It’s time for the big showdown. The Atlanta Firebirds took care of business in week 15, pasting the Washington Wave 42-24 to set up a season finale against the Orlando Rockets with a division title on the line.
A potential trap game ended up little more than a road bump as the Firebirds dominated early before building up a 42-10 lead and calling off the dogs.
“I’m extremely proud of the way the guys looked at this trip to Washington as a business trip. They kept their focus and didn’t look ahead to Orlando and they whipped some butt,” said Coach Rob Ryan. “With this game in our rearview, now we can focus on the big boys.”
Washington opened the game’s scoring to cap off a 66-yard drive, but Atlanta shook off the slap to the face by scoring 42 of the game’s next 45 points. It was Trindon Holliday getting it started with a 91-yard return on the ensuing kickoff to tie the score. The Firebirds took the lead for good with a 6-yard pass from Matt Barkley to Albert Wilson to close out the first quarter up 14-7.
After the Wave added a field goal, Barkley responded with a pair of second-quarter touchdowns, one for 35 yards to Cameron Meredith and another for 14 yards to Wilson, to take a 28-10 halftime lead.
Barkley kept up the pressure, hitting rookie Robert Davis for his first SFL touchdown in the third quarter and finding tight end Nick O’Leary from two yards out to make it 42-10 early in the second quarter.
With the game well in hand, backups swarmed the field and Washington was able to score a pair of garbage-time touchdowns in the 42-24 rout.
Barkley upped the bar again with his new best game of 2018, completing 25 of 33 for 301 yards, 5 touchdowns, and no interceptions.
Meredith was his leading receiver with 8 catches for 127 yards and a score. Wilson added 5 catches for 63 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Matt Breida had a solid night in the backfield, running for 64 yards on 15 carries and adding 4 catches.
Jaylen Hill led the defense with 7 tackles, and Rahim Moore notched an interception. Telvin Smith picked up a pair of sacks, and Joplo Bartu got to the quarterback once.
The win over Washington marks a franchise-record 12th win on the year, but the 13th is the most important. A win over the 11-4 Rockets would clinch the team’s first-ever division title and a first round bye.
“This is what you play for, a chance to win the division, and I wouldn’t want it any other way than to have to go through the Rockets,” said Ryan. “They’ve been our Boogey Man, and if we want to get through the night without wetting ourselves, we’re going to have to stand up to them and punch them in the mouth.”
To get the team ready for the big game, Ryan is bringing in a special guest. Wrestling legend and supporter of virtually every sports team in the country Ric Flair will share his message on the importance of beating your biggest foe.
“We’ve preached all along Ric’s mantra that ‘To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man,’ so what better way to hammer that home ahead of the biggest game in franchise history than to bring in the man himself,” said Ryan. “If we go out there and get the ‘W’ like we know we can, me and Ric are gonna hit the bars and let some pretty young ladies take a ride on Space Mountain. Wooooooo!!!”