For any expansion team, the combined feeling of eagerness and nervous energy culminates with its first-ever game. Said game proves to be the litmus test, the opportunity to truly evaluate talent and determine the success of a team. While the Austin Acoustic, one of two new Texas-based expansion teams in the Legends Football League, gained the privilege of participating in the first game of the 2016 season, one could state that it was a baptism of fire.
Kicking off against the defending Legends Cup champion Seattle Mist, it was definitely a “Welcome to the LFL” moment for many of the Acoustic’s first-year players. Taking into account that the match also took place on the road, where the Mist’s fans who regularly pack ShoWare Center in Kent, Washington are the loudest in the league, the Acoustic quickly learned how home field advantage can be crucial towards a team’s success.
Despite the final score displaying a 44-8 victory in favor of the defending champions, there were still many positives for the Acoustic to build on. Statistically, the Acoustic showed strong proficiency on the gridiron. Of note, the Acoustic gained more first downs on offense (7-4), while their passing game was much stronger than the Mist.
Signal caller Teshay Winfrey passed for 78 yards, completing 35% of her passes, while logging a touchdown pass. In addition, she would gain three first downs on passing, compared to just 1 by KK Matheny, a 2015 LFL All-Fantasy selection. Matheny, who donated 100% of proceeds from fan jersey sales to Sienna Strong Against Cancer, only completed 25% of her passes but managed a pair of touchdown passes to Jessica Hopkins, as the strong team chemistry showed.
While Hopkins led all Mist receivers with 39 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns, the Acoustic’s Brenda Lynn proved to be the game’s leading receiver. Averaging 14.3 yards per reception, she managed a solid game-high 43 receiving yards. Stephanie Wickett would make her mark, scoring the first touchdown in franchise history with an 18-yard pass from Winfrey. As a side note, Wickett would also contribute 2.5 total tackles.
The key factor that contributed to the Mist victory came down to the rushing game. While the Acoustic’s Jess Powers had a game-high nine rushes, she was continuously pounded by a Mist defense that featured Lashaunda Fowler and 2015 league MVP Danika Brace. Meanwhile, Stevi Schnoor continued to prove why she is the best running back in the LFL. With a superlative 6.1 yards per carry, she anchored the Mist’s running game, shredding through the Acoustic defense for three touchdowns. She would also add to her growing legend by completing a pass for a touchdown.
Although the loss could be classified as a blowout, there was a great personal victory for the Acoustic. On social media, many of the Mist players and coaches showed a touch of class, recognizing the effort exerted by the club in a difficult debut. While the Acoustic may be in the same conference as the Mist, one element that shall never be in dispute is the level of sportsmanship. Mist head coach Chris Michaelson was gracious, showing his recognition of the Acoustic’s effort as part of a social media message recognizing the players and fans,
“I want to give a shout out to Austin Acoustic Head Coach Jericho Harris and his Players for their tenacity and Effort in their first game ever in the LFL — they never quit and continued to compete throughout the game and that will carry this team a long ways … I am confident that he will continue to grow this team and they will be a force to be reckoned with in this league … for all his players I encourage you to see it thru and maintain that desire you had in that game to continue to grow as a team and become better individually as you watch yourselves in film — very proud to see new teams show the heart and determination to compete thru it all … “
Despite such an austere start, there is optimism for the Acoustic and their fans. In the Legends Football League, some expansion teams have managed success early on, such as the Atlanta Steam. Considering that the Steam started out against powerhouses such as the Chicago Bliss and Jacksonville Breeze, it was a climb to contention that consisted of hard work and determination. With such a strong effort on offense, pieces are in place for an ambitious Acoustic team keen to emulate the Steam’s success and establish themselves as a contending club.