Atlanta Legends earn first home victory

Atlanta Legends quarterback Aaron Murray looks to pass against the Memphis Express during the first quarter Sunday, March 10, 2019, at Georgia State Stadium in Atlanta.

Credit: Grant Halverson

Credit: Grant Halverson

Atlanta Legends quarterback Aaron Murray looks to pass against the Memphis Express during the first quarter Sunday, March 10, 2019, at Georgia State Stadium in Atlanta.

An interception in the final four minutes gave the Atlanta Legends one more chance to secure its first win — a 23-20 victory over Memphis —before the home crowd at Georgia State Stadium.

“It feels good just to get that win,” Legends’ quarterback Aaron Murray said. “We finished, we finished the game, that’s two weeks in a row now where we had an opportunity late in the game to go down there and score, and we did it.”

The Legends’ fortunes turned after a pass interference penalty was called on Atlanta’s Desmond Lawrence, which gave the Memphis Express a first down with the score tied 20-20 and less than five minutes left in the game.

Express wide receiver Zac Stacy took advantage stretching out a catch for 31 yards and putting Memphis within striking distance.

Atlanta’s Tyson Graham intercepted a pass from Memphis quarterback Zach Mettenberger and ran it back for 14 yards to give Atlanta another possession in the final three minutes.

Murray — making his first start — led the Atlanta Legends and moved down the field with 15-yard pass Keith Towbridge, followed by a 16-yard run from Tarean Folston. The Legends reached the 17-yard line with 13 seconds in the game before Younghoe Koo kicked the game-winning 35-yard field goal.

“We were confident once we got the ball down deep in the territory we were going to be able to win the game,” coach Kevin Coyle said.

And just like that the Legends (2-3) earned their first home win over Memphis (1-4).

Murray dominated in the passing game against Memphis. In the first half he threw 17-of-26 for 196 yards. The former Georgia Bulldog quarterback finished with 27-of-43 passes for 306 yards.

Mettenberger, another onetime Bulldog, struggled. He finished 8-of-16 for 172 yards.

The Legends had a dominant first half.

Atlanta worked its way down the field on the opening drive, with Murray completing a pass to Seantavius Jones for 21 yards. The Legends ended their opening drive with points on the board after a 38-yard field goal from Koo.

Memphis earned its first points in the first quarter following a DeMarquis Gates recovery of an Atlanta fumble. Mettenberger completed a 29-yard pass to Reece Horn to put the Express on Atlanta’s 14-yard line. Stacy scored on a 7-yard touchdown run, but the Express were not able to complete the two-point conversion. Memphis led Atlanta 6-3 with five minutes left in the first quarter.

Atlanta’s first touchdown came in the second quarter when Folston scored from 2 yards out. It was Folston’s first touchdown this season. Murray followed with a pass to Justin Thomas for the two-point conversion, Atlanta’s first successful conversion this season.

“Yeah it’s a little funky every time you score you want to run off the field, you have to remind yourself to stick on the field and go for a two-point play,” Murray said. “It was a great catch, they played it really well.”

In the final three minutes of the second quarter, Folston ran for 7 yards to give Atlanta a first down deep in Express territory. Murray was sacked on the next play, which put the Legends at second-and-14. Atlanta’s offense stalled, but Koo hit a 25-yard field goal to give the Legends a 14-12 to end the half.

Atlanta went scoreless in the third quarter after Murray was sacked twice and they were forced to punt on both drives.

Memphis’ third touchdown of the game came from Mettenberger when he ran into the end zone for one yard to give the Express the lead late in the third quarter. The two-point conversion was converted by Terrence Magee to give Memphis a 20-14 lead with under four minutes left in the third quarter.

Atlanta tied the game behind the efforts of running back Folston.

A 27-yard run from Folston put the Legends deep in the red zone. Two plays later Folston caught a Murray pass for a 2-yard touchdown, his second of the game. Murray’s two-point conversion pass fell incomplete, so Atlanta and Memphis sat tied 20-20 with 12 minutes left in the game.

“It was kind of an unusual game in that I felt right from the get-go we were dominating the game, yet we weren’t dominating on the scoreboard,” Coyle said. “So the positive today is that we did find a way to win the game at the end, and we are grateful for that and that our guys came through clutch when we had to have them make some plays.”