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Sunday, May 12, 2013

D.C. Divas improve to 4-1

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Divas Drown Sharks in Rain-Shortened Game, 49-6
Neal Rozendaal

Washington, DC – As rain soaked the football field, you might expect that the team nicknamed the Sharks would have the upper hand.

Turns out, Divas have no problem playing in wet conditions, either.

Allyson Hamlin threw four touchdown passes, Kenyetta Grigsby rushed for three more, and the DC Divas topped the New York Sharks after three quarters of play, 49-6.

It was a memorable game, as the Divas (4-1) returned to the District for the first time in nine years. The contest was played at Coolidge High School in northwest DC, where former Divas wide receiver Natalie Randolph now serves as the head football coach. Randolph accompanied the Divas captains to midfield for the opening coin toss as the team’s honorary captain.

Lightning threatened the contest from the very start; players for both teams were pulled off of the field during pregame warm-ups as a lightning storm approached. Even though the game was slightly delayed, the Divas took the field ready to play. Donna Wilkinson returned the opening kickoff to the 35-yard line, and on the first offensive play from scrimmage, Grigsby dashed 65 yards to give the Divas a 7-0 lead 15 seconds into the game.

New York took over on offense and was forced to punt after three unsuccessful plays, which would be a recurring theme for the Sharks in the first half. The Sharks (2-4) also had difficulty punting in the poor conditions, leading to three straight possessions where the Divas started offensive drives inside the New York 30-yard line.

On each occasion, the Divas took advantage. Grigsby added her second rushing touchdown of the day less than five minutes into the game, and then the Divas took to the air. Hamlin fired two touchdown passes on the Divas’ next two possessions, the first a 37-yard strike to Ashley Whisonant on third and 17 to give the Divas a 21-0 lead.

Hamlin’s second touchdown toss of the game went to Juliette Baker-Brice; Baker-Brice finished the contest with two catches for 48 yards and one touchdown. The Divas held a strong 28-0 lead after just one quarter.

Turnovers plagued the Divas at the start of the second period, when a fumble and an interception thwarted successive drives. But the defense held up their end of the deal, repeatedly shutting down the Sharks’ offense. Eleni Kotsis defended three passes in the game, and Trigger McNair and Callie Brownson batted down two each. With the DC defenders knocking passes down and forcing errant throws, the Sharks were repeatedly forced to punt the ball back to the Divas.

Whisonant did an excellent job handling punts in the challenging weather conditions, and a long 30-yard punt return with around nine minutes left in the half gave the Divas the ball at midfield. Grigsby did the rest, breaking three tackles on the first play of the drive to charge 51 yards into the end zone. Her third score of the game gave the Divas a 35-0 advantage. Kenyetta Grigsby had another spectacular game with 12 carries for 168 yards and three touchdowns.

The defense quickly gave the Divas the ball back, and DC then took over three and a half minutes on a long, methodical push to the end zone again. Elise Pittman, who had 11 yards rushing on five carries and three catches for 15 yards, did most of her damage on this drive. The drive culminated with a 28-yard touchdown reception by Whisonant; Ashley Whisonant finished the game with 58 yards receiving, and two of her three catches went for touchdowns. Her second score resulted in a 42-0 lead.

The Divas’ defense took center stage at the conclusion of the first half. The Sharks finally got their first first down of the game with just over two minutes remaining in the half. New York completed a pass to the DC six-yard line and desperately tried to crack the scoreboard by halftime. On two separate occasions, the DC defense was penalized for pass interference in the end zone, giving the Sharks a new set of downs at the two-yard line.

But time and again, the Divas’ defense held firm. They turned back the New York offense on seven straight plays inside the ten-yard line and denied them a first half score. After stuffing a run at the goal line on fourth down, the Divas regained possession and ran out the clock on the first half, leading by 42 points.

The defense carried that momentum into the second half, courtesy of Callie Brownson. The Sharks took the ball to start the half, and on their first play from scrimmage, Brownson picked off the New York pass and returned it 15 yards to the 28-yard line.

Hamlin didn’t waste time making the Sharks pay. She completed two passes to Kasee Hilliard for thirty yards, including a 21-yard touchdown strike on fourth down to boost the lead to 49-0. For the game, Hamlin completed nine of her 12 pass attempts for 157 yards and four touchdowns with one interception.

With the Divas firmly in control, the Sharks finally got their offense moving near the end of the third quarter. New York’s Lauren Pringle caught a 30-yard touchdown pass with 3:06 left in the third quarter to make the score 49-6.

Just two minutes later, lightning in the area forced the officials to pull both teams off of the field. After a lengthy delay, the teams tried to resume play. They managed to get just two plays off before lightning resurfaced, and the officials halted the game after three quarters.

The Divas now have a 4-1 record as they prepare for their final road trip of the regular season. They head to Boston next week for a rematch with the Militia, where they hope to avenge their only loss of the year.
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