Kicking a team while they're down
Today had everything set up for disaster if you followed the Las Vegas Outlaws. Tuesday, the Arena Football League decided they need to step in and take over operations of the team. Two days later, one of their final two home games was removed off their schedule and deemed a tie as their opponent, the New Orleans VooDoo, also fell through a similar ownership fate. Now, they had to travel to Los Angeles and face a KISS team that are not only playing much better than their first nine games, but seeking revenge at the best possible time, kicking a team when they are already down.
It was not pretty by any means, but a 37-27 defensive battle gave the Los Angeles KISS more wins than they had in 2014. That’s already a victory in itself.
“They continue to fight and continue to make plays,” KISS head coach Bob McMillen said. “I think we played well in a lot of aspects, but we still have a lot of work to do.”
When it comes to how the league is run, fans want scores left and right. Most would have walked out plenty disappointed, yet, with how crucial many people at the Honda Center knew this game meant for playoff survival, most didn’t mind how slow the game turned out. Danny Southwick and company weren’t at their best, but there were just enough plays from start to finish that took away any kind of momentum.
However, scoring was not an issue when it came down to how things were run throughout. LA had done its job and put a lot of frustration on a Las Vegas offense that looked lost on its routes. While LA’s defense shut the Outlaws down in the first 30 minutes, it was former KISS quarterback J.J. Raterink that completely beat himself up. He looked like the KISS quarterback from last season, throwing balls into the stands rather than to his receivers. Even with two touchdowns in the first half, the Outlaw offense was just not there.
Let’s just say they may have had a lot more on their minds than the game itself.
“In this game, it was all about frustrating them,” Southwick said. “In this game, it’s whoever has the ball the longest will lose the game. We did have the ball less than them, and with only having the ball around six to seven times you have to give a lot of credit to the defense.”
Long drives by both teams set up a big swing in the final 40 seconds of the first half. After Raterink scored on a two yard rush, it only took 30 of those seconds to find DeMarco Sampson on a 20 yard strike. A quick safety put the KISS in the drivers seat for a little while heading into halftime.
“The biggest thing we talked about at halftime was finishing games,” McMillen said. “We have to learn when we have momentum and have a nine-point lead coming out of the locker room we need to keep making plays.”
With the KISS failing to score on their opening drive of the second half, Las Vegas lost all its trust in Raterink, and Dennis Havrilla changed the pace. He used his legs and snuck his way over the goal line to cut the lead to two. Sampson then decided to take matters in his own hands. On the ensuing kickoff, it took him about 15 seconds to get past his own five, but then another 6 to find the end zone.
“I just knew that I had to finish,” Sampson said. “I felt like it would be an injustice to my teammates if I did not do my job. I just needed to make my own space to get it done.”
By then, the Outlaws had no answer, and they were playing the final few minutes just to survive the night.
“Those last two games weren’t like us,” Sampson said. “We let the first game get away and we played very sloppy the second. It feels great to beat a conference opponent and rub it in after they beat us two times in a row.
At this point, most of the league knows how well the KISS are playing. Taking away all that has happened the last few days, Los Angeles had done its job and added more drama in a good way.
This time last year, the KISS were losing games that could have put them in the drivers seat and control their own destiny. This time around, each win keeps them alive. Spokane on Friday somehow took down Arizona, which keeps it ahead of the KISS and basically ruined the Rattlers' chance for a top seed.
Portland had its chance to play spoiler against San Jose and instead put itself in a bad spot and aided the KISS. Regardless, with how the KISS have made a complete turnaround from about a year ago, it is certainly nice to add a positive light to still hang around.
“We are just taking things one day at a time,” McMillen said. “It doesn’t help that certain teams are winning, but we hold our own destiny. We just have to continue to fight and do what we do in order to have a chance at making the playoffs.”
“We really feel like we have been playing solid for a while,” Southwick said. “To play well against the top three teams in the league and win one of them really says something. Now we are facing that challenge again. Our playoffs have already started, and we have to win every week. I feel like we have it made, but we can’t look ahead past Arizona next week.”