The Atlanta Firebirds are still in the hunt for the division after a 17-12 home win over the Columbus Explorers this week. At 9-3, they stay in a tie atop the Southeast Division with the Orlando Rockets.

“It wasn’t real pretty, in fact, it was pretty ugly, but it’s a win,” said Coach Rob Ryan. “It’s like the ugly girl at the bar at the end of the night. You don’t feel great about taking her home, but you still score, so it isn’t all bad.”

Neither offense could gain any traction in the first half, as the Explorers held a 9-3 halftime lead on the strength of three Younghoe Koo field goals. Atlanta could only muster a 53-yard Wil Lutz field goal late in the first quarter.

The Firebirds got all the scoring they needed in the third quarter as Matt Barkley took to the skies. He pushed his team in front on a 51-yard bomb to Cameron Meredith and added some cushion on a 35-yard touchdown pass to Albert Wilson.

A stingy Atlanta defense would allow a fourth Koo field goal early in the fourth, but keep the Explorers out of the end zone all game.

“They outgunned us in yardage (363 to 294), but the boys got it done when it counted,” said Ryan. “You’re going to need a couple of these wins along the way if you want to get where you’re going.”

Barkley strung together another solid performance despite running for his life most of the game. He completed 13 of 24 passes for 206 yards and 2 touchdowns with no interceptions and four sacks.

Matt Breida had a solid night on the ground, running for 70 yards on 19 attempts.

Meredith paced the receivers with 4 catches for 83 yards and a touchdown. Nick O’Leary added 4 for 41, and Albert Wilson caught 2 for 52 yards and a score.

Telvin Smith and Ethan Westbrooks paced the defense with 8 tackles. Aldon Smith and Joplo Bartu each notched a sack.

The Firebirds look for win number 10 this week when they host the red-hot New Orleans Nightmare, winners of eight straight.

“Man, I can’t wait to play the Wet Dream,” said Ryan. “They’ve been playing real good lately, but I can’t wait to get out there and show them we’re not too shabby ourselves.”