With just 65 ticks of the clock left and the Atlanta Steam trailing the Jacksonville Breeze by two scores in Saturday’s LFL Eastern Conference Championship Game, the sun seemed to be setting on the Steam goal of winning the LFL championship THIS season. It was then that an offense that had been held scoreless for nearly 24 minutes by a smothering Breeze defense battled back and Atlanta had an incredible minute of football that saw the Steam even the score and force overtime, where they would score the winning TD on their second possession.
Despite trailing by 12 points with only 1:05 left in regulation, Atlanta would not surrender and continued to battle even as Jacksonville fans began to head for the exit thinking they were on their way to another title game. Things would change dramatically over the final minute of regulation.
Related: Coach Robinson Interview from April
The comeback began with star-rookie Dakota Hughes connecting with Jodie Nettles up the right sideline to move the the ball into Breeze territory, and then finding Ashley Pope for a 5-yard scoring strike with 1:04 left in the fourth quarter. The extra point attempt failed and the Steam were down by six, 14-8.
Atlanta had to recover an onside kick to keep the comeback alive, and they did just that.
Hughes had trouble throwing in front of the Breeze defenders all night but trailing by a TD with only 49 seconds to go on the Atlanta side of the field, she was able to go over the top and hit Nas Johnson for a 29-yard score to tie the game at 14-14. Johnson, the Game MVP in the Toledo win, made an outstanding grab, going up and pulling the ball in as she was falling backwards into the end zone.
After another failed extra point, the Steam and Breeze were even at 14 with 44 seconds left in regulation. The Atlanta defense held Jacksonville to force the overtime.
Atlanta won the toss in OT, which is sudden death in the LFL, and had the first crack at ending the game. Facing a fourth and long, Hughes attempted to beat the defense over the top again, but was picked off at the Jacksonville 2. The LFL does not have punts, but the long INT had the same result and gave the Steam a win in the field position battle.
The defense stepped up in a big way, almost ending the game twice by safety, and forced a four-and-out to get the ball back to the Steam offense at the Breeze 3-yard line. After an incomplete pass, Hughes and Pope teamed up for their second TD connection of the night-this one to win the game and send the Steam to the LFL Championship Game on Saturday, September 6 at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, California where they will face the winner of the Western Conference Championship Game, either the Los Angeles Temptation or the Chicago Bliss.
The win was a complete team victory that was the result of a defense that played a hard, physical game that kept a good Jacksonville offense off balance and forced mistakes, keeping Atlanta in the game until the offense could put some points on the board. The special teams contribution can’t be forgotten, for without the onside kick recovery the opportunity for Nas to make the catch to even the score would not have existed.
Despite winning their division last season and going undefeated this season, Atlanta has yet to receive the respect throughout the league that the on field performance warrants. Even after winning the Eastern Conference title, the LFL site calls the Steam a “Cinderella team” and says the win “Shocked” the LFL. While few outside of the Steammates and their supporters actually believed Atlanta could not only play with Jacksonville, but could beat them, the victory is just the next step to the ultimate objective-a Legends Cup victory and the league championship.
Hughes (Steam) 8-for-22 for 119 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Matheny (Breeze) 3-for-7 for 38 yards.
47 yards rushing on 24 attempts
Hughes: 17 yards on nine carries (1.9)
Johnson: 15 yards on 10 carries (1.5)
Salter: 13 yards on four carries (3.2)
Nettles: 2 yards on a carry (2.0)
118 yards on 25 attempts
Steinmetz: 75 yards on 17 carries (4.4) with two TDs
Purnell: 24 yards on two carries (12.0)
Turner: 12 yards on four carries (3.0)
Matheny: seven yards on a pair of attempts (3.5)
Nettles: 3R/49 yards
Montgomery: 2R/33 yards
Pope: 2R/8 yards and two TDs
Johnson: 1R/29 yards and a TD
Montgomery: 6.0 Tackles (All unassisted), 1 TFL
Harrison: 5.0 Tackles (All unassisted), 1 TFL
Gore: 5.0 Tackles (All unassisted), 1 TFL
Fuller: 4.5 Tackles (4 UA-1 A)
Purnell: 10.5 Tackles (9 UA-3A)
McMillan: 5.0 Tackles (4 UA/2A)
Brown: 4.0 Tackles (All unassisted)
Bryant: 3.5 Tackles (2 UA/3A)
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