Venom subdued by Dream in opening game of season

By Marvin Birchfield
STAR STAFF
mbirchfield@starhq.com

   BLOUNTVILLE--The first game of the season kicked off for women's football on Saturday, as the Tennessee Venom had a tough time in containing the speed of the Nashville Dream in a 31-0 loss.
   Despite the final score of the contest, the Venom showed early signs of improvement from last year, as Nashville is projected as being one of the top teams in the league.
   "Our defense has improved a great deal from last year, and our offense has improved on the line with blocking to give our quarterback time," said Tennessee Venom coach Jeff Gethers. "Now we just have to get our timing down, and we have two weeks to lick our wounds and get ready for Chattanooga.
   "We're going to go out and practice hard and learn how to play some football."
   On the Venom's first possession, Vanessa Fisher got the crowd going with a 33-yard run off the end-around reverse, which placed the ball inside of Nashville's 20 yard-line.
   Next play was disastrous for the Venom, as the quarterback exchange from center resulted in a turnover and the Dream taking over at their own 20.
   "It's been this way for three years now, and we've been on a roller coaster," said Fisher. "We get a little high and then something happens, and then we can never regain our momentum.
   "It's not a good way to start a game on our second play. We just have to work on our timing and a few minor details, for I think we've got it."
   Nashville displayed its speed right off the bat on a 69-yard touchdown run from Lorri Roberson down the right side of the field.
   Tennessee had trouble once again on the quarterback snap, but was fortunate to hang on to the ball and avoid another turnover.
   After putting together a nice drive, Bridget Graves came up two yards short on a fourth-and-4 attempt, with the Dream making the stop at the 30 yard-line.
   "That first series I thought we were going to stick that one in there, but after we got right there in the red-zone we lost the ball, and that was a big turnaround for us," said Gethers. "We gave up a big run on defense, but you've got to give that girl credit -- she could run."
   Nashville drove the ball down the field after several sweeps to the outside, but Neysa Gregory stepped up to make a stuff on Mandy Gerling at the 15-yard-line for a three-yard loss to end the Dream's scoring hopes.
   Toward the end of the first period, the Venom's Nikki Swarthout made a recovery of a fumble in the Dream's backfield.
   Tennessee was unable to find its way to the end zone after playing the Dream to a tough 6-0 first-quarter score.
   "We have a lot of speed, but we were worried because we're missing four starters on defense, so with having banged up people, we're just happy getting out of here with a win," said Nashville Dream coach Ben Eakin. "We got the shutout, so that was a bonus, but they're a lot better team than what they were last year."
   The Dream captured a couple of touchdowns in the second period, the first one coming off a 20-yard pass from Debbie Roderick to Gerling.
   Nice defense from Ora Gross to break up a pass on fourth down denied the Dream from capitalizing on a drive midway through the second period.
   The Venom managed to drive down the field in the last two minutes of the first half, when Graves had a couple of nice scrambles, along with the stiff arm.
   A fumble with under a minute left in the half gave the ball back to Nashville at the Venom 38.
   The next play it was Roderick hooking up with Autumn Smith, who turned on the jets and cut back across the field for the score with 17 seconds left.
   The Venom saw the margin increase to 18-0 in the final minute, after playing a tough first half and keeping the game close.
   "We had some trouble stopping the sweeps outside in the first half, so we decided to change our linebackers and not let them get one on one," said Gethers. "We were successful at that, but they have a good team."
   Nashville control the tempo in the second half, as its next three possessions took up nearly the entire two quarters of play.
   The Venom had trouble stopping the speedy tailback Smith, who ran outside and then inside to keep the chains moving.
   Roberson scored her second TD on the night, from six yards out, and the Dream led 25-0 with 7:06 left in the third period.
   Tennessee had trouble finishing off drives all night long, and its only pass completion, which was a throw from Graves to Fisher, was called back on an illegal procedure call.
   "Every time we had a big play we ended up with a penalty on both the run and the pass," said Fisher. "Our offensive line did a great job blocking, and our quarterback got outside when she had to.
   "We definitely have to work out our timing with the quarterback and receivers, and our defense stayed out on the field a long time and did a heck of a job. This is the first game of the year and it's a 100 percent improvement from last year."
   Nashville's last score came after a 22-yard sweep from Smith, setting up a one-yard plow from Lakisha Harper early in the fourth period.
   "We beat them with sweeps last year, but this year they came out ready. But it's hard to stop Smith -- she's quick and cuts back nice" said Eakin. "We started going up the middle and they wouldn't pinch in, and that's what helped us in the second half.
   "Our defense just had to be on the field three times in the second half, and we kept them off the field, which was good."