The Madison Blaze knew they were in for a fight on Saturday night. They knew they were in for a battle. What they got was a physical, hard hitting, defensive slugfest and the Blaze were up to the challenge as they welcomed to the Nebraska Stampede to Middleton High School for their 2015 home opener.
The Blaze offense opened the game with a jet sweep to Wide Receiver Akiya Alexander who took the ball to the Stampede 40 yard line, and quickly followed that with a 10 yard catch and run by Chelsea Alt.
However the offense stalled, and it was up the defense to see what they could do, and on the first offensive drive for the Stampede the Blaze defense was able to come up big with relentless pressure by the defensive line and forced a fumble, which was recovered by Blaze Defensive End Jennifer Moore.
Defensive Lineman Stormy Justice believes the success of the defensive line comes from their ability to work together as a group. The ability to work together has resulted in the Blaze defensive line getting into the opposing backfield on nearly every play so far this season.
“The defensive line is successful because we work as one cohesive unit. We trust each other to get the job done regardless of which one of us is on the field. As far as getting into the backfield, I think we have a ferocious desire to tackle, put pressure on the quarterback and generally frustrate any offense that we face.” Says Justice.
Shortly after the turnover, Kara Haines would escape to the outside and run down the sidelines for 63 yards, but the Blaze offensive was unable to capitalize and the game would turn into a defensive showcase for both teams as the first quarter ended in a scoreless tie.
The Blaze defense would take center stage in the second quarter, stopping the Nebraska Stampede on the goal line, forcing a fumble which was recovered in the end zone for a touchback by Defensive Back Lindsey Gregor.
“Before the play I remember thinking that it was going to be tough to stop them from getting into the end zone at this distance three more times. During the play, when I realized the ball was on the ground I remember thinking “Perfect! Get the ball!” I was relieved when I came up with the ball because our defense had held strong and prevented them scoring.” Said Gregor, on her fumble recovery.
The Blaze defense would come up big again to end the first half, as pressure by Brenda Seggerman would lead to an incomplete pass by the Stampede on 4th down. The second half ended with both teams tied 0-0.
One of the stars of the first half for the Blaze defense was newcomer Akiya Alexander who had personally knocked down four Stampede passes. Alexander, in her first year of football, had been fighting injuries through the first two games and got a chance to show what she could do in a big way on Saturday night.
“I have the mindset that I am the last line of defense. I can’t let anything get past me. I made sure I had my teammate’s backs and deflected any balls that came my way.” Says Alexander.
“This is my first year of playing football and being on a team. For them to accept me with open arms is a blessing. It makes me want to catch every pass and help my teammates in any way that I can. I play for them.” She adds.
The third quarter would see more of the same from both teams, and the defense struggle continued, without either team giving up much yardage. The Blaze were however, able to get a few big plays on offense in the third quarter including a 26 yard pass from Stefanie Brettingen-Nash to Alexander, and a 10 yard run on a quarterback sneak by Brettingen-Nash.
The Blaze ended the third quarter with a sack by defensive linemen Amy Leatherberry and with the score still tied at 0-0, the Blaze offense took over to start to the fourth quarter and things started to heat up.
Stefanie Brettingen-Nash opened up the fourth quarter with a 20 yard pass to Sheena Hirschfield, and then took the ball herself to the outside for a 9 yard run. Brettingen-Nash was injured on the run though and had to temporarily come out of the game.
It was up to Hirschfield, who took over at Quarterback, to pick up the first down on 4th and 2. Hirschfield answered the call with a quarterback sneak up the middle to give the Blaze a first down and the Blaze offense continued to roll.
“Talk about an intense series. I took a pretty good helmet to the ribs tackle on the long reception but I knew it was the momentum that we needed for a touchdown. Walking up to the huddle as Quarterback two plays later was pretty crazy. I was just caught up in the momentum.” Said Hirschfield.
On the next play, Hirschfield handed off to Kara Haines who broke through the Stampede defense and ran down the sideline for a 21 yard touchdown to give the Blaze their first points of the game and make it 6-0.
“I got in the huddle and said this was our time to score and that we got this. Next thing you know Kara is splitting tacklers on one hell of a run. As a team we pulled it all together and left our hearts on the field.” Explains Hirschfield
“All game we had good ball progression but just couldn’t capitalize. I was getting more and more frustrated as time wound down late in the game. I knew if I could just get through the line I would have a decent run. As soon as I made it through the line I was off to the races.” Added Haines.
With the crowd roaring, the Blaze went for the two point conversion and once again it was Hirschfield up the middle and into the end zone to make it 8-0 Madison Blaze.
Late in the fourth quarter the Blaze defense came up big once more with a sack by Defensive Linemen Tonya “Taz” Shaver to force a Stampede punt. A Sack which Shaver would like to share with her teammate “I give my props to Ellie Meier for my sack because she came from the end and flushed the Quarterback out of the pocket. No way was I was going to let the Quarterback get away.” Says Shaver.
After the defensive stand by the Blaze, the offense took over as the crowd continued to get louder with excitement. The Blaze quickly capitalized on the momentum.
Once again Kara Haines would break through the Stampede defense on route to a 39 yard touchdown run to make it 14-0. Haines would also run the ball into the end zone for the two point conversion to make it 16-0 with just over three minutes left in the game.
“It was the exact same play. I knew we had one more in us and that one pretty much put the game away because our defense was stellar all night.” Said Haines, on her second touchdown run of the night.
The Stampede would add a late touchdown to make it 16-8 which would be the final score.
The touchdown by the Stampede snapped a Blaze shutout streak that had extended back to final minute of play in the third quarter of their first game, giving the Blaze defense 134 minutes of shutout football.
When asked about the shutout streak Lindsey Gregor said she believes that it speaks loudly for what the Blaze defense is capable of. “I definitely think it speaks volumes for the toughness of our defense. We have a very strong and very proud defense. We don’t like to be scored on.
“I am extremely proud of how our entire defense played throughout the whole game. It was a war in the trenches every time the ball was snapped. This game really proved what we can do as a defense and we will continue to build on it. I am honored to be a part of it.” Adds Tonya Shaver.
The Blaze will look to improve to 4-0 as they take on the Minnesota Vixen, thisSaturday night, in Minneapolis at 6:00 pm.
The game will be LIVE online at the following link! 6pm this Saturday!