her in her tracks as Danika Brace finished her off and gave her an earful, as the Mist offense started taking the field to begin their drive at Chicago’s 19-yard line. The Seattle Mist had not come to sit in awe of Chicago’s past. They had come to win.
On the ensuing play, quarterback KK Matheny, on a play action pass play, found Danika Brace for a 9-yard completion. After a third down 3-yard rush by Schnoor, Seattle had a 1st-and-goal from the 7-yard line with 5:52 still remaining in the first.
Chicago’s defensive line came up big on the next two plays, putting intense pressure on Matheny and forcing two incompletions. The Seattle offense had yet to face a defensive front as strong as the Bliss, which features linebacker Nneka Nwani and two fierce ends in Chantell Taylor and Yashi Rice. Matheny had already felt the unforgiving turf, after multiple hits. Something the Bliss had hoped would rattle the Seattle signal caller.
But just like the 5’2” veteran quarterback has done all season long, she stood back up and reined in her troops for the next play call. On 3rd-and-goal Matheny found Brace for a 7-yard touchdown completion, capping the Mist’s six play 19-yard drive. Seattle went for two on the extra-point attempt and converted on a Matheny pass to Lashaunda Fowler to take an early 8-0 lead on Chicago.
With 3:24 remaining in the first, the Bliss took over on offense. On 2nd-and-10, quarterback Heather Furr shuffled a pass to ChrisDell ‘Ferrari’ Harris who followed her blocks and escaped a Jessica Hopkins tackle, scampered downfield to the Mist’s 7-yard line. The Bliss offense was in position to answer the Mist’s previous drive, with a 1st-and-goal.
While the Bliss’ confidence was building, Seattle’s defense was preparing to make arguably the biggest defensive stop of the season. On 3rd-and-goal from the 2-yard line, Jessica Hopkins brought down Harris at the 1-yard line as the first quarter came to a close.
With a break between quarters, Chicago and Seattle had ample time to prepare for the next 4th-and-goal play to begin the second quarter. The next play resembled a rugby maul between rival teams as both the Mist and Bliss looked to control the three feet separating the ball and the goal line. On the play Seattle’s front didn’t give an inch, and the wrath of Danika Brace was simply too much for the Ferrari, as Harris was stopped for a 1-yard loss, leaving her to idle on the sideline.
Beginning with 9:55 remaining in the second quarter, Seattle’s next drive featured a play that would have been costly for the Mist, when Chicago’s Dominique Collins intercepted Matheny’s pass and returned the ball near the 10-yard line. However, on the play Chantell Taylor and Nneka Nwani were lined up well over a yard into the 3-yard allowed space between the spot of the ball. An excited Bliss team quickly realized that their cheering was premature after hearing the call.
Two plays later Bliss corner-back Di’andra Frye committed a costly pass interference on Mist receiver Bryn Renda, that gave Seattle a first down from the Chicago 22-yard line extending what turned out to be the longest drive of the championship game.
Still on the same drive, shortly after the two minute warning, Seattle capitalized and took a controlling 14-0 lead, when Stevi Schnoor scored on a 4-yard run with 1:47 remaining in the first half. The failed extra-point attempt kept the lead at 14.
It was now time for the 2x defending Legends Cup winning Bliss to cut the lead in half with their 2-minute offense. The Bliss’ offense was clearly jittery as Furr displayed choppy footwork in the pocket on the pass plays and ChrisDell Harris jumped committing a false-start on what appeared to be a run up the middle. Normally a confident bunch, Chicago began making the mistakes of a team with too much work on its plate. The anxiousness didn’t bode well for Chicago as they turned the ball over on downs again after just four plays, failing to get the first down yardage.
With only 18 seconds remaining in the half, Seattle had another shot at the end-zone, taking over from the Bliss 17-yard line. The ensuing play, Jessica Hopkins with her veteran receiving ability made an incredible catch over defender Dominique Collins at the 1-yard line. The following play on a Fowler run, the Mist took a demanding 20-0 lead before half.
To the surprise of nearly every LFL fan, the Chicago Bliss found themselves down by three scores in the biggest game of the season. It was evident that Seattle wanted it more and their execution on both sides of the ball was a notch better than Chicago’s. For the first time all season, the Bliss appeared to lack the swagger and confidence they had portrayed a week ago at home in Chicago against Atlanta. Maybe the atmosphere at the ShoWare Center in front of a loud Mist fan base was too much for them, just like the environment that many suspected was Atlanta’s demise the week prior in Chicago. Either way, the legend of KK Matheny’s ability to scorch opposing defenses was now evident and somehow, they’d found a way to contain the Ferrari.
During the halftime break, Bliss head-coach Keith Hac simply stated that it would not be easy to come back from the hole that they had dug themselves with poor execution. He finished by explaining the plan was to throw the ball, score quick, and not allow Seattle to control the ball like they did in the second quarter. It was a tall order, considering their quarterback, Heather Furr, had been criticized all season long for her inability to deliver accurate deep strikes as a result of her shoddy mechanics.
For the first time in nearly 2 seasons, Bliss fans in attendance were worried. If anyone was questioning whether Chicago would come out strong in the third quarter, however, Jamie Fornal’s deliberating blow on Seattle’s Katie Whelan during the kickoff was enough to convince everyone that the Bliss were ready for the next 20-minutes of football. They had put themselves in a bind, but had a Ferrari and the league’s best defense backing up their comeback efforts.
On third down, Chicago’s Alli Alberts intercepted Matheny’s pass in the end zone and made it only out just beyond the 1-yard line. With a long field to go, with 8:04 on the clock ChrisDell Harris took the sweep play 26-yards downfield.
Seattle’s 22-yard line is the furthest the Bliss would find themselves after four plays and three incomplete passes by Furr. With Seattle taking over with 5:14 remaining in the third, it appeared they could be in control.
Control was exactly what the Mist had after Lashaunda Fowler scored on a 1-yard run to top of the scoring drive with 2:50 remaining in the third. A converted extra-point attempt gave Seattle a 27-0 lead over Chicago. It appeared that the Mist would coast to their first ever Legends Cup Championship before a championship-starved crowd of Mistfits who’d backed them since training camp.
With a comeback unlikely to occur, Chicago did score with :56 remaining in the third on a Deena Fagiano 8-yard run. With a Furr extra-point rush for 2, Seattle was still in control leading 27-8.
After turning the ball over on downs with 7:59 remaining in the game, the Mist defense became complacent, as the secondary left Jamie Fornal wide open for a 24-yard touchdown completion when Alberts threw a strike on a reverse pass. After another extra-point rush Chicago found themselves within two scores as they trailed 27-15 with 6:55 remaining in the game. It was at that very moment that Bliss fans began to believe once more. They had the experience and they were watching their squad claw their way back into a ballgame in which Seattle’s defense appeared to go on autopilot.
Enter the legend of KK Matheny. The Mist offense established a drive that almost put the dagger into the Bliss’ hopes of a comeback. After shaving nearly six minutes of playtime during the drive, Seattle was in striking distance on a 4th down play in the red zone. A Matheny pass that was slightly under thrown to a well-covered Bryn Renda, was still nearly caught which would certainly have had the Mistfit Nation of fans tasting victory. But instead, it was time for Chicago to mount their comeback.
It took just one play for things to get exciting as Furr connected with Harris on a laser strike deep downfield getting to within the Mist 5-yard line. Chicago quickly scored two plays later as Furr bulldozed her way up the middle. A failed extra-point left the Bliss within 6 points of getting their third consecutive Legends Cup victory, as they trailed 27-21. The touchdown had revived the Bliss sideline as Mist fans sat in silence. They were in disbelief as their team of destiny was in the fight of its life.
An onside kick with 20-seconds remaining was Chicago’s only hope of victory. This time on the opposite side of the onside kick attempted in the 2014 Legends Cup when Atlanta attempted to get the ball back from Chicago, the Bliss found themselves gearing up for the magic that needed to occur. Having made mistakes early in the game, Chicago now pinned their hopes on the hopes of perfect execution and a miracle.
However the Collins kick was quickly scooped up by Mele Gilmore who even returned the kick 5-yards. One kneeling play by Matheny separated the confetti shower that the 2015 Legends Cup Champion Seattle Mist experienced in front of their home crowd. Seconds later history was etched as the Seattle Mist joined the Los Angeles Temptation and the Chicago Bliss as the only teams to win a Legends Cup Championship. It is quite fitting that they are the only three franchises that have been around since the inaugural season in 2009, proving it takes time to build a championship culture.
Game MVP Stevi Schnoor finished with 48 yards on 13 rushing attempts and had four receptions for 24 yards, and scored one touchdown for the Mist. More importantly her performance on the defensive line with not allowing space in the middle gaps made it difficult for Chicago to get the Ferrari going Sunday, and kept the Chicago ground game in check.
– Text by John M. Davis, originally posted on LFL360.com
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