Holding a 1-4 record at the bottom of the AFC West rankings, the Salt Lake City Pioneers would have dumbfounded an entire universe if they were to dethrone the unbeaten Brooklyn Bulls. For a moment, it looked like that was a possibility.
Written by: Luke Rainey
Why the Bulls won and the Pioneers lost
Although the 34-16 final score fully supported most expectations, a remarkable opening quarter for Salt Lake City temporarily gave the Bulls little room for comfort.
The Pioneers were the first to land on the scoreboard, exclusively because of a run-heavy opening drive bolstered by Halfbacks Andre Tomlinson and Bryce Witherspoon. After 10 plays, George McAfton tossed the ball from the goal-line to Tomlinson to score the first points against Brooklyn.
The Bulls’ offense took a fully opposite approach in comparison to the Pioneers. They passed on every play of their starting possession, with Layne Kerney racking up 78 yards on the drive and completing 9 of 10 throws. Zach Freeny would score the tying touchdown for 5 yards.
After an unstimulating chain of possessions for each offense, the Bulls regained their footing in the middle of the second quarter. The passing attack continued to pay dividends for them, as Kerney would maintain a near-perfect completion percentage after throwing a miraculous touchdown to Griffen Kashama. The pass was initially broken up near the 15-yard line, but then ricocheted forward into the arms of Kashama, who easily made the catch for a 44-yard touchdown.
Brooklyn and Salt Lake City exchanged field goals, which left the Pioneers over a minute to tie the game with a touchdown. They instead went three-and-out, having to punt to Brooklyn after extinguishing very little time. The punt was blocked and recovered inside the 10-yard line by the Bulls, whose offense supplemented it with a touchdown pass to Kashama.
The Pioneers surrendered an additional touchdown at the beginning of the 3rd quarter and faced a 21-point deficit. They would never reclaim any of the momentum they once had in the beginning stages of the game. The Bulls, as expected of a team with a 7-0 record, were simply too explosive, had stronger execution, and had a few lucky plays to put the icing on the cake.
Salt Lake City’s clear strength is their running attack with Witherspoon and Tomlinson, but without a passing game capable of grossing 200 yards, their opponents have seldom had trouble in slowing their offense.
Even after Kashama’s touchdown catch, the Pioneers were still keeping the game competitive with the Bulls. On the following drive, Salt Lake City moved the chains for the first time in more than a full quarter of play. They completed the drive with a field goal, and after the Bulls responded with one of their own, the Pioneers still had a chance to tie the game before halftime. Instead, they would lose it in a single play.
A three-and-out quickly put an end to their chances of scoring, but everything fell apart on the punt with less than 50 seconds to go. Punter Max O’Neal hesitated upon the snap’s delivery, buying time for edge rushers Addison Lyons and Trent Hobbs to reach him in time. Lyons blocked the punt, and Hobbs recovered and stumbled at the 6-yard line. Kashama would eventually score the touchdown, his second before the end of the half, and would then increase the Bulls’ advantage to 31-10 with an additional touchdown on their opening 3rd quarter possession.
Play of the Game
In a tied ball game with the Pioneers, and facing a crowd of nearly 100,000 energized fans, the Brooklyn Bulls were in a state of distress. They had just made it inside field-goal range for the first time since scoring their initial touchdown when A.C. Denton sacked Kerney for a 10-yard loss. The play pushed the Bulls to Salt Lake City’s 44-yard line to establish a 2nd & 20 situation.
On the play, Kerney was faced with a heavy pass-rush. He threw to a receiver who was double-covered at the 20-yard line. This caused a violent collision and a Pass Interference penalty against Cornerback Daysean Manning. Meanwhile, the ball was tipped and went skyward, traveling to the 7-yard line. Griffen Kashama positioned himself perfectly to make the catch and was left uncovered to score the touchdown.
The Bulls did not play to their expected caliber, but a lucky play may have been the difference-maker. After over 20 minutes of taking sacks, allowing big carries, and getting held to punts and failed possessions, the Bulls finally had the upper hand against Salt Lake City.
Brooklyn Bulls’ Head Coach Melinyshyn is already considering his options following an injury sustained by Griffen Kashama in the 2nd half. In the post-game press conference, Melinyshyn said, “Freeney will have to step up, along with Booker, but Madmidov will get more looks moving forward.”
Salt Lake City Pioneers’ Head Coach Culpepper was aware of the struggles McAfton had against Brooklyn, but also explained that the problems branch out further than the passing game. He claimed, “The run game was really the only thing that kept us even close to alive this week. That was our biggest bright side today,” he added.
The Bulls may have to live without Griffen Kashama while they attempt to continue their winning streak. Brooklyn will host two consecutive Monday Night Football games against the Columbus Aviators and Toronto Huskies in Weeks 8-9.
They will play the first of these games on March 23rd at 6:00 EST on YouTube, and then face the Huskies on March 23rd at 7:30 EST on Twitch.
The Salt Lake City Pioneers will not have any RFL-exclusive contests until Week 11, when they are scheduled to host the Houston Voyagers, which will conclude the Easter Sunday games at 7:30 EST on Twitch.