Carson, Calif. — The Wildcats found a way to edge out a victory over Tampa Bay in the first Sunday late-night game of the season. The Wildcats offense started slow but Johnson began heating up, when it counted, to lead them to a 41-34 victory.
Slow start for Los Angeles
After getting picked off on the first play from scrimmage, the game seemed like it was going to be another brutal outing for Johnson.
The Vipers cashed in with a field goal and Johnson was unable to move his offense to respond. Tampa was able to punch it in using their strong ground attack with running back Jacques Patrick keeping his scoring streak going.
A fumble cost the Wildcats yet another drive and the Vipers were able to score on a long drive capped by a two-yard run by quarterback Taylor Cornelius to go ahead 17-0.
Los Angeles was able to find an offensive stride when Johnson found wide out Jordan Smallwood for 54 yards to the 1 yard line. Running back DuJuan Harris found the end zone from a yard out but the Wildcats failed to convert the point after. On the ensuing possession, Cornelius was able to keep his offense moving and found receiver Jalen Tolliver for a 16-yard touchdown pass. Vipers were up 24-6 but the Wildcats were quick to answer.
Wildcats begin to turn it around
Running back Martez Carter ran for a 21-yard dash and then Johnson followed up with a 9-yard touchdown pass to DeQuan Hampton, who made an impressive grab.
Wildcats started to get pressure in the pocket defensively and forced a quick 3-and-out. Johnson dropped a bomb to receiver Saeed Blacknall for 48 yards setting up an easy touchdown pass to Brandon Barnes.
The Vipers’ kicker Andrew Franks missed a 57-yard field goal to keep it 24-20 Vipers at halftime.
Wildcats’ defensive front brings the heat
The Wildcats defense came out swinging in the second half, putting pressure on Cornelius and forcing a punt. Johnson was able to take advantage of the stop and move in to Vipers territory, but the Wildcats’ import kicker Giorgio Tavecchio missed a field goal from 55 yards. Johnson’s next drive was more productive as he completed 4 passes, one of them an 11-yard touchdown to receiver Tre McBride for the lead.
The Wildcats defense continued to apply pressure on Cornelius and forced an interception to big man, Reggie Howard. Johnson quickly put his team in the end zone with a strike to Saeed Blacknall for 17 yards.
The Wildcats then got a delay of game penalty for too many men on the field, much to Johnson’s displeasure. Johnson was seen talking to Norm Chow over the phone and repeats “Stop it!” before telling him to “Just call plays”. Cornelius began moving his offense before he got picked again, this time, by linebacker Taiwan Jones. Fortunately for the Vipers, it did not count due to a holding call. They drove it close to the end zone before kicking a short field goal to make it 33-27. The Wildcats offense was unable to add to the lead but the defense found a way to find the end zone; Cornelius was strip-sacked by defensive end Cedric Reed and tackle Boogie Roberts brought it to the house for a two score lead.
Cornelius began to lead his offense down the field and completed a 24-pass Reece Horn for a quick touchdown to close the gap within one score. The Wildcats’ offense was stopped once again and Cornelius was given a shot to tie the game under two minutes left. He took them down to the 7 yard line, but was picked off by LA safety Jack Tocho to seal the victory for the Wildcats.
The Vipers will return home to host the Battlehawks on Saturday, March 14th at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. The game will be at 5:00PM EDT on FS2.
Los Angeles will be on the road as they will travel to CenturyLink Field to take on the Seattle Dragons on Sunday, March 15th at 7:00PM EDT on ESPN 2.