The Atlanta Steam (2-0-1) went on the road to play the Toledo Crush (0-2-1) in the Legends Football League (Lingerie Football League) action last Friday night and came away with a 40-13 win that sets up a huge game with the Jacksonville Breeze (2-0-1) on the final day of the LFL regular season that will determine the conference champion.
With Jodie Nettles starting at quarterback because rookie Dakota Hughes was sidelined due to a wrist fracture on her throwing hand, the Steam knew going in that they had to establish a run game that would allow them to wear down the Crush defense, and they did just that.
First-year Head Coach Dane Robinson made the decision to start rookie Dee Salter at receiver normally held down by Nettles, while Nas Johnson got the start out of the backfield. Salter opened the Omaha game in the backfield, but Robinson and Johnson both felt that she had fully recovered from the injury that shortened her season last year and was ready for increased touches.
Atlanta executed their game plan flawlessly in the first half as they scored on five of six possessions, including the first four, to jump to a 27-13 halftime lead. Johnson carried the ball 11 times for 69 yards (6.3 YPC) and scored three touchdowns in the opening half of play.
Nettles did exactly what Robinson asked of her, protect the ball and limiting mistakes, and contributed a 21-yard touchdown pass and run to Salter with four seconds left in the first half that was the difference between a one-score and two-score contest going into the break.
Like Atlanta, Toledo focused on the ground game in the first half, running on 16 of 20 plays. Tamar Fennell totaled 63 yards on 12 attempts with a TD for the Crush, including a 21 yard burst. Toledo QB Arika Hoffman went to the air four times and had a reception for a 4-yard TD, but was also picked off.
The second half saw the Atlanta offense score on two big plays, one early in the half and one late in the half, and then the defense took control as they recovered a fumble and picked off a second Hoffman pass, as well as forcing turnovers on the other two Crush possessions on their way to a 27 point victory.
The scoring in the second half came on a Nettles to Coco Montgomery 35-yard pass 11 seconds into the third quarter, with the final score of the game coming with 1:26 to go when Johnson topped off her night with a 30-yard run to pay dirt.
Johnson finished with 130 yards on 18 carries (7.2 YPC) with four TD's to lead the offensive attack, and was selected as Game MVP. In addition to her 21-yard TD catch, Salter had three rushing attempts for 17 yards (5.3 YPC). Nettles was 3-for-6 for 83 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
The Steam defense has earned a league wide reputation as one of the most physical in the LFL, and this game will do nothing to change that view. Sharlene Fuller, Key Harrison and Montgomery anchored the defense, accounting for 22 of 34 Atlanta tackles.
Fuller totaled 9.0 tackles (7S, 4A), a recovered a fumble, an intercepted a pass, two tackles for loss and one quarterback hurry; Harrison had 8.5 tackles (6S, 5A) and one tackle for loss; Montgomery tallied 4.5 (4S, 1A) tackles, had a sack, one tackle for loss, forced a fumble and intercepted a pass in addition to her 35-yard TD catch.
While Toledo won the possession battle by almost seven minutes, they were unable to finish drives with points. Fennell was the workhorse for Toledo, carrying the rock 20 times for 82 yards and a score.
The Steam will host the Breeze on Saturday, Aug. 16 at The Arena at Gwinnett Center in what will be a battle between two very good teams that have quickly become LFL rivals with a conference title at stake.