Phoenix finish Fury

Image © Kim Whetzal, Kimestry Photography. Used with permission.

[Editor’s note: this article comes to us from Chris Jaunsen, who was kind enough to indulge our request for a recap of the prior round’s Atlanta Phoenix game and then really outdid himself with this one. Can you imagine if we had this for more games? How cool would that be? Thanks, Chris!]

Image © Kim Whetzal, Kimestry Photography. Used with permission.
Image © Kim Whetzal, Kimestry Photography. Used with permission.

Editor’s other note: You can download Chris’s fantastically detailed play-by-play stat record of the game here. WFA, take note!

SANDY SPRINGS, GA – A battle between two undefeated national league division champions, Round 2’s match-up between the Atlanta Phoenix (9-0) and the visiting Miami Fury (8-0) would determine the best team in the southeast for the 2013 WFA season. The Atlanta Phoenix, fresh off a nail-biting 24-19 win over Tampa Bay, would have to improve their game and return to the offensive prowess they demonstrated over the regular season that had them ranked 6th in scoring across the league. The Miami Fury did not have to play a Round 1 playoff game as the Savannah Sabers forfeited and the 4th ranked defense’s unscheduled bye week might have proven costly. The teams’ only previous match-up occurred early in the 2012 season: a confidence boosting 48-32 win for the brand new Phoenix squad in only their second game ever.

Miami brought just 18 active players to Atlanta, but the shorthanded squad did not tire quickly. Even as Atlanta was quick to the line on offense throughout, Miami did not back down and controlled the line of scrimmage throughout much of the contest. They controlled time of possession by a landslide, having the ball on offense for at least 10 minutes in each of the first 3 quarters. Lead by quarterback Keondra Greer and fullback Brittani Johnson, the Fury would post a 151-49 yard rushing advantage in the first half. Huge mistakes and crucial penalties however would haunt them in this game. The Fury only had 11 penalties all season, and in this game alone they would be flagged 9 times for 45 yards.

Launa Sims, the Atlanta multi-threat dynamo of a running back, receiver, cornerback and kick returner had a huge game; receiving for 2 touchdowns, running for another and would eventually account for a staggering 331 all-purpose yards. If that wasn’t enough, Miami also had to contend with Atlanta quarterback Lanesha Hargraves, whose two 2-point conversion runs would prove to be the ultimate difference in the game. The Phoenix’s quick-strike ability and penchant for coast-to-coast touchdown scoring plays (3 of their touchdowns would be over 50 yards) would provide a dramatic contrast to the Fury’s methodical strategy.

1ST QUARTER: Atlanta won the coin toss and elected to defer. Revved up, the Phoenix defense forced an immediate 3-and-out. Amazingly, this early drive by Miami turned out to be the shortest drive of the game for them (4 plays, 2:42) and was also their only drive of the game without a 1st down. A tackle by DL Cyerius Searcy on 2nd down kept RB Ronkia Toombs in check. Atlanta’s first possession of the game started off well enough quickly getting RB Launa Sims into the game, but ended on a QB Lanesha Hargraves interception. The ball was intended for WR Kelli Hornberger but was deflected and intercepted by DL Keisha McDonald. Starting from their own 39 yard line, a long 11 play, 8:07 drive for the Miami Fury followed, resulting in the first touchdown of the game. Capped by a 6 yard TD run on 4th down by QB Keondra Greer, the drive featured many first down runs from Greer, Toombs, RB Brittani Johnson. However, early in the drive, Toombs suffered an injury as she was pushed out of bounds and awkwardly fell over her own team’s bench. She returned to the game but save for one 2nd half touchdown, she would not be a major factor in the game. The 2 point attempt, a toss back to Tooms, was not successful.

2ND QUARTER: The next Atlanta drive started with excellent field position thanks to a 42 yard kickoff return by Launa Sims, but the Phoenix struggled to gain yardage. On 3rd and 1, the Miami Fury went offsides, and this drive-continuing penalty would foreshadow worse things to come for their team. A Launa Sims 10 yard run set up a 1st and Goal at the Miami 1 yard line, where Hargraves would sneak it in for an easy touchdown to tie the score at 6. Their 2 point conversion try, a run off left tackle by Sims, came up short. Miami’s next drive saw them come as close as the Atlanta 40 yard line until their quarterback threw one up for grabs. Greer’s pass was intercepted by CB Brandi Pringle. Atlanta could not capitalize on the pick however, as they ended up going 3-and-out. Rather than punting at midfield, they went for it on 4th and 2 but Sims could not find open daylight and ran sideways awhile before being brought down just short of the first down. From the 50, Miami at this point featured a new look shotgun offense that they would feature prominently throughout the rest of the game. Most of the time out of this formation Greer would keep the ball and run for a lot of yards. In only 5 plays, 4 of them QB keepers, the Fury scored their second touchdown of the game to make it 12-6. A bad snap and resulting sack on the 2-point conversion kept the game at a 6 point difference. Atlanta had a quick answer for Miami though, as their next drive would result in a touchdown in only 3 plays. The touchdown play happened as a result of a huge mistake by Miami; on 3rd down and 8, Hargraves passed somewhat dangerously to Sims in the flat, and the Miami CB lunged for the ball rather than making the tackle. She missed, Sims caught it and proceeded to run 64 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown, tying the game once again at 12. On the 2-point conversion, Lanesha Hargraves rolled to her left and ran it in for the score, knocking over the line judge hard in the process. After staggering to his knees, the official eventually signaled for a successful conversion much to the crowd’s delight, making it 14-12, and giving Atlanta the first lead of the game, a lead they would not give up. With 2:46 left in the half, Miami unbelievably called their final time-out of the half before their first play of their next drive. Running out of time, they got as far as the Atlanta 44 yard line before a huge sack by DL Lavonna Collymore stalled their drive. A desperation pass as time ran out fell incomplete (an illegal procedure penalty on the play would have wiped out a complete pass).

3RD QUARTER: Atlanta knew how to make a statement to open the 2nd half. On their 2nd play from scrimmage, Launa Sims received a direct snap from center (as Hargraves was lined up wide) which completely caught Miami off guard. Sims was gone for a huge 70 yard touchdown run, and in only 49 seconds the Phoenix found themselves up 20-12, with a successful 2 point attempt giving them a crucial 2 score lead. A run attempt by Hargraves for the 2 pointer was unsuccessful and the game remained a one score difference. The subsequent drive for Miami focused on their fullback, Brittani Johnson. Over the course of a 7:59, 10 play drive, she ran the ball 6 times. On the 5th play of this drive, Miami converted a 4th down and 1 at the Atlanta 47 yard line on a Greer keeper. Later in the drive, they faced a 4th and inches at the Atlanta 18. Going for it again, they initially called timeout. The timeout backfired, as they proceeded to commit a false start penalty! Backed up at the 23 yard line, a run by Johnson fell 3 yards short of the first down thanks to a great tackle by DE Sylvana Davis. Injured on the play, Davis was surrounded by joyous teammates as she got back on her feet. Started the next drive with bad field position, Atlanta could not get anything going, and a sack on 3rd down and false start on 4th down forced a punt deep in their own end on the 14 yard line.

4TH QUARTER: After a 23 yard punt, Miami appeared to have a much needed quick strike of their own. On the first play of the drive, QB Greer ran to the right for an unmolested touchdown. However, a flag was thrown at the snap, and knowing the offense had committed the penalty, the defense did not really attempt to bring Greer down. Illegal formation negated the 37 yard touchdown run. Undeterred, Miami continued to give Greer and Johnson the ball. Seven plays later Greer scored a touchdown on a crucial 4th down and 2 from the Atlanta 15. With the score 20-18, the next 2 point attempt by Miami was vital. Curling right, Greer ran the ball in for what appeared to be a successful conversion. However, flags were thrown on Miami for holding. 10 yards back, the next attempt was doomed from the start as another bobbled snap and sack kept Miami 2 points behind. Atlanta kept the pressure on in their next drive. On the 7th play of the drive from their own 49 on a 3rd down and 9, Hargraves found Sims on a swing pass for a 51 yard touchdown reception. This was only Atlanta’s 2nd complete pass of the game with both going for touchdowns. Up 26-18, Atlanta had another opportunity to go up by 2 scores and at this point with 9:46 left, be close to putting the game away. A tenacious offensive line consisting all season of Theresa Yarbough, Traci Franklin, Shayla Blair, Blair Clark, Sheila Braxton, Shelly Sampson, Jihrleah Showman, and Janiah Ford were sure to put their stamp on the game. QB Hargraves ran right up the middle for a second successful 2 point attempt of the game, making the score an almost insurmountable 28-18. Miami still would not go away quietly though, as Brittani Johnson returned a short squib kick 20 yards back to the point of the kick. Working with a short 35 yard field, the Miami Fury suddenly turned into a passing team with time not on their side. On 1st down, a Sylvana Davis sack sent the Atlanta fans into a frenzy. The next play would quiet them down though, as on 2nd and 20, Greer would find a seam through the middle of the field and ran for a first down, winding her way around would-be tacklers. Inside the red zone, a 1st down pass into the end zone fell incomplete. WR Stacy Dwyer, the intended receiver, was being harassed by Sylvana Davis while the pass was being thrown. No penalty on Davis was called, but an illegal procedure penalty was called against Miami. On the next play, a beautiful spiral by Greer intended for a wide open Dwyer streaking across the goal line missed her hands by just inches. After a complete pass to Ternisha Cofield set up a 3rd and 2 at the Atlanta 11, Ronkia Toombs would make the play of the game for Miami. Running up the middle and dragging a pile of Phoenix players with her, she forged ahead for a Miami touchdown. Initially ruled that her forward progress was stopped at the 3 by the side judge, the referees overruled and granted Toombs an incredible touchdown run as no whistles were blown to stop the play. Down 4 points, the Fury’s next two point conversion attempt went like the others: while dropping back to pass, Greer fumbled the ball. With 6:13 left on the clock and Miami only having one timeout left, Atlanta saved their best drive for last. Beating Miami at their own game, they played ball control, featuring alternating runs by Sims and RB Alexandria Barton. A crucial 3rd down conversion early in the drive milked the clock down to 3:45 and forced Miami to call what should have been their final time out. Three short runs later brought up the play that would decide the game: a 4th down and 3 on the Miami 44 yard line with 2 minutes left in the game. Lining up to go for it and seal the victory, Miami incredibly went offside, making the place go absolutely bonkers. C Theresa Yarbough snapped the ball, the penalty flags flew, and Hargraves ended up running for the first down anyway. Unable to stop the clock supposedly, the referee somehow allowed Miami to call a 4th timeout with 0:38.5 left on the clock, but one more knee by Hargraves ended the game and gave Atlanta a victory and a trip to Chicago in the WFA Quarter-Finals!

During halftime, a special ceremony was held honoring 12-year-old Maddy Paige.
She is a young lady who played football last year with the boys for Strong Rock Christian School in Locust Grove, GA. There were no problems then, but the school suddenly decided that she would not be allowed to play again the next year. Her family has started a Facebook page which has already received over 25,000 likes. She is a very well-spoken and mature lady and has taken the sudden attention and special appearance with the Atlanta Phoenix in stride. Atlanta Phoenix co-owner April Christler invited her to take the field during halftime for a well-deserved ovation. As a result of her appearance, both Fox 5 Atlanta and CBS 46 Atlanta TV stations were at the game to cover Maddy Paige’s story.

PASS CMP/ATT/INT 2-7-1 2-4-1
PASS YDS 0 109
TOTAL YDS 266 281
3RD DOWN CONV 3-10 4-8
4TH DOWN CONV 3-5 1-2
KICK/YDS 5-181 5-126
PUNT/YDS 1-32 1-23

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