Quite possibly the signature rivalry in Legends Football League, the Los Angeles Temptation and Seattle Mist collided in the postseason for another year. Battling for the privilege of representing the Western Conferecne in the upcoming Legends Cup, the familiarity between the two ensured that the intensity would result in another epic confrontation. Adding to the excitement of the event was the fact that it was being contested at Toyota Park in suburban Chicago, the home field of the two-time defending champion Chicago Bliss.
Although the first quarter was a defensive struggle (likely caused by rainy weather earlier in the day), Temptation quarterback Ashley Salerno logged the game’s first touchdown in the dying seconds of the first quarter. With Carmen Bourseau (known affectionately as the F-150) ramming the ball into the end zone for the two-point conversion, the Temptation enjoyed an eight-point lead.
Beginning the second quarter, Mist signal caller KK Matheny showed no signs of panic, which shall prove crucial against a punishing Chicago Bliss defense in the Legends Cup final. Finding Megan Hanson on a 22-yard scoring play, it set the tone for a career day for Matheny. With Mist charter member (and 2012 Legends Cup Canada champion) Jessica Hopkins successfully gaining the two point conversion, the Temptation’s lead had evaporated.
Hopkins would prove to be just as essential on the defensive side of the ball. Having played against Salerno for so many seasons, she was highly effective in breaking up numerous passing attempts, familiarity becoming a key theme.
Despite the Temptation struggling to mount an offensive attack, they managed to regain the lead with only 26 seconds in the second quarter. Successfully running through the middle, disabling the impact of the Mist defense, Sherri Awagah would not only score the Temptation’s second touchdown of the game, she would also manage the two-point conversion.
Even with few seconds remaining, Matheny capitalized, using it to her full advantage. Running out of bounds as a means of strategically stopping the clock, Matheny showed grace under pressure. With just five seconds, she found former Jacksonville Breeze teammates Bryn Renda for a touchdown. Throughout the season, the strong chemistry between the two has proven effective in hotly contested matches against the Temptation.
With just a two-point advantage heading into the third quarter, the Temptation’s dreams of an unprecedented fourth league championship were going to require some real aggression on both sdies of the ball. Instead, it was Seattle pushing closer to their goal, as Matheny managed to find Mele Gilmore for a touchdown pass. Showing great bravura, Matheny would run the ball in for the two-point conversion, as the Mist finally grabbed their first lead in the contest, ahead by six points in a 26-20 score.
Matheny’s efforts were preserved by two remarkable members of the Mist defense. Danika Brace, who is a nominee for both League MVP and Defensive Player of the Year honors showed her veteran skill on the gridiron, while rookie safety Kadi Findling was emulating Brace, bruising the Temptation with punishing hits.
Although Ashley Salerno had been frustrated by dropped passes, the Hall of Fame candidate showed why she is one of the greatest signal callers in league history. Finding Amber Reed on a 33-yard pass, it turned the momentum towards the Temptation’s favor.
Awagah pounded into the end zone as the Temptation reclaimed the lead with less than five minutes remaining.
Considering that the 2015 Legends Cup shall be contested in Seattle, the Mist did not want their archrivals to be competing for a championship on their home turf. Such motivation translated into Matheny making a strong case for the MVP Award. Connecting with Danika Brace on a 32-yard scoring play, it would prove to be the game winning score and Matheny’s fourth touchdown of the game.
Despite the win, it would prove to be hard earned. The Temptation regained the ball for one last scoring opportunity. Salerno masterfully picked apart the Mist defense, finding tight end Danielle Harvey, consuming 25 yards. With the ball positioned in the red zone, the Temptation opted for the running game.
Awagah was looking to break through the Mist’s defensive wall and find daylight in the end zone. Instead, she was the recipient of a hit by the underrated Megan Hanson, resulting in a fumble. With Lashaunda Fowler recovering the fumble at the Mist’s six-yard line, there were sighs of relief throughout the Mist’s sideline.
As important as Brace’s touchdown was, the fumble stood as the turning point of the game. Taking into account that it was the game’s only turnover, it could not have come at a more inopportune time for the Temptation. Such a play will haunt the squad throughout the offseason, making the road towards next season one to ponder what went wrong.
Statistically, the Temptation gained the advantage in various categories. In terms of possession time (24:47) and net rushing yards (73), the Temptation managed to convincingly outperform the Mist. As a side note, Carmen Bourseau (41 yards) had outrushed the Mist’s two leading rushers combined (Matheny and Schnoor: 38 yards). Logging more total offensive yards (154) and first downs (13), an argument can be made that the Temptation had a better game on paper.