By Derek Fleming, staff writer, WNFC
Week 8 saw the final opportunity for teams to make a push to secure a playoff spot, and Saturday’s game couldn’t have been bigger for the Alabama Fire. Win, and the team would almost certainly make it in. Lose, and Washington would advance. Fire running back Kelli Smith has been named Atlantic Player of the Week for her contribution to the epic victory.
Smith hit the field determined to do all she could to give her team the best shot possible. She was laser-focused on getting the W, so much so that she didn’t even realize that she had scored five touchdowns as the Fire routed Florida. Her rushing numbers were simply gaudy- 244 yards on 18 carries. On defense, Smith also had five tackles, two of which went for losses.
“Was it five? Honestly, I don’t even count,” Smith said. “When we did finally put together a run, I just listened to the O-Line, which holes were open. The way I run the ball, I know which general direction we are going, which way they are blocking, and I just run for the open space.”
Alabama Head Coach Cedrick Wilson pointed out that Smith’s performance wasn’t just remarkable on its own, her Week 7 performance nearly gave the Fire a historic upset victory even though she has missed chunks of time this season.
“After missing half the season she showed up in a crucial must-win game for us to clinch a playoff berth & to give our offense some much-needed juice to lead us to 5TDs & a victory. This big game made her the 2nd leading rusher in the league after missing multiple games & having 150 rushing & 2 TDs last week on the top team in the league,” Wilson said when nominating Smith for the award. “Her performance was arguably the most important & impressive of the season when everything was on the line. I don’t know if anyone has scored 5 TDs in a game this season!"
Smith said that she gained lots of motivation in the final two weeks of the season after being named Offensive Player of the Year last season. She said that despite missing several games this season, she hoped to be able to put up big enough numbers to be in contention yet again. Smith ended the regular season with the second-most rushing yards at 621, trailing only San Diego’s Adriana Gutierrez, who had 705 rushing yards. Smith had only 69 carries compared to the 105 times Gutierrez had the ball.
While earning PotY was special, Smith said the real goal was getting into the playoffs and having a chance to play for the opportunity to represent the Atlantic Conference in the IX Cup.
“We realized that we had to put our heads down and battle these last couple of games to at least give ourselves a chance,” Smith said. “Getting into the playoffs shows that we all came together with everybody focused on a common goal. I’m really proud of [our team] for that.”
Alabama will begin the playoffs with a match against the Atlanta Phoenix, one of two teams to have beaten the Fire in 2022.