(Saturday, July 9 – Atlanta, GA) Two projected Playoff teams clashed on Saturday night, the winner would establish itself as a high-seed candidate while the loser could fall into desperation mode in relation to the Playoffs. The No.1 ranked Austin Sound began the week leading up to the game as a 2.5pt favorite, which was shocking as many expected the Sound to be a far greater favorite after their dominating debut performance vs Los Angeles. However, the oddsmakers always seem to know more than most and as news broke on the Tuesday leading up to the game that Austin’s star two-way athlete Kris Daniels would miss the game, the line dropped to a Pick’em.
When you considered the key factors going into the game, all indicators pointed to Austin winning and winning convincingly. Atlanta Empire was starting a 19yr. old at the most important position in all of sports in Bailey Hodgins, a quarterback who had yet to take a single snap in tackle football. Outside of Lauran Ziegler, Atlanta’s defense did not feature a single household name to women’s tackle football fans. Austin came in with the league’s leading passer in Michelle Angel as well as an explosive running back in Rachel Washington and a defense that had been out-performing its talent-level, led by middle linebacker Whitney Palmer.
All of that considered, how did Atlanta shock the X League world and beat Austin by 16 points?
That question was answered on the first possession of the game for Austin, as arguably the league’s most daunting offense would go three and out on a 3 play drive that would yield -5 yards. Not exactly a powerhouse opening drive, but that series would be more of an indicator for Atlanta and their unheralded defense.
Following Austin’s woeful punt attempt by Michelle Angel, Atlanta’s offense wasted no time marching down the short field on the legs of their work-horse Jessica Salazar. The 5’7 170lb. bruising back would carry in five consecutive plays, capping the 28-yard scoring drive with a 4yd touchdown run, giving Atlanta an early 8-0 lead. The opening drive for Atlanta clearly demonstrated that Empire offensive coordinator Dominique Robinson would smartly take the weight off the shoulders of his 19yr old Quarterback and squarely place it squarely on the legs of Salazar.
The league’s deadliest passing combination of Michelle Angel to Kassandra Bills would respond in the 1st Quarter connecting on a 36-yard touchdown with most of it coming from the YAC ability of Bills, Austin would fail on the extra point attempt and we had a 6-8 ball game.
On the following possession by Atlanta, the game’s other star and could have easily been voted co-Game MVP, Lindsey Ezell formally announced herself as having arrived breaking off a 21-yard touchdown run, one of three touchdowns on the night for Ezell. The Ezell’s run would extend Atlanta’s lead to an impressive 16-6.
In the 2nd Quarter, the two projected Playoff teams would exchange blows which included another Ezell touchdown, and for Austin, it was the LIVE arm of Angel connecting with Rachel Washington who was getting the start in place of an injured Mandy Pena as well as Bills scoring a 2nd time in the half.
At halftime, it was very apparent that these were two very evenly matched teams as both clubs went into their respective locker rooms in a one-score game of Austin 18 Atlanta 24.
The 3rd Quarter would feature more offensive fireworks as both offenses kept true to their identity as Salazar would score a rushing touchdown while Angel and Bills would connect two more times on touchdowns. However, the most noteworthy play of the 3rd Quarter was the coming-out play for the much heralded ‘Young Gun’ Bailey Hodgins who had shown a lot of poise and been able to manage the game up to this point but it had finally come time to show her arm off. On the final drive of the 3rd Quarter, Atlanta’s offensive coordinator Robinson finally dialed up a big-play call for the young QB1 and Hodgins responded showing her arm strength in connecting on a 40yd touchdown bomb with Ezell.
Heading into the 4th Quarter there was a clear sense of confidence throughout ’The Castle’ Gas South Arena, on the sidelines, in the stands, heck even in the concessions area. Atlanta had a wounded No.1 team on the ropes and they were beginning to smell blood.
Atlanta’s brilliant offensive play-calling and strategy would continue to shine as they closed out the game in the 4th Quarter with nothing sexy, just simply a blue-collar mentality of ‘we are going to run the ball and you can’t do anything about it’. It was evident that the smaller-framed Austin defense was a bit intimidated and physically out-matched. Austin middle linebacker Whitney Palmer was the only defensive player that showed any grit in stepping up against Atlanta’s power run game. However, Palmer’s efforts were not enough as Ezell would score her 3rd rushing touchdown of the game and Salazar would add another.
Angel and Bills would try to rally Austin late but there was simply not enough gas in the tank as Atlanta closed out the game with a message-sending 50 to 34 win in front of perhaps the rowdiest crowd of any game this season.
Austin’s regular season is now done with a record of 1-1 and a point differential of +15 (Playoff Tiebreaker), the Sound will await the results of key games coming up that will determine their fate as it relates to a Playoff berth.
For the Empire, they are very much in control of their own destiny which includes a Friday, July 22nd match-up against the Denver Rush in Loveland, CO. If Atlanta beats Denver coupled with a Seattle or Chicago loss later this season, with the best point differential, Atlanta could be your No.1 seed in the Playoffs.
|Passing Yards (Net)||191||71|
|Total Offense Plays-Yards||40-239||34-279|