The Firebirds took care of business. Facing a potential letdown game ahead of an old foe, Atlanta focused and scored a commanding win over the Mississippi Gators, 31-14.
“I have to hand it to my boys. I know they’re licking their lips for next week, but they went out and handled what needed to be handled this week,” said Atlanta coach Rob Ryan. “Mississippi put up a heck of a fight, but we got the dub, and that’s all that matters.
Atlanta started fast, driving 75 yards in 8 plays on the their opening drive. Rodney Anderson capped it off with an 8-yard TD run.
The offense would bog down and not strike again until late in the half. After Vad Lee tied the game with a 16-yard pass to Jeff Cumberland, the Firebirds responded with a 12-play, 76-yard drive in 5 minutes. Nick Arbuckle finished it with a 10-yard pass to Preston Williams to lead 14-7 at the break.
Both drives in the third quarter were fruitful. Midway through, Matt Breida capped off a 76-yard drive with a 4-yard TD. Bleeding into the final frame, they strung together an 11-play, 67-yard drive. Anderson punched it in from two yards out to lead 28-14.
Mississippi kept the game close with a TD run with 7:43 left, but Wil Lutz iced the game with a 40-yard field goal to make it 31-14 with 1:55 left.
The offensive line was dominant all game. The starting five was credited with 10 holes, zero sacks, and just 1 bad block. Chance Warmack and Austin Pasztor led the way with 3 holes created apiece.
They plowed the way for 173 yards on the ground, led by Anderson with 106 yards on 22 attempts. Matt Breida added 41 yards and Arbuckle chipped in 26.
Arbuckle was efficient, completing 19 of 25 for 212 yards with 1 touchdown and no turnovers.
Ricky Seals-Jones was his top target, catching 5 for 71. Williams caught 4 for 34 with a touchdowns.
Ethan Westbrooks led the defense with 6 tackles and a sack. Aldon Smith added his own sack.
Sitting at 3-2, Atlanta faces a big litmus test as they travel to play the Orlando Rockets this week. The Rockets look vulnerable at 2-3, but the Firebirds have never been able to get past the league’s premier franchise.
“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, ‘To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man,’ and Orlando is still the big boss man,” said Ryan. “If we want to hang among the elites, we have to find a way to get past the Rockets one of these days.”