It was so cool for our team, for our state and for our sport. And it just made me really happy. —Utah Falconz quarterback Louise Bean
MURRAY — Louise Bean couldn’t have written a better ending for her professional football career.
The 43-year-old quarterback led the Utah Falconz to their second consecutive Independent Women’s Football League Championship with a 35-18 victory Saturday night, going 7-for-7 with three touchdowns.
But it wasn't her outstanding performance or second national title that gave her career a storybook ending, it was a field full of little kids and the roar of the crowd that packed the stands at Cottonwood High.
“I was trying really hard not to think about that,” Bean said of her impending retirement. “I was just glad that I had a good game. That doesn’t happen all the time. My favorite thing of the whole game was when we came out at halftime and there were all of these kids all over the field because that’s what it’s all about. It’s about kids coming, families coming, We had 2,000 people here supporting this team. It was so cool for our team, for our state and for our sport. And it just made me really happy.”
Her second favorite moment was the reaction of the fans when she connected with Lexie Floor for a 70-yard passing touchdown at 12:47 in the second quarter to give the team a 20-0 lead.
“I could hear all the fans cheer, and that felt really good,” she said. “It’s a fun sport, and I just feel lucky that I got to play it. I waited my whole life to do it, and I’m glad I did it.”
Bean is like most of the women who battled for the national championship — whether they were wearing Austin’s yellow and black or the Falconz's blue and black. They loved the game, yearned to play, but were either actively discouraged or didn’t see an opportunity for them because of their gender.
Even team owner and former player Hiroko Jolley said that when she bought the team, others weren’t so sure it was worth the trouble.
“I was told, ‘It’s been in Utah, it’s been done before,” Jolley said. “’The Utah community really didn’t like women’s football, they didn’t support it.’ I just took the attitude, ‘Well, watch me.’”
In four years, the Falconz have lost just a single game — the championship two years ago.
“We’ve been at this stadium for three years,” she said as she watched her players celebrate in the end zone after the game. “It was my goal and my dream to see it filled from end to end and tonight that happened. It was an incredible feeling to see that come to fruition.”
The game began with pre-game entertainment and then Gov. Gary Herbert conducted the coin toss which the Falconz won. He and Senate President Wade Niederhauser, who helped secure the support of the Utah Sports Commission, watched the game from the sideline, even sampling Falconz Dogs.
“This is just another example of Utah exceptionalism,” Herbert said. “We have a wonderful women’s professional football team. They’ve only lost one game in four years. That’s remarkable when you think about it. So to come here and be part of the community support, cheer and showcase Utah, why would I want to miss that?”
The Falconz scored on their opening drive with a 3-yard rushing touchdown from Keesha Cox. The Falconz defense forced the Yellowjackets to punt, and then Jordan Willis scored on an 11-yard run with 37 seconds left in the first quarter. Bean and Floor connected for the game’s first passing touchdown at 12:47 in the second quarter, but the two-point conversion failed and the Falconz led 20-0.
Then Bean found Floor again at 8:52 in the second quarter on a 13-yard pass play. Utah went into the half with a 28-0 lead thanks to a two-point conversion from Willis after that passing touchdown. Kicker Emily Raney complete all of her PATS, while Utah had two interceptions on defense — the first from Sara Galica the second from Danielle Musick.
After the game, Willis couldn’t suppress her smile or stop the tears.
“I’ve got nothing left,” said the running back. “I left it all out there.”
Head coach Rick Rassmussen said they’ve taught him that life’s only limits are self-imposed.
“If they want to do it, if they want to try, they can be very successful,” he said. “It’s so fun to coach them because they’ll go as far as you’re able to take them. It really puts the onus on the coaching staff because they’ll give you everything they have and then some.”
The large crowd, he said, was a validation of the commitment his players have shown to the game and each other. “I think it was a validation because our ladies have worked so hard,” he said. “The dedication that it took to get to this level, consistently, when every other team, it’s their biggest game is against us. So to go out there and play at that level, is a real tribute to our team and our coaching staff.”
Bean said she was grateful they were able to get every player in the game thanks to a big first-half lead.
"That’s important to our organization," Bean said after being named the title game's MVP. "Everyone pays to play the same amount. So the number 51 player is just as important as the number one listed player. ...It’s just the greatest organization."
The players said the appreciation from the fans meant the most to them.
“It’s what we do,” Willis said of playing football. “We don’t get paid money. They’re happy we're here, and that’s just amazing.”