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Thursday, June 20, 2013

PLAYOFF FOOTBALL IN TOWN THIS WEEKEND

Divas To Meet Familiar Foe in Playoff Opener
Neal Rozendaal

Washington, DC – The path to the WFA Eastern Conference championship game is littered with familiar foes for the DC Divas.

The Divas (5-3) start their playoff journey at home on Saturday in a conference quarterfinal matchup. Their opponent, the Columbus Comets, is a team the Divas have already battled twice this year. The winner of Saturday’s game between the Divas and Comets will advance to play either the Boston Militia or the Pittsburgh Passion, two more teams the Divas have already faced twice this season.

The Comets (6-4) displayed two vastly different offensive attacks in their two contests with the Divas this season. In their first meeting on April 13 – which resulted in a 53-20 victory for DC – the Comets relied mainly on the passing of quarterback Crystal Davis, the 2010 WFA Offensive Player of the Year. The Divas defense made the difference in the game, picking off seven interceptions and returning three of them for touchdowns.

The last time the DC Divas took the field two weeks ago, they defeated the Comets again, this time by a 42-20 score. But in that game, Columbus featured a much more balanced offensive game plan, thanks to a deep running back corps led by 1,000-plus-yard rusher Shelley Gates.

“They really came out of their passing game and went more to the ground in our last meeting,” DC Divas head coach Alison Fischer observed. “It seems like they kept it on the ground quite a bit, and that’s been their trend the last few games.”

Columbus’ change in offensive tactics contributed to yet another sluggish first quarter for the Divas, which has been a problem for the team all season long. “We got off to another slow start on offense and defense against Columbus. That’s something we’re still trying to correct,” Coach Fischer remarked.

But once the Divas adjusted to the new-look Comets, they took control of the game. DC countered Columbus with a strong running game of its own. “It was good to see not only Kenyetta Grigsby banging out yards…but also Donna Wilkinson, Arica Walker, Elise Pittman, Stacy Bruce, and Kieva Perry. It was great that those running backs could get yardage against Columbus as well,” Fischer said.

The victory over the Comets two weeks ago clinched a division championship for the Divas, their tenth in franchise history. It also gave the Divas a bye week last weekend, and Coach Fischer appreciated being able to give her team some rest. “It was really good to get the bye week,” she declared. “I think we needed it, because it’s been a physical regular season for us. The week off really helped us heal.”

While the Divas were taking last weekend off, the Comets earned their way into the conference quarterfinals by winning on the road against the New York Sharks, 22-20. The Divas simultaneously know what to expect from the Comets but don’t know what their offensive game plan will be.

“We know Columbus; they always come in fighting, and we know they’re going to give us a battle,” Fischer noted. “But we will need to be prepared for both a passing offense and a running offense, whatever they come at us with.”

Although the Divas won the first two meetings against the Comets, Coach Fischer knows that a playoff game will be a real learning experience for her young team’s many rookies. “A playoff game is just a whole different feeling, a whole different intensity,” Fischer said.

Even if they defeat the Comets and advance, this could be the last home game of the season for the DC Divas depending on the outcome of the Pittsburgh/Boston game. That, along with being the Divas’ playoff opener, will make for a special atmosphere Saturday evening. “It’s great to have a playoff game at home. The fans enjoy it, and we enjoy playing in front of them,” Fischer observed.

“It’s win or go home,” she concluded, before adding with a smile, “or stay home, in our case.”

Around the WFA

The Pittsburgh Passion easily dispatched the Cincinnati Sizzle, 63-0. The Passion move on to play the Boston Militia in Boston Saturday. The Divas’ division of DC, Pittsburgh, and Columbus is the only one in the entire league to have three teams make it to the conference quarterfinal round.

On the other side of the Eastern (National) Conference bracket, four undefeated teams remain. The Cleveland Fusion travel to Chicago to face the Force, and the Miami Fury hit the road to play the Atlanta Phoenix. The Fury picked up their first playoff win in franchise history by forfeit Saturday over the Savannah Sabers, but they’ll try to notch their first playoff win on the field in Atlanta.

In the Western (American) Conference, two games feature division rivals squaring off for state bragging rights. The St. Louis Slam visit the Kansas City Titans in one matchup, while in Texas, the Austin Outlaws will take on the Dallas Diamonds.

The other side of the Western Conference bracket contains three California teams and the Utah Jynx, who authored the most surprising upset of the first round of the playoffs. The Jynx went into Seattle and toppled the previously undefeated Majestics, 36-26. Utah now advances to take on the Fresno-based Central Cal War Angels. Meanwhile, the defending WFA champion San Diego Surge will host the Sacramento Sirens in the other conference quarterfinal matchup.

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