(AUSTIN, TX – September 13, 2022) A league that has featured offensive fireworks all season took a different direction on its biggest stage as defenses would take over as evidenced by the Game MVP honors being awarded to an emerging defensive star in Chicago safety Jade Austin. X Cup 2022 featured the No.2 defense in the Atlanta Empire and the No.3 ranked defense in the Chicago Blitz and it showed as the starting Quarterbacks registered their lowest QBRs of the season as Stephanie Raymond only managed a QBR of 73.15 and Bailey Hodgins registered 64.35 which included an interception. Even the headline-making running backs were shut down as League MVP Jessica Salazar who ran through defenses all season was held to 3.2 yards per carry and only a total of 29 yards while Chicago’s Javell Thompson managed 21 yards on 6 carries.
Throughout GameDay there was a definite difference in the energy within both locker rooms, Chicago was incredibly relaxed with a jovial atmosphere while Atlanta seemed to be the more focused or perhaps the more nervous team. Chicago was a 4.5pt favorite coming into X Cup 2022 because of its No.1 ranked surprising offense led by QB1 Raymond as well as a defense that was ranked No.3 overall. The only edge that would go to Atlanta would be greater experience at coaching, although a final coaching decision for Atlanta could have very well cost them a championship.
The defensive tone for the game would be set early, in fact on the very first play from scrimmage Atlanta’s inexperienced 19-year-old QB Bailey Hodgins would throw an interception as she stared down her receiver Jolie Efezhokae and the eventual Game MVP Jade Austin of Chicago would leap in front of Efezhokae for the athletic interception. However, Chicago’s offense could not capitalize and looked rather sloppy on its first drive which included a drive-killing holding call. Atlanta’s first-year defensive end America Valdez shined on the drive with two key tackles to force a turnover on downs.
Atlanta would mount a drive that would provide the 1st Quarter’s only points as Salazar took over with 5 carries on the drive which included the game’s first score with a 4-yard touchdown run. Salazar’s extra point run attempt failed and Atlanta’s lead would be 6-0 going into the 2nd Quarter.
In the 2nd Quarter, Chicago would come to life offensively which included an impressive 11-play 35-yard drive that ended in a Raymond 1-yard touchdown run, and with the extra point conversion, Chicago would take its first lead at 7-6. Atlanta would turn it over on downs after an 8-play drive.
Chicago took over at its own 15-yard line with only 50 seconds remaining in the half, forcing the offense to finally open up its passing game. Raymond would complete 2 out of 3 passes on the drive, one of which would be a 15-yard touchdown pass to Tamika Robinson, although the extra point would fail to convert, giving Chicago 13-6 halftime lead.
Neither locker room panicked at halftime as it was merely a one-score game and certainly, both offenses were capable of better performances in the 2nd half. The 3rd Quarter would become a true defensive battle as both teams would turn it over on downs, Chicago twice and Atlanta once.
Heading into the final 10 minutes of play to determine the historic first-ever X Cup champion, the intensity, and sense of anticipation would grow throughout HEB Center. One of these two undefeated teams would cap the perfect season while the other would face devastation, falling one game short.
Chicago’s offense would strike first with a 9-play 42-yard drive with Raymond once again scoring on the ground with a 4-yard Quarterback-keeper touchdown, the extra point attempt would fail once again but Chicago would extend its lead to 19-6. If there was no panic prior on the Atlanta Empire sidelines, this score would certainly start to raise some serious concern, especially with a young Quarterback and an offense who had only managed to score 6 points through 3 Quarters of play.
Atlanta would take over with 7:54 remaining in its season down two scores and facing one of the best defenses in the X League. This was one of several drives where Game MVP Jade Austin would shine for Chicago, as the defense would hold the Atlanta offense to a four and out. Hodgins would attempt to open up the passing game by targeting the 6’1 tight end Jolie Efezhokae but Austin shut down one of the league’s biggest threats.
Leading 19-6 with only 4:45 remaining in the 4th Quarter, Chicago was sitting in the driver’s seat and the X Cup was starting to make its travel arrangements to O’Hare Airport. However, the Atlanta defense made its final stand in holding Chicago to a 4-and-out series, providing its offense at least a chance.
Atlanta would get the ball back one final time with 2:30 remaining and still trailing 19-6. If Hodgins was going to make a name for herself, this was her opportunity and Hodgins did not disappoint. On the first offensive play for Atlanta, Hodgins connected with Lindsey Ezell on an 11-yard touchdown pass. Salazar as was the case most of the night would be contained yet again on the extra point attempt, keeping the score 19-12.
Now came the coaching decision of the year for Atlanta head coach Dane Robinson, with 2:08 remaining, either onside kick the ball or trust your defense to hold Chicago. Robinson chose the latter which ultimately proved to be the wrong decision.
Chicago took over with 2:08 remaining and a 1st down from an X Cup championship. Raymond would take control of Chicago’s destiny calling her own number on two successive Quarterback keepers. The 1st and 10 play Raymond rushed for 6 yards, setting up a 2nd and 4. On 2nd down, Raymond would put the final nail in the coffin of Atlanta with an 11-yard run to get a first down and simply run out the clock.
As the clock hit 0:00 and the confetti started to fly, it was the culmination of so many odds to overcome for this upstart league with the constant COVID forced delays as well as producing a season with all the challenges that come with women’s sport.
However, not only did the X League prevail but so would its member clubs who each fought to prepare for this inaugural season and played their hearts out.
Of all the story-lines that will come from the inaugural season of the X League and indelibly etched into the history books of the X League will be the 2022 Chicago Blitz, a team that would not only capture the historic first-ever X Cup World Championship with a perfect season but would also be named ’Team of the Year’, awarded ‘Coach of the Year’ and ‘Offensive Player of the Year’ honors.
Both franchises are now heading into the off-season to start to prepare for the first sign of the 2023 season, the upcoming January 2023 National Open Tryouts which are expected to draw a record number of athletes.
|Passing Yards (Net)||56||107|
|Total Offense Plays-Yards||28-101||40-161|
|Fumble Returns-Yards||0 / 0||1 / -1|
|Kickoff Returns-Yards||0 / 0||0 / 0|
|Interception Returns-Yards||0 / 0||2 / 16|
|Fumbles-Lost||1 / 1||0 / 0|
|Penalties-Yards||1 / 4||4 / 37|
|Third-Down Conversions||2 / 5||3 / /9|
|Fourth-Down Conversions||1 / 3||2 / 5|
|Red-Zone Scores-Chances||1 / 4||3 / 6|