By Jaylon Thompson / The Alliance
ATLANTA — If you look up the word “finish” in the dictionary, you may see a photo of Atlanta Legends head coach Kevin Coyle.
Coyle has preached the term profusely since the start of training camp. At practice, the term is yelled multiple times. There are even team drills designed to finish scenarios and situational plays.
The Atlanta Legends (2-3) return home to start a three-game home stand against the San Antonio Commanders on Sunday, March 17, at 4 p.m. ET at Georgia State Stadium. The game can be seen on the CBS Sports Network. Tickets to all Legends games are available here.
Early in the season, the Legends struggled to finish off opponents, losing despite holding fourth-quarter leads against both the San Diego Fleet and the Birmingham Iron. Those losses were a result of Atlanta falling apart late and failing to regain their footing at the end.
Fast forward to Sunday afternoon.
The Legends found themselves in another close encounter, tied 20-20 with the Memphis Express with less than four minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
The Express drove to the Legends’ 21-yard line, well within field-goal range. But as they went for the jugular, the Legends didn’t give in.
Instead, safety Tyson Graham Jr. intercepted Express quarterback Zach Mettenberger at the Atlanta 12 and returned it 14 yards to set in motion an offensive comeback.
On the ensuing possession, Legends quarterback Aaron Murray engineered a nine-play drive that ended with Younghoe Koo kicking the game-winning 35-yard field goal with nine seconds to go.
The clutch kicker drilled the ball through the goal posts to propel the Legends to a 23-20 victory. The win moved them to 2-3 on the season and placed them a game out of the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.
“We talk about one thing every week and that is being 1-0 is all that matters,” Coyle said after the game. “Winning football games is not easy, particularly at the highest levels as you get going. This was a good team. . . . They battled us the whole way.”
The Legends had several role players contribute throughout the game. Each made winning plays that helped the team finish off the Express.
Cornerback Shaq Wiggins downed a punt on the Express 1-yard line. Linebacker Dylan Donahue had a hand in three sacks — one in the fourth quarter and all three on third down. On the game-winning drive, tight end Keith Towbridge had a key reception for a first down.
The plays might not stand out on the stat sheet, but they went a long way in deciding the game. According to Coyle, each player was needed to finish the game.
“Great plays like that are game-changing and field position-changing plays,” Coyle said. “I am happy for those guys to make those plays. We need everybody to step up every chance they get.”
Other guys also stepped up with effort. Linebacker Jeff Luc led the team with seven combined tackles. Defensive lineman Tracy Sprinkle had a sack and Donahue finished with 1.5.
On the offensive side, receiver Seantavius Jones hauled in five passes for 89 yards and running back Tarean Folston chipped in with two touchdowns (one receiving, one rushing) and 106 total yards.
These players helped generate the winning formula. The Legends played with effort and that helped them finish with a victory.
“It felt pretty good to go out there and make a play,” Jones said. “I wanted to help my team come out with a win and that is what it’s all about.”
Donahue agrees. He was happy to be out on the field helping quell the Express attack.
“It’s cool to just play with my brothers as everyone was out there balling,” Donahue said. “We were just taking turns making big plays with each other.”
The Legends hope to continue their winning streak next week. They face the San Antonio Commanders in the second game of their home stand.
If tonight’s game is any indication, they have found the formula to finish a 60-minute game of football.
“We always kept the faith in ourselves,” Sprinkle said. “We got two wins in a row and we plan on continuing to win one week at a time. Next week, we are looking forward to another home win.”
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Jaylon Thompson covers the Atlanta Legends for The Alliance of American Football. Follow him on Twitter JaylonThompson.