Wildcats face adversity, respond in Week 5 victory
CARSON, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Wildcats (2-3) faced adversity early and often on Sunday night.
Suffice it to say they figured it out and turned a 17-0 deficit into a 41-34 win over Tampa Bay at Dignity Health Sports Park.
“It was a test for us, a big test, and we just had to respond,” quarterback Josh Johnson said.
Coming off a tough 17-14 loss on the road against the New York Guardians in Week 4, the WIldcats saw their offense start out-of-sorts in the first quarter with two turnovers and lackluster play.
The game changed with 11:07 left in the second quarter as Johnson hit wide receiver Jordan Smallwood in stride for a 54-yard pass, which put them at Tampa Bay’s 1-yard line. Running back DuJuan Harris finished the drive and got LA on the board, 17-6.
Despite a botched punt return by the Wildcats at the 8:52 mark that led to another Tampa TD, which extended the Vipers lead to 24-6, the Wildcats answered with two touchdowns in the final minutes of the first half to make it 24-20 at the break.
“We had an issue last week where I felt like as a team, even myself, we lost our poise when we got hit in the mouth,” Johnson said. “That was one of the things we wanted to improve on this week; (Sunday), we responded well.”
The veteran quarterback continued to spread the ball around in the second half, hitting nine different receivers on the night en route to 288 yards and four touchdowns on 20-for-36 passing.
His main targets, wide receivers Smallwood and Saeed Blacknall, accounted for 168 of LA’s 345 yards of total offense.
Johnson wasn’t surprised by the receiving duo’s play, stating it was “only a matter of time” before their work in practice transferred to in-game play. That opportunity has arisen with top wideout Nelson Spruce (knee) inactive the past two weeks.
“I see the work every day,” he said. "Those guys are doing a great job of staying focused and locked in and coming to work every day.”
The Wildcats' momentum continued into the second half and a pair of touchdowns gave LA its first lead of the night, 33-24.
LA’s defense came alive in the second half and kept Tampa Bay’s offense in check to the tune of three takeaways.
One of those belonged to defensive tackle Boogie Roberts, who scooped up a fumble by Tampa Bay quarterback Taylor Cornelius and ran it back 23 yards for the touchdown -- which moved LA’s lead to 41-27 after a two-point PAT.
Giving credit to his teammate Cedric Reed for the sack in a “total (defensive) effort,” Roberts acknowledged a defensive lineman going in for the score is a rare occurrence.
“It’s every fat boy’s dream,” he said.
On the following drive, the Vipers marched down the field and scored a touchdown off a 24-yard pass from Cornelius to wide receiver Reece Horn, which cut the lead to 41-34.
With a chance to tie and possibly even win the game in the final minute, the Vipers got down to the Wildcats’ 11-yard line. However, Wildcats defensive back Jack Tocho sealed the victory with an interception in the end zone.
“We have a bunch of fighters, and now they understand how to win,” LA head coach Winston Moss said. “Now, we have to carry this forward.”
That begins on Sunday in Seattle against the 1-4 Dragons (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2).