As the Seattle Mist raised their championship banner in their 2016 home opener, it was an opportunity to celebrate more than just a proud milestone in franchise history. Subsequently, the opener allowed fans to witness one of the greatest athletes to don the Mist colors. In gracing the gridiron, Jessica Hopkins became the first (and only) woman in league history to play seven seasons with the Mist. With her family in attendance, the banner raising ceremony not only helped bring her career full circle, it was a shared victory for all the people whose lives she positively impacted.
A nominee for the 2015 Legends Football League Hall of Fame, Hopkins has proven to be among the league’s most popular players ever. Her hard work and dedication are only exceeded by her remarkable performances on the field. Such impact was evident during the home opener, which was also the first game in the history of the Austin Acoustic.
Quite possibly the most productive two-way player in Mist history, she would contribute 2.5 tackles while pacing all members of the Mist with 39 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns. While one touchdown pass would come from All-Fantasy signal caller KK Matheny, who donated 100% of proceeds from fan jersey sales to Sienna Strong Against Cancer, the other touchdown reception was eminently appropriate.
Running back Stevi Schnoor, whose three rushing touchdowns were a game best, displayed some razzle-dazzle, connecting with Hopkins on an 11-yard touchdown pass. Known affectionately as Stevi Wonder, she has enjoyed the privilege of calling Schnoor a teammate on both sides of the border.
Having both played for the BC Angels in 2012, Hopkins and Schnoor would prove to be key contributors in a season that culminated with a Canadian Legends Cup win over Heather Furr and the Saskatoon Sirens. Fast forward three years, and all three were back on the same stage playing for the Legends Cup in Kent, Washington.
Furr, who had won a pair of Legends Cup titles in 2013 and 2014 with the Chicago Bliss was looking for a third straight win. Despite her best efforts, she was denied in her ambitions as Hopkins and Schnoor became the first women to win Legends Cup titles in both Canada and the United States.
After such an emotional win, Hopkins was pondering whether her gridiron journey would reach its pinnacle. After so many seasons of sweat and sacrifice, no one would have questioned such a decision. Luckily for fans and teammates alike, she has returned for another season, allowing her an opportunity to add to her growing legend.
While her superlative performance against the Acoustic proved that she still has plenty left to provide, a great start to what hopes to be a lucky seventh season, the chance to appreciate her greatness once again is a victory in itself. Complemented by the presence of former Mist players such as Shea Norton, Mele Rich and Christine Moore (who also played with the Angels) are all back home with the roster this season, it only adds to the jubilation of Hopkins and the dream of another title, which would make for a Sweet 2016.
As the arrival of 2016 brings with it open tryouts for all clubs in Legends Football League, one events allowed for an opportunity to revisit 2015 one last glorious time. The privilege of that event was bestowed upon the remarkable women of the Seattle Mist, who delivered the first championship in franchise history, and the first major championship in the city of Seattle since the Washington Huskies captured the 1991 college football national title.
Rewarded for their historic season with championship rings, it has assured all of them a special place in club lore. A silver-colored ring, that harkens memories of the Raiders Super Bowl rings (the first to abandon the traditional gold colored ring and adopt a silver color instead), the Mist logo is prominent in the mounting, surrounded by gems and emblazoned by the wording “national champions”.
All members of the Mist, including coaching staff were given rings. Beaming with pride, head coach Chris Michaelson, one of the longest serving coaches in league history, displayed his ring on social media, a long overdue achievement in his accomplished career.
Such an amazing and accomplished team was a blend of established talent and free agent acquisitions, resulting in an ideal amalgam that delivered on all accounts. Among the free agent talent available due to the realignment of the league, a remarkable trinity of acquisitions helps set the tone.
Arriving from the now defunct Jacksonville Breeze, quarterback KK Matheny and wide receiver Bryn Renda were nothing short of
dominant, complementing RB Stevi Schnoor, who was the heartbeat of the Mist offense in 2014. Having also played at the flag football level in college, the rapport not only led into offensive synergy, it provided Matheny with a prime receiving target, one that saw Renda frequently deliver in the clutch.
Danika Brace enjoyed a heroic welcome to Seattle, capturing the hearts and minds of its loyal fans with one of the greatest defensive performances in league history. It was the prodigal daughter returning home after seasons of exile in Las Vegas, contemplating retirement in the aftermath of a winless 2014 season. Throughout 2015, she worked tirelessly in the defensive trenches helping to inspire confidence.
Avenging their heartbreaking 2014 playoff loss to their eternal rivals LA Temptation, the Mist defeated the two-time champion Chicago Bliss in front of a jubilant hometown crowd at ShoWare Centre. It capped off a remarkable season that also saw the Mist capture the regular season Western Conference crown. Adding to such elation was the fact that Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll congratulated them in the aftermath of their championship.
With due deference, the Mist could be seen as an underdog champion, having never played for a title before in franchise history. Despite the obstacles presented, no one could deny them their greatness. Refusing to believe the doubters, instead the Mist believed in themselves. These sensational Seattle Mist competitors definitely earned so much respect among their peers in the league following their championship win; it was enhanced by the selection of seven competitors named as competitors in the
All-Fantasy Game in Guatemala City.
Of all the players who now have their fingers adorned with a stylish ring, the feel-good story belongs to Jessica Hopkins. A charter member of the franchise, its fan base saw Hopkins evolve into more than a leader, but a living legend. Her friendship, graciousness and stoic dedication are all a remarkable source of admiration, gaining new fans every season. Along with Stevi Schnoor, one of the most durable and consistently dependable running backs in the league, they became the first women in LFL history to have won championships in both Canada and the US, having captured a title in 2012 with the BC Angels.
Although some players were not available for the ring ceremony, there is no denying that they held a special place in the hearts of those who attended. The ring signifies the arrival into a gratifying immortality, where a long journey consisted of sweat and sacrifice overcame any struggles, emerging in a victorious vindication, an important symbol of respect.
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.
The historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum served as the venue where the hometown Temptation and Seattle Mist renewed rivalries. In the Mist’s season opener, the Temptation narrowly escaped the ShoWare Center with a hard fought 14-13 win.
One positive for the Mist in that loss was the ability to stifle the Temptation’s bruising running game featuring Carmen Bourseau, allowing only 89 offensive yards in the process. Heading into the rematch, another plotline developed which saw the Temptation lose franchise quarterback Ashley Salerno to injury. Out for a period of 1-2 months, the Temptation handed the reins to Michelle Angel. While some social media chat involved the possibility that Angel could be part of a Tom Brady scenario, ushering in a new era, the Mist defense had other plans.
From the Mist’s perspective, their biggest storyline heading into the game was the readjustment of their defensive unit. After Megan Hanson struggled at the cornerback position in the loss to the Temptation, she was relegated to spot duty on defensive end, occasionally filling in for two-way player Stevi Schnoor (one half of the Smash Sisters), while resuming her full-time duties as one of the league’s most talented centres. Stepping into the cornerback role was Lashaunda Fowler, adding more speed to the defensive backfiel.
Early in the game, Angel showed confidence and ingenuity by finding centre Laura Barba for a centre release that resulted in a twelve-yard play, moving the ball down to Seattle’s 12-yard line. Employing the passing game again, Angel connected with Monika Jaramillo. Afterwards, Bourseau would be stopped by a bruising Mist defense on the one-yard line. Lining up in the shotgun formation, Angel scampered into the end zone for the game’s first touchdown.
On the next possession, Seattle was challenged early. With a 4th and 6, free agent All-Fantasy quarterback KK Matheny (previously with the Jacksonville Breeze) took advantage of the Mist’s superb running game, allowing Stevi Schnoor to carry the ball. Establishing herself as one of the league’s elite running backs, Schnoor enjoyed a 16-yard run, bringing the Mist into the red zone at the 15-yard line.
Despite Schnoor’s efforts, the Mist struggled to capitalize. With another fourth-down situation (this time on the Temptation’s 16-yard line), Matheny opted for the pass, successfully finding Mist legend Jessica Hopkins in the end zone. With Schnoor successfully converting the extra point, the Mist enjoyed a one-point advantage.
Hopkins was not finished providing heroics for the Mist. Intercepting Angel on the Temptation’s next possession, it placed the momentum squarely in the Mist’s favor. Strategically consuming time on the clock, Matheny connected with Fowler on a five-yard touchdown. Fowler would contribute on the one-point conversion as well, extending the Mist lead to eight points.
Although the Temptation faced an eight point deficit, a very determined Angel showed that she was capable of competing at the quarterback position. Assembling a scoring drive on just four plays, Angel found Danielle Harvey with a crisp fourteen-yard pass. With her confidence rising, Angel would follow up with a two-point conversion pass to Awagh.
Before the first half would expire, Angel would have the chance to break the deadlock. With just six seconds remaining on the clock, Angel had targeted Jarmillo with her next pass. Unfortunately, it was a little underthrown, allowing veteran defensive back Danika Brace to pounce on the ball, resulting in another interception for Angel. It would be the first of two plays that would come back and haunt the Temptation.
Schnoor would add another touchdown in the third quarter, complementing a 39-yard drive consisting of five plays. With the successful extra-point attempt, the Mist regained the lead. Angel would show poise, replying to the Mist score with one of their own. Managing to employ a drive that consumed 6:18, Angel put the Temptation back in the game with another touchdown. Failing to convert on the extra-point, Seattle’s lead was reduced to just one point.
Despite 15 seconds remaining in the third quarter, the Mist took full advantage of the time. Matheny and Bryn Renda teamed up for some scoring magic, reminiscent of their days as teammates at the University of Western Florida and the Jacksonville Breeze. The great chemistry between the two resulted in Renda catching one of Matheny’s tosses for a 12-yard score, extending their lead to a 27-20 mark.
Going scoreless in the fourth quarter, the Mist relied on their defense to preserve the lead. With 6:08 left, Angel stayed calm during third down, connecting with Jaramillo for a 32-yard touchdown pass, it was her finest pass of the game.
Afterwards, the Temptation took a gamble and opted tfor a two-point conversion. Showing great ambition in wanting to regain the lead, it would not yield the desired result. Despite the setback, the fact that there was 2:41 remaining allowed the Temptation to proceed with an onside kick. Recovered by the Mist, it was up to the defense to stifle their offense. With a 3rd and 2 situation facing the Mist, the outcome of the game was very much in the balance.
Providing the heroics, Schnoor obtained the crucial first down, resulting in Seattle running out the clock. It was part of a game that saw Schnoor log a game-high 101 yards on 20 rushing attempts with one touchdown. Despite only throwing for 54 yards, Matheny delivered when it mattered, throwing for three touchdown passes.
Statistically, key battles were won on turnovers (2 for Seattle) and time of possession (Seattle gained the advantage with 22:25). Those were the advantages that provided Seattle with a 27-26 victory as once again, the victorious ream prevailed by the narrowest of margins in a hard-fought win.
In all likelihood, the postseason tussle for the Western Conference shall take place between these two titans. Based on the intensity of these gridiron confrontations, the team that commits the least amount of errors shall prevail in a contest where precision shall prove essential.