Kansas City Titans at Minnesota Vixen
The last time the Minnesota Vixen played a team from the Sunflower State, they were both in another league, the southerly team was named the Tribe, and Minnesota had fewer than 30 players on the roster. That day, the Tribe was the victor.
But time passes, fortunes change, and a Vixen squad of 50-plus players collected four pick sixes by three different players, three sacks and three fumble recoveries on their way to a 41-0 victory over the Kansas City Titans on April 29 at Simley High School.
Cool temperatures and a steady breeze could not keep an enthusiastic and boisterous crowd of over 500 from witnessing the Vixen defense buckle down and shut down Kansas City’s running and passing games, including standout wide receiver Liz Sowers, whose sister Katie is a former quarterback for the Titans and now works in the Atlanta Falcons organization. In 2016, Sowers caught 26 passes for 442 yards and 4 touchdowns, good for ninth in the league.
The task of covering Sowers fell to second-year linebacker Crystal Ninas. “I was super nervous, but I just took it one play at a time,” said Ninas, who sent the Vixen to the 2016 championship game in their former league with a 100-yard pick six in double overtime against the New York Sharks. Ninas would return one interception 48 yards for a touchdown in this game.
The Vixen started the game with the ball but had to punt. On third and 4 for Kansas City, defensive end Drue Barber penetrated the pocket and forced Kansas City quarterback Brooke Liebsch to fumble. Cynthia “Red” Bryant recovered for the Vixen, setting Minnesota up on the Kansas City 23.
Minnesota couldn’t capitalize, however, and a bad handoff exchange resulted in a fumble and the Titans taking over on the Vixen’s 7 yard line. But two plays later, Sheena Reed popped the ball out and Liz Bain recovered it on the Titans 15. A pass interference penalty on Kansas City gave Minnesota first and goal on the 2, and Kiersten Hansen squirted through the line on second down for a 1-yard score. Katie Muller’s extra point was good and the Vixen led 7-0. Erin Tilford’s 60-yard interception return for a touchdown put the Vixen up 14-0 at the end of the first quarter. Neither team scored in the second quarter, despite Minnesota having first and goal on the 1 after a diving 31-yard reception by Amanda Dvorak on third and 3. Angela Griffin lost two yards on first down followed by two incomplete passes, then Muller’s field goal attempt was low and short.
The second half saw more defensive dominance by the Vixen, with rookie Connor Jo Lewis snaring two pick sixes for 46 and 72 yards. On the kickoff after Lewis’ second interception and score, Anne Thiessen caused a fumble that was recovered by Jodi “Moose” Rehlander to put the offense back on the field. In addition, Lewis clawed the ball out of the arms of a Kansas City runner to give Minnesota the ball back one play after the Titans recovered a muffed punt in Vixen territory early in the fourth quarter.
Overall, defensive end Madison Schmatz tipped three passes incomplete. Liebsch was sacked twice by the Vixen and knocked out of the game in the third quarter on a blitz by Bain. Reed and Griffin had Minnesota’s other two sacks. The Titans were held to 8 rushing yards on 30 carries, 62 total yards passing on 32 attempts, and three first downs.
Emily Evans finished the game at quarterback for Minnesota, going 3-for-3 and connecting with Sam Barber twice on the final scoring drive for 80 yards and a touchdown.
Hansen was 9 of 24 passing attempts for 98 yards and a touchdown. Barber had 6 catches for 131 yards and a touchdown. After Grace Cooper left the game in the first quarter due to injury, the Vixen used a committee of Mikaila Soule, Angela Griffin and Andri Vogt at running back. The trio combined for 44 yards on 19 carries. Minnesota had 216 total offensive yards and 10 first downs.
Kansas City falls to 2-2 (0-1 Division 1) and Minnesota improves to 4-0 (1-0 D1). The Vixen’s next game is against the 2013 WFA champion Chicago Force (4-0, 1-0 D1) on Saturday, May 6, in Evanston, Il.