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Showing posts with label D.C. Divas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label D.C. Divas. Show all posts

Monday, July 2, 2018

D.C. Divas Advance to Conference Title Game, Defeat Atlanta, 56-0

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Neal Rozendaal
Landover, MD – The D.C. Divas have won three national championships in their history. On Saturday night, D’Ajah Scott – who wears #4 – helped the Divas make it to the Final Four and take their first step toward championship #4 with an electrifying performance.
D’Ajah Scott rushed for 251 yards and four touchdowns on just nine carries, the defense recorded the 60th shutout in team history, and the D.C. Divas began the 2018 playoffs with a 56-0 victory over the Atlanta Phoenix in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Divas improved to 13-2 all-time in playoff openers and advanced to the conference championship game for the eighth time in franchise history.
The Divas (7-2) started the contest with their longest offensive drive of the game. D.C. fielded the opening kickoff at their own 28-yard line, and two carries by Scott netted 34 yards to put the ball on the Atlanta side of midfield. A few plays later, the Divas faced fourth and eight at the 46-yard line. Scott was tackled a yard short of the first down marker for a potential turnover on downs, but a facemask penalty tacked an additional 15 yards onto the run and gave the Divas an automatic first down at the Atlanta 24.
The D.C. offense soon found their backs to the wall again, facing fourth and ten from that spot. Quarterback Amanda Congialdi found wide receiver Kentrina Wilson for a critical 12-yard pass and a first down at the Atlanta 12-yard line. On the next play, Scott zoomed up the middle of the field and into the end zone for her first score of the evening. Stephanie Nealis converted her first extra point kick on a perfect eight-for-eight evening, and the Divas led, 7-0, with 8:51 left in the first quarter.
The Phoenix (6-2) had trouble early against the Divas’ pass defense, throwing three incomplete passes to start their opening drive and punting to the D.C. 39-yard line. The Divas’ offense picked up two yards on the next two plays, but on third down, D’Ajah Scott broke through the line, made a cutback, and raced 59 yards to the end zone. The Phoenix had not given up more than eight points in a game in the regular season, but with 7:10 remaining in the first quarter, the Divas led Atlanta, 14-0.
On the following drive, a 15-yard pass completion gave Atlanta a first down and possession on the Divas’ side of the field for the first time at the 39-yard line. But the D.C. defense quickly shut the door on Atlanta’s scoring hopes; on fourth and five, the Phoenix completed a pass to the sidelines, but it gained no yardage and resulted in a turnover on downs at the D.C. 34.
Scott struck again on the next play. She burst straight ahead through a huge hole in the offensive line and sprinted 66 yards for her third touchdown of the game and a 21-0 advantage for D.C. with 5:22 still remaining in the first period.
The Phoenix and Divas then traded three and outs, with the Divas kicking the ball to midfield on their first punt of the game. A few plays later, the first quarter came to a close with the Divas on top, 21-0.
After penalties on both sides, the Phoenix faced fourth and six near midfield early in the second quarter. Atlanta decided to go for it, but an incomplete pass gave the Divas the ball again at their own 49-yard line.
On third and six, D’Ajah Scott came up big again. She ripped off a 17-yard run and was only brought down when an Atlanta defender grabbed her facemask, which added another 15 yards on after the play. That resulted in a first down at the Atlanta 15-yard line. Shelly Freeman picked up eight yards on a run, and then Okiima Trotter was dragged down one yard short of the goal line. Congialdi finished the drive with a one-yard quarterback sneak for the score. With 11:46 left before halftime, the Divas held a commanding 28-0 lead.
Thanks to a great boot from Nealis and some excellent kickoff coverage, the Phoenix started their next drive way back at their own three-yard line. Two penalties by the Divas resulted in first downs for Atlanta, however, and they soon had second and five from the D.C. 47-yard line.
The Divas’ defense was able to get a stop with a little help from the Czech Republic. Petra Nohelova, a member of the Prague Harpies on loan to the Divas this season as she attends graduate school, registered her first sack of the year, dropping Atlanta quarterback Renee Langlais for an 11-yard loss. That sack stalled the Atlanta drive and led to a punt to the Divas’ 43-yard line.
The Divas and Phoenix exchanged four and outs, as both teams passed incomplete on fourth down to give possession away. The Divas took over in Atlanta territory with just over five minutes to play, and they bled down the clock while driving for another touchdown. The big play on the drive came when Shaquanda Gainey reeled in a 19-yard pass along the sidelines on fourth and four, setting the Divas up with first and goal at the seven-yard line.
Okiima Trotter then powered through the Atlanta defense and into the end zone. The margin was 35-0 in favor of the Divas with just 57 seconds left in the half, and it looked like that might be the score at the halftime break.
But the D.C. defense picked an opportune time for their first turnover of the game. Langlais dropped back to pass for Atlanta, and Tia Watkins drilled the quarterback and forced a fumble. Miteka Trueheart fell on the ball for the Divas at the Atlanta seven-yard line with 35 seconds remaining in the half.
Congialdi immediately connected with Wilson on a seven-yard touchdown pass with 28 seconds left in the half. Kentrina Wilson finished the contest with six catches for fifty yards, and her lone touchdown of the game put the Divas ahead, 42-0, as the first half came to an end.
At halftime, the Divas welcomed their fourth class of players and contributors into the D.C. Divas Hall of Fame. Running back Monica Livingston, offensive lineman Ghost Marfull, defensive lineman T.K. Washington, and Senior VP of Football Operations Rich Daniel were recognized in a halftime ceremony as the newest members of the D.C. Divas Hall of Fame.
The Atlanta offense would fare little better in the second half. They received the ball to start the third quarter but were immediately forced to punt to the D.C. 35. The Divas’ defense was led by Miteka Trueheart with seven tackles and Tia Watkins, who registered 5.5 tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks, and a forced fumble. Trigger McNair added five tackles, Cherre Marshall contributed 4.5 tackles, and Mara Lockard had 3.5 tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack, and a fumble recovery.
D’Ajah Scott put an exclamation point on her dominating performance on the first drive of the second half. She caught an eight-yard pass to start the drive, then she ran for 15 yards on third and two to give D.C. a first down at the Atlanta 41. Two plays later, Scott ran to the outside and made a cutback as three Phoenix defenders collided into each other. Scott then dashed over the goal line for a 41-yard touchdown run, her fourth of the game, and the Divas led, 49-0.
D’Ajah Scott left the game after one drive in the second half. She finished the contest with 251 yards on only nine carries and four touchdowns. Scott is the second player in Divas history to rush for over 250 yards in a single game, joining Kenyetta Grigsby, who performed the feat four times. Scott’s 27.9 yards per carry is a new Divas single-game playoff record, breaking the record set by Livingston against the Connecticut Crush in 2003.
The D.C. defense quickly came through with their second turnover of the game when Mara Lockard recovered an Atlanta fumble at the Phoenix 16-yard line. On the next play, Trotter scored her second rushing touchdown of the contest, putting the Divas out front, 56-0, midway through the third quarter. Trotter finished the game with five carries for 34 yards and two touchdowns.
The Divas began to tap their reserves on defense, and the Phoenix responded with a nice offensive drive to the D.C. 25-yard line. Quiana Ford came up with a sack on fourth down, however, which gave the Divas possession as the third quarter came to an end. The Divas led entering the fourth quarter, 56-0.
The final 15 minutes went very quickly, as a running clock was instituted for the fourth quarter. The Divas and Phoenix both came through with long drives before turning the ball over with an incomplete pass on fourth down. After one possession in the fourth quarter for each team, time ran out in the game with the D.C. Divas capturing a 56-0 victory over the Atlanta Phoenix.
With the victory, the D.C. Divas advanced to the conference championship game for the eighth time in franchise history. They will host their archrivals, the Boston Renegades, on July 14 for the Eastern Conference title and the right to represent the East in the national championship game in Atlanta on July 28. The contest on July 14 will be the 27th meeting between the D.C. Divas and Boston in the last decade, and it will mark the ninth time in the last ten years that the Divas and Boston have met in the playoffs in a winner-take-all setting.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Greg Gaskins Named New Head Coach of the D.C. Divas

D.C. Divas Football added 2 new photos.
Greg Gaskins Named New Head Coach of the D.C. Divas
Alison Fischer Resigns Post to Join D.C. Divas Front Office
Washington, DC – Alison Fischer, who guided the D.C. Divas to back-to-back national championships the past two years, stepped down today after five seasons as the team’s head coach. With Fischer’s departure, Divas co-offensive coordinator Greg Gaskins has been promoted as the head coach of the D.C. Divas for the 2017 season. Both announcements were made today by Divas owner and team president Paul Hamlin.
“As a player, I knew when it was time for me to step away from the field, and now I feel the time is right for me to relinquish the reins as the head coach of the D.C. Divas,” Fischer said. “With a strong core of players and coaches in place, I have no doubt this team will continue to be very successful in the years to come.”
“The Divas have been such a large part of my life for the past 16 years,” Fischer continued. “I’ve met some amazing people in my years with the team and have formed lifelong friendships along the way. I’ve played with and coached some incredible players, was surrounded by the best coaches in the sport, and was supported by a very hardworking and dedicated front office. I feel very fortunate and blessed to have been a part of such a quality organization for so many years.”
Alison Fischer has been a fixture on the Divas sidelines since the team’s founding in 2001. She began her football career as a defensive back on the original Divas team in 2001 and played ten seasons from 2001-2009 and 2011. Fischer was a respected team leader who was elected as a team captain by her teammates in 2002, 2007, and 2011.
Fischer retired from playing after the 2011 season, and despite a thin coaching resume, Hamlin immediately hired her as the head coach of the D.C. Divas in 2012. “Alison Fischer was a coach on the field for us when she played, and I knew she had all the ingredients to be a great coach when I hired her,” Hamlin said. “She didn’t have much coaching experience, but she knew women’s football. She knew our team, and she knew the game.”
Alison Fischer experienced remarkable success in her five seasons as the head coach of the D.C. Divas, guiding the team to five straight division championships and a 39-13 record. Her 39 victories as a head coach rank second in franchise history behind the Divas’ beloved former coach, Ezra Cooper, under whom Fischer played for eight seasons.
Fischer was named the Women’s Football Alliance (WFA) Coach of the Year in 2015, when she led the Divas to a perfect 12-0 record and the second national championship in franchise history. The Divas repeated that performance this past season, winning the 2016 national title as well. Fischer became the first head coach to guide her team to consecutive WFA national championships.
“A solid foundation for this team was put in place by Coach Cooper, and we’ve continued to build on what he and the players before us started,” Fischer declared. “Prior to my being hired and through my first couple of years as head coach, there were some particularly challenging circumstances we endured, coming up short of a championship time and time again.”
“The past two seasons have really been a culmination of the efforts and sacrifices that so many players, coaches, and staff have made over our 16-year history,” Fischer added. “I don’t know that there’s any better feeling than pouring your collective hearts and souls into working towards a common goal and then accomplishing that mission together. I’m extremely proud of what this team has been able to achieve and honored to be a part of it.”
“We had always been a good team, but Fisch took the Divas to another level,” Hamlin stated. “You don’t change a team overnight, and it took a few seasons for her to get the right assistant coaches in the right positions. But she methodically did that and, in conjunction with our coordinators, eventually developed offensive and defensive schemes that helped the Divas become one of the most dominant teams women’s football has ever seen.”
“Alison Fischer has done a remarkable job the past five years as our head coach,” Hamlin concluded. “In my opinion, she has undoubtedly been the best head coach in women’s football the past five years. Fisch assembled a staff of tremendous assistants, and to lead the team to back-to-back national championships is a fantastic record.”
“Mr. Hamlin has been incredibly supportive my entire career, and I can’t thank him enough,” Fischer said. “He had the vision and determination to hire a female head coach and take a chance on someone with very little coaching experience. He truly loves this team and leads the organization with incredible integrity. It has been a privilege to coach for him.”
While Fischer is stepping down as the team’s head coach, she will remain with the organization as a member of the Divas’ front office, with Hamlin today naming Fischer the team’s Vice President of Football Administration. “We are going to be working out her exact role over the next few months, discussing how she can be the most effective helping our team,” Hamlin remarked. “Fisch has superior organizational skills and will be a great addition to our front office. We are very fortunate that she will remain an integral part of this organization.”
“Although I am stepping down as head coach, I will not be leaving the team,” Fischer noted. “I am very happy to say that I will still be involved with the Divas. I look forward to my new role as Vice President of Football Administration and will continue to support this team any way that I can.”
Paul Hamlin wasted no time selecting Fischer’s replacement as head coach. Hamlin announced today that Greg Gaskins, the Divas’ co-offensive coordinator the last two seasons under Fischer, will take over as the head coach of the Divas for the 2017 season.
“Greg Gaskins is the perfect choice to build upon the success we have had the past couple of years,” Hamlin said. “He began as our offensive line coach, and he was so good that he quickly became the co-offensive coordinator. Coach Gaskins has played a major role in our coaching staff the past two years, and I see in him many of the same qualities that made Coach Fischer so successful. He has really won the support of the players and is a natural fit to step into the role as our new head coach.”
“It’s still setting in, but I’m extremely excited,” Gaskins said. “Coaching the D.C. Divas is an incredible opportunity. I know I’m inheriting a championship team and a team with a lot of tradition, and I just hope to continue that tradition.”
“I am so thankful to Mr. Hamlin for giving me this opportunity,” Gaskins continued. “If it weren’t for Mr. Hamlin, I wouldn’t be here in the first place. He was the one who approached me four years ago, when I was fresh out of college and had only one year of experience coaching freshman high school football. Mr. Hamlin came to me and said that I was the right person to lead this offensive line. I’ll always remember the faith he had in me as a coach.”
Greg Gaskins attended William Penn High School in York, Pennsylvania, and was rated as the #15 center prospect in the nation by Rivals.com
 coming out of high school. He earned a scholarship to play offensive line at the University of Pittsburgh for Coach Dave Wannstedt.
As a sophomore in 2009, he saw action for a Panthers team that went 10-3 and finished the year ranked #15 in the nation in the AP poll after defeating North Carolina in a bowl game. The following year, Gaskins started four games at right guard as Pitt went on to win the Big East Conference championship and defeat Kentucky in the Compass Bowl.
Gaskins was again a constant in the Pitt lineup as a college senior, leading the team back to their second straight appearance in the Compass Bowl. In his four seasons at Pitt, the Panthers had tremendous success, compiling a 33-19 record and playing in four straight bowl games. After his college career, Greg Gaskins moved to Washington, DC, in 2012 and started coaching at Gonzaga High School before joining the Divas the following year.
In 2015, Alison Fischer promoted Gaskins to co-offensive coordinator, and he was a key member of the coaching staff that helped the Divas secure back-to-back national titles. “I’m very happy and excited for Greg to become the new head coach,” Fischer said. “In addition to having a very sharp football mind, he is well-respected by both coaches and players. He’s also an excellent teacher and has done an amazing job coaching what has been an outstanding offensive line. I look forward to watching this team continue to grow under his leadership.”
“Without Coach Fischer, I would never have been in this position,” Greg Gaskins said. “Coach Fischer is one of the people who allowed me to grow into my role here. She showed me how to let the people under you know what you expect but still not micromanage them, letting them do what they do best. She allowed me to become the best coach I could be, and I will always be grateful to her for all she has taught me.”
Now in his fifth season with the team, Coach Greg Gaskins will become the fifth head coach in the 17-year history of the D.C. Divas. “From my first year here to now, the D.C. Divas have grown tremendously as an organization,” Coach Gaskins said. “I see the D.C. Divas as the standard in women’s football. You can’t talk about women’s football without mentioning the D.C. Divas. The Divas are one of the premier teams in the sport, and having won back-to-back national championships just makes us that much more prominent.”
“With all that said, I know that means I have a lot to uphold to lead this team,” Gaskins continued. “I intend to hold our players to that same high standard. They have to understand what they’re a part of. They’re not just playing for any old team; they’re joining a team with over 15 years of tradition and winning at a high level. We have to uphold the standard of those who have come before us.”
In his first act as head coach, Greg Gaskins will oversee the first D.C. Divas tryouts for the upcoming 2017 season, scheduled for Saturday, October 1, at the Prince George’s Sports Complex in Landover beginning at 10 AM. “Coming off of back-to-back national titles, I know there are a lot of women who want to be a part of this,” Gaskins said. “This will be our first opportunity to see all of the talent out there that we can bring in. Rookies are a big part of any team, and everyone will be starting with a clean slate next year. October 1 is our first chance to start building this team for next year, and I couldn’t be more excited.”

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

D.C. Divas vs. Dallas Elite Super Bowl preview

D.C. Divas Rematch With Dallas Elite For 2016 National Championship
Neal Rozendaal

Washington, DC – The Dallas Elite are looking for redemption.  The D.C. Divas are seeking a repeat.

And the only way to settle the matter is with a rematch.

For the first time in the history of the Women’s Football Alliance (WFA), the national championship will feature the same two contestants as the year before, with the D.C. Divas squaring off against the Dallas Elite in Pittsburgh Saturday for the 2016 WFA title.  The Divas will attempt to become the first team in WFA history to repeat as national champions, but they’ll enter the title game as ten-point underdogs against the top-ranked and undefeated Elite, who are looking to bring the national title back to Dallas for the first time since 2008.

The Divas (9-1) earned their spot in the championship by winning the Eastern Conference title on July 9 over the Boston Renegades, 47-21.  Divas head coach Alison Fischer was happy with her team’s performance and how they bounced back from a subpar showing in their previous playoff game.

“I thought we had a much, much better effort on both sides of the ball against Boston.  I thought it was a step in the right direction,” Coach Fischer said.  “Boston’s an outstanding team, and we knew we’d have our hands full.  I thought we got off to a slow start again in the first half, but we responded with a very strong second half, which I was very pleased to see.”

“The offense moved the ball very well, scoring on seven of our first eight drives,” Fischer continued.  “We got off to a bit of a slow start on defense and gave up two early touchdowns, but then we really settled in and played much better on that side of the ball for the rest of the game.  We made the big defensive stops when we had to, and we also got a few turnovers, which was very important.  It was just great to get the win and be able to move on.” 

The win over Boston secured the Divas’ fourth conference championship in team history.  The Divas also claimed consecutive Eastern Conference titles for the first time in the 16-year history of the franchise, an achievement that did not escape Coach Fischer.

“It’s very tough to get back to the national championship game.  We knew it would be hard, especially with the schedule we had,” Fischer noted.  “It is a tremendous accomplishment, but that was our goal coming into the season: trying to win another championship.  That’s where we set our sights.  It’s a great feeling to get that conference title, but our job’s not finished.  As we’ve done all season, we’re taking this one game at a time, and next up is the championship game against Dallas.”

With the conference title in hand, the D.C. Divas will face the Western Conference champion Dallas Elite (10-0) for the 2016 WFA national championship.  The Divas and Elite have met twice previously.  The Divas defeated Dallas last year in Los Angeles, 30-26, to win the 2015 WFA national championship.  But the Elite got a measure of revenge this season, traveling to D.C. in April and using a strong second-half effort to blow out the Divas by three touchdowns, 40-19.

Dallas and D.C. share a heated rivalry in the NFL, and Coach Fischer is starting to see the same competitiveness develop on the women’s side of the game.  “Dallas is a great team, obviously,” Coach Fischer said.  “Our first two games against them were terrific, competitive contests.  This is our second time facing them in the national title game, and it obviously starts to turn into a rivalry when two teams face off repeatedly this late in the playoffs.  I expect this to be another fantastic game for the fans.”

The first two games between the Divas and the Elite have been a tale of two halves.  In the first halves of the two games combined, the Divas have outscored Dallas, 40-12, and the Divas have led by two touchdowns at halftime in both previous meetings.  Dallas has dominated the second halves of both games, however, outscoring the Divas after intermission, 54-9.  The Divas held off a furious rally from Dallas in their first meeting to win the 2015 championship, but Dallas stormed past the Divas in the second half for a lopsided victory this year.

While the Dallas coaches are undoubtedly preaching to their players the importance of a faster start, Fischer and the Divas coaching staff are trying to solve their second-half woes against the Elite.  “Our poor second-half performances are something we’re very aware of,” Coach Fischer noted.  “Dallas has been a great second-half team against us.  We haven’t played with the same efficiency in the second half against them that we’ve shown in the first half, and our challenge is to get our team to finish strong and play a complete sixty-minute game.”

A large part of the Divas’ second-half struggles are undoubtedly due to the blazing speed of Dallas’ skill position players combined with their size and strength on the line.  “Everyone knows that Dallas has a lot of speed in the backfield,” Fischer observed.  “It’s a challenge to try to contain that and limit their big plays on offense.  But Dallas also has quite a bit of size up front on their line, too.  They have a great combination of size and speed, and it can wear you down if you’re not careful.”

Dallas’ explosive offense was on full display in their victory over the Divas earlier this season.  Elite quarterback Jessica Gerhart completed a 47-yard touchdown pass to Erika Bobo to give Dallas the lead for good in that game, and Elite co-owner, head coach, and star running back Odessa Jenkins finished the scoring with a 57-yard run to salt the game away.

Limiting those types of big scores will be a focus for the Divas’ defense.  “They have the potential to make those big explosive plays,” Coach Fischer said.  “Defensively we have to slow that down; we have to try to contain that and not give up too many easy, big plays.”

On the flip side, the Divas have taken an early lead in their two previous meetings against Dallas.  But once ahead, the Divas offense has struggled to maintain the same sharpness throughout the entire contest.  “We’ve had some opportunities offensively that we missed out on, particularly in the second half,” Fischer noted.  “We’ve just got to play better.  We have the potential on offense to drive the ball, but we have to limit our mistakes.  We need to understand that because their offense is so explosive, no lead is ever safe and we have to play with the same urgency throughout the entire game, no matter the score.  We can’t afford to ever have a letdown against a team as good as they are, and that goes for both sides of the ball.”

One thing that will be drastically different in the Divas’ rematch with the Dallas Elite will be the weather conditions.  In their first meeting this season back in April, temperatures were around 40 degrees when the Divas and Elite took the field.  For the national championship game, early weather forecasts are projecting temperatures in the high nineties by kickoff.

“It could be a scorcher, and the game is also kicking off a bit earlier (4:30 PM) than many of our games this year, so there could definitely be an extra heat element,” Fischer said.  “But that’s all part of the game.  That’s football...both teams have to deal with the weather and everything that comes with it.  We’ve had some hot practices leading up to this, and we had a very hot game against Boston.  Hopefully it has prepared us a bit for the conditions on Saturday.”

After 16 seasons, the D.C. Divas will be making their ESPN debut, with the WFA championship game set to be streamed online by ESPN3.  Even though the Divas were just in the national title game last year, Coach Fischer has tried to impress upon her team that these are moments to savor and cherish.

“We’ve tried to relate to the younger players how special and how rare this journey has been, how difficult this is,” Fischer concluded.  “The players who have only been here a year or two may not realize how challenging it is to get to this game two years in a row.  We need to seize this opportunity, because you never know how long it could be before you get back.  But with all that being said, I really want to focus on Dallas and the game itself, rather than the historical implications of it.”

What: 2016 WFA National Championship Game – D.C. Divas vs. Dallas Elite
When: Saturday, July 23 – Kickoff at 4:30 PM
Where: DeMichela Stadium, 205 W. Allegheny Rd, Imperial, PA
Coverage: ESPN3 (Broadcast starts at 4:00 PM)
For tickets and more information: http://www.thewbowl.com

Sunday, July 10, 2016

D.C. Divas Advance to Second Straight National Title Game, Defeat Boston Renegades, 47-21


Neal Rozendaal
Oxon Hill, MD - For the first time in team history, the D.C. Divas have won back-to-back conference championships. More importantly, the Divas now have one shot at an even bigger back-to-back accomplishment.
The D.C. Divas' offense exploded for seven touchdowns on their first eight drives as the Divas captured their second straight Eastern Conference championship, defeating the Boston Renegades, 47-21. The Divas advance to the 2016 WFA National Championship game in Pittsburgh on July 23, where they will face the Western Conference champion Dallas Elite in a rematch of last year's national title game that was won by the Divas, 30-26.
The Renegades (7-4) had struggled on offense the past several weeks since losing star quarterback Allison Cahill to a season-ending shoulder injury. But against the Divas, the Renegades gained some early offensive momentum by calling on running back Stacey Tiamfook, who made her playoff debut after suiting up in just one regular season game for Boston all season long.
With a well-rested Tiamfook in the lineup, the Boston offense was considerably more potent against the Divas than it had been in recent weeks. The Renegades received the opening kickoff, and Tiamfook gained 32 yards on two carries to put Boston in business in the Divas' red zone. A facemask penalty by the Divas extended the drive, and Chante Bonds - filling in the past few weeks for Cahill at quarterback - ran it in from three yards out to give Boston a 7-0 lead. The Renegades called 12 straight running plays to open the game to break out to an early lead.
The Divas (9-1) responded with a grinding, methodical drive that covered 75 yards and took nine minutes off the clock. The Divas converted three fourth-and-one situations on the drive and had the ball on Boston's nine-yard line as time expired in the first period. On the first play of the second quarter, Divas quarterback Allyson Hamlin found wide receiver Ashley Whisonant in the end zone for a touchdown, and Stephanie Nealis booted her first of five successful extra point kicks to tie the score, 7-7.
Boston proved that their first touchdown was no fluke by engineering another scoring drive on their second possession. Third-down receptions by Tiamfook (16 yards) and wide receiver Adrienne Smith (17 yards) picked up first downs for Boston, and star Renegades running back Whitney Zelee zoomed into the end zone from ten yards out to put Boston back in front early in the second quarter, 14-7.
A team effort helped the Divas even the score. Callie Brownson set the Divas up with great field position on their next drive, returning the kickoff to the Boston 47-yard line. Divas wide receiver Kentrina Wilson made a huge 13-yard reception on third and six to keep the drive alive, and Whisonant drew a 15-yard pass interference penalty as well.
But running back Kenyetta Grigsby shouldered most of the load on the Divas' second possession, carrying the ball five times for 24 yards. Her fifth carry of the drive was an eight-yard jaunt into the end zone, and Nealis' kick re-tied the game at 14-all midway through the second quarter. Grigsby ended the contest with 26 carries for 123 yards and one touchdown.
Stephanie Nealis launched the ensuing kickoff out of the end zone for a touchback, and coupled with a Boston penalty, the Renegades started their next drive pinned at their own 15-yard line. The Divas' defense then made their first big play of the game, as Safi Mojidi pulled down her seventh interception of the season and returned it to Boston's 33-yard line.
Grigsby immediately ripped off a 24-yard run down the sidelines to set the Divas up with first and goal. Hamlin capped off the drive with a one-yard quarterback sneak into the end zone, and although Nealis' kick was blocked, the Divas had their first lead of the game, 20-14.
Tiamfook returned the following kickoff 27 yards to near midfield, giving Boston great field position late in the first half. But the Divas' defense forced a three and out, and Boston punted to the Divas' 20-yard line. The Divas ran the ball three straight times up the middle, burning Boston's remaining timeouts and most of the first half clock.
The Divas then punted the ball away, their only punt of the entire contest. After one play, time ran out on the first half, and the D.C. Divas took a 20-14 lead over the Boston Renegades into intermission. The Renegades successfully shortened the game in the first half, limiting the Divas' offensive possessions and going into halftime trailing by just six points.
D.C. received the second half kickoff and immediately expanded on their lead. Brownson had a terrific 27-yard run into Boston territory, and Wilson caught a 12-yard pass to get the Divas inside Boston's red zone. Whisonant polished off the drive with an 11-yard catch from Hamlin for a touchdown, and the Divas pulled ahead, 27-14.
But just as the Divas looked like they might be pulling away, Boston had one more counter-punch. Adrienne Smith returned the ensuing kickoff to midfield, and then Whitney Zelee took command. Zelee - the MVP of the 2014 national championship game who shattered a women's football record with an astonishing 3,020 rushing yards in 2013 - had been slowed by injury for most of the season. But she proved that, even when not fully healthy, she is still a formidable adversary. Zelee carried the ball three times on the drive and gained 49 yards, including a 30-yard scamper for a touchdown. The Renegades cut their deficit back down to 27-21 midway through the third quarter.
The Divas' red-hot offense, however, continued to put pressure on Boston. Whisonant dazzled the fans when she caught a pass from Hamlin, broke a tackle, and reversed course all the way across the field, gaining 34 yards before being pushed out of bounds at the Boston ten-yard line. Two plays later, Whisonant drew a pass interference call in the end zone to give the Divas first and goal from the Boston two-yard line. Hamlin called her own number on a one-yard touchdown run, and the Divas built their advantage back up to 34-21.
A rare mistake by the Renegades gave the Divas' defense the opening they needed. Tiamfook returned the kickoff 26 yards to near midfield and then gained four yards on two carries to set up third and six. On third down, the Renegades completed two forward passes on the same play, drawing an illegal forward pass penalty and setting up fourth and ten. Trailing by two scores at midfield, Boston decided to go for it. But Kucheria Eades batted down a pass intended for Smith and the Divas took over on downs, leading after three quarters, 34-21.
The Divas maintained their offensive momentum as the fourth quarter opened. Wilson - who finished the contest with five critical catches for 67 yards - snared a 20-yard pass from Hamlin to open the period. Three plays later, fullback Okiima Pickett dashed into the end zone from ten yards out to pad the Divas lead to 41-21.
The tricky, razzle-dazzle passing game of the Renegades finally began to backfire late in the contest. On a first down play at midfield, Boston attempted two laterals to set up a possible pass. But the second lateral was fumbled on a hit by Divas linebacker Kira Robinson, and Ashley Branch fell on it for the Divas at Boston's 40-yard line.
The D.C. offense then put the game away with their seventh touchdown in eight offensive drives. Tight end Melissa Washington caught a 14-yard pass on fourth and 11 for a first down, and Ashley Whisonant finished off the drive with a spectacular nine-yard touchdown catch from Hamlin at the back of the end zone. The Divas went on top, 47-21, midway through the fourth quarter. Allyson Hamlin finished the contest completing 14 of 21 passes for 186 yards and three touchdowns, while adding two touchdowns rushing. All three of Hamlin's scoring passes went to Whisonant, who made six grabs for 75 yards and a trio of touchdowns.
The Renegades began to press for big plays on offense, and Quiana Ford made them pay with an interception for the Divas. The Divas' defense stepped up big in the second half, led by Tia Watkins' seven tackles and Cherre Marshall, who added six. Trigger McNair and Dex Walker contributed four tackles each to the Divas' defensive cause.
The Divas drove into Boston's red zone and chewed up most of the remaining clock, turning the ball over on downs for the first time with 2:41 remaining in the contest. But Boston was quickly forced to punt, and the Divas ran out the clock on a convincing 47-21 victory to claim the 2016 WFA Eastern Conference championship.
The D.C. Divas are the first defending national champion in WFA history to repeat as conference champions and return to the national championship game the following year. After losing their opening contest of the season to the Dallas Elite, 40-19, the 2016 D.C. Divas have won nine games in a row to make it back to the national championship game. For the first time in WFA history, the national championship game will be a repeat of the previous season, as the Divas face the Dallas team that handed them their only blemish of the year.
Scoring Summary
FIRST QUARTER
BOS 8:53 - Chante Bonds 3 Yd Run (Boston Kick Good) 0-7
SECOND QUARTER
DC 14:53 - Allyson Hamlin 9 Yd Pass to Ashley Whisonant (Nealis Kick Good) 7-7
BOS 10:28 - Whitney Zelee 10 Yd Run (Boston Kick Good) 7-14
DC 6:40 - Kenyetta Grigsby 8 Yd Run (Nealis Kick Good) 14-14
DC 3:40 - Allyson Hamlin 1 Yd Run (Nealis Kick Blocked) 20-14
THIRD QUARTER
DC 11:40 - Allyson Hamlin 10 Yd Pass to Ashley Whisonant (Nealis Kick Good) 27-14
BOS 8:39 - Whitney Zelee 30 Yd Run (Boston Kick Good) 27-21
DC 3:59 - Allyson Hamlin 1 Yd Run (Nealis Kick Good) 34-21
FOURTH QUARTER
DC 13:10 - Okiima Pickett 10 Yd Run (Nealis Kick Good) 41-21
DC 7:54 - Allyson Hamlin 9 Yd Pass to Ashley Whisonant (Nealis Kick No Good) 47-21

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Divas Triumph In Battle of the Champs, Down Pittsburgh Passion, 41-29


Neal Rozendaal
Landover, MD - Just in case there was ever any confusion, the D.C. Divas made a definitive statementSaturday night: the champs are here.
Ashley Whisonant scored three touchdowns - two receiving and one on a long punt return - and picked off two passes on defense, and the defending WFA champion D.C. Divas handed the two-time defending IWFL champion Pittsburgh Passion their first playoff defeat in three years with a 41-29 victory. The Divas (8-1) advance to host their archrivals, the Boston Renegades, at home on July 9 in the WFA's Eastern Conference championship game.
The underdog Passion (7-3) reached into their bag of tricks immediately, recovering an onside kick to start the game. They proceeded to drive deep into Divas' territory and faced a fourth and two from the D.C. 10-yard line. The Passion decided to go for it, but Divas linebacker C'Vette Henson dropped Pittsburgh running back Tara Catone for a three-yard loss to give the ball to the Divas' offense for the first time.
The Divas went three and out on their first possession, and a very short punt set Pittsburgh up with great field position again, this time at the Divas' 27-yard line. But Amanda Congialdi helped the Divas stave off the threat by intercepting Pittsburgh quarterback Lisa Horton's pass at the 17-yard line.
The Divas then mounted their first successful offensive drive. A 16-yard catch by wide receiver Kentrina Wilson on third and long moved the chains, and Okiima Pickett - who started the game at running back and led the team with 81 yards on 17 carries - bolted into Pittsburgh territory with a powerful 24-yard run. But the drive stalled out shortly after the Divas crossed midfield. Faced with a fourth and 14, the Divas tried to catch the Passion off guard by shifting from punt formation and into an offensive set just before the snap. But a designed run gained only five yards, and the Divas turned the ball back over to Pittsburgh on downs.
Once again, the D.C. defense stepped up to turn back the Passion offense. The Passion elected to go for it on fourth and four from the D.C. 46-yard line, but the Divas' Quiana Ford swatted down Horton's pass attempt to turn the Passion over for the third straight time. As the D.C. offense went back to work, time expired on a scoreless first quarter.
The Divas would seize the advantage in the second period. Ashley Whisonant split two defenders to come down with a 15-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Allyson Hamlin, and Stephanie Nealis booted her first of five successful extra points to put the Divas ahead, 7-0.
The Pittsburgh offense continued to struggle, going three and out on their next possession. The Divas flexed their offensive muscles with a 12-play, 77-yard drive to the end zone midway through the second quarter. Hamlin finished the drive herself with a three-yard quarterback draw into the end zone, and the Divas extended their lead to 14-0.
Now trailing by two scores, the Passion offense finally snapped to life. Long passes from Horton to wide receivers Rachel Wojdowski (38 yards) and Angela Baker (18 yards) gave the Passion first and goal on the D.C. four-yard line late in the first half. But the Divas' defense responded with a terrific goal line stand.
On second and goal at the one-yard line, 18-year veteran linebacker Trigger McNair and 15-year defensive lineman Jimmien Strong teamed up to stuff Pittsburgh fullback Janice Masters for a two-yard loss. A two-yard run on third down put the ball back down on the Divas' one-yard line on fourth and goal.
Horton tried to run up the middle for the touchdown, but defensive lineman Emily Grossman and linebacker Tia Watkins held their ground, stopping the quarterback for no gain and keeping Pittsburgh off the scoreboard. The Divas' offense then ran out most of the remaining time from the half, and the Divas went to intermission holding a 14-0 halftime advantage.
The D.C. Divas would take command of the game in the third quarter, although it did not look that way as the second half began. Wojdowski caught a 46-yard pass from Horton to give the Passion first and goal, and on fourth down, Horton tossed a two-yard pass to Baker for Pittsburgh's first touchdown of the game. The extra point kick cut the Divas' lead to 14-7 three minutes into the second half.
The Divas then went three and out and punted on their next possession, and for the first time since early in the second quarter, the Passion had the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead. But Horton threw her second interception of the game when Whisonant picked off a long pass intended for Wojdowski and returned it 22 yards into Pittsburgh territory.
Whisonant would make her presence felt on both sides of the ball, taking the handoff on a reverse and weaving her way for 27 yards before stepping out of bounds at the two-yard line. Divas running back Kenyetta Grigsby would take it from there by rushing the final two yards for a score, her 100th rushing touchdown since joining the Divas in 2010. Grigsby's touchdown restored the Divas' two-score lead at 21-7 with seven minutes remaining in the third quarter; she would finish the game with 40 yards on five carries with one touchdown.
The D.C. defense continued to rise to the occasion and made Pittsburgh pay for a rare gamble. The Passion fielded the ensuing kickoff at their own 39-yard line, but they gained just five yards in three plays. Faced with fourth and five on their own side of the field, they attempted to go for the first down, but Congialdi tipped the pass away for the Divas to give the offense great field position.
Kentrina Wilson put the Divas even further in front with a spectacular 22-yard touchdown catch. On a pass that seemed nearly out of reach, Wilson extended her arms and caught the top half of the falling football for a score. Wilson led the team with 52 receiving yards on three receptions, and her lone touchdown gave the Divas a 28-7 lead over Pittsburgh with just over four minutes left in the third quarter.
The Divas took a virtually insurmountable lead as the third quarter came to an end. The defense forced the Passion offense into a fourth and long, which brought up a Pittsburgh punt. Whisonant caught the punt and sprinted down the sidelines for an electrifying 68-yard touchdown return as time expired in the third quarter. Nealis' extra point attempt was blocked, but the Divas led, 34-7, after three quarters of play.
Pittsburgh made one last gasp as they opened the fourth quarter, driving into the D.C. red zone. Horton kept the Pittsburgh drive alive with a juking 14-yard run on third and ten, but she was picked off at the goal line three plays later by Whisonant to end the threat. Whisonant played a spectacular game in all phases, registering a 27-yard run, three catches for 21 yards and two touchdowns, a 68-yard punt return for a touchdown, and two interceptions of Lisa Horton on defense.
Horton would then leave the game, replaced at quarterback by Janice Masters. Masters was extremely productive in her new role. It took Pittsburgh just three plays on their next offensive possession to reach the end zone on a seven-yard run by Passion running back Sonya Osselborn. Osselborn's touchdown pulled Pittsburgh within 34-14 midway through the fourth quarter.
But C'Vette Henson not only recovered the Passion's onside kick but returned it several yards to their 33-yard line. The Divas' offense then put the game on ice. Hamlin tossed her fourth touchdown of the game, this time a one-yard flip to tight end Melissa Washington on fourth down. That put the Divas in front, 41-14, with just 4:14 remaining in the game. Hamlin ended the contest with 13 completions on 22 attempts for 99 yards and four touchdowns.
With the game decided, the Passion continued to fight and made the final score look more favorable with two late scores. Qualin Pitts rushed for a four-yard touchdown with 1:18 left in the game to cut the D.C. lead to 41-21. Pittsburgh then recovered an onside kick, drove down the field, and scored on a six-yard pass from Masters to Wojdowski with ten seconds to play. The Passion, trailing by 14 points with ten seconds on the clock, proceeded to fake the extra point kick and throw for a two-point conversion to make the final margin 41-29.
Despite the two late scores, the D.C. defense played a terrific game shutting down a potent Pittsburgh offense. Tia Watkins led the team with eight tackles, followed by Trigger McNair with seven. Five Divas added five tackles each - Cherre Marshall, Amanda Congialdi, C'Vette Henson, Eris Woodard, and Kucheria Eades.
This was the first meeting between the Divas and Passion since 2013, and it was billed as a battle of the champs. The Pittsburgh Passion left the WFA in 2014 and joined the smaller Independent Women’s Football League (IWFL) for two seasons before returning to the WFA this year. Pittsburgh dominated the IWFL during their two-year stint in that league, winning back-to-back "world championships" while the Divas defeated considerably stronger competition on their way to the 2015 WFA national title.

Upon their return to the WFA, Pittsburgh was awarded the right to host the 2016 WFA championship in four weeks, an honor traditionally reserved in the past for defending WFA champions. But although the Divas won't be hosting the 2016 WFA national championship game, they find themselves in an even more desirable position: they are now just one win away from playing in it.

Friday, June 24, 2016

D.C. Divas and Pittsburgh Passion Renew Rivalry in Playoff Showdown Neal Rozendaal

Washington, DC – The D.C. Divas will begin their championship defense by facing a team that is doing the same.


The defending WFA champion D.C. Divas (7-1) will host the two-time defending IWFL champion Pittsburgh Passion (7-2) in a women’s football playoff matchup on June 25 (Prince George’s Sports Complex in Landover, MD; 6:00 PM kickoff). The Divas and Passion are two of the sport’s top teams and will battle it out for the right to advance to the Eastern Conference championship game on July 9.

The Divas earned the top seed in the Eastern Conference and home field advantage throughout the Women’s Football Alliance (WFA) playoffs with a convincing 55-7 victory over the Boston Renegades on June 4. Boston was hampered by the absence of their star quarterback, Allison Cahill, who suffered a season-ending shoulder injury two weeks earlier. Nevertheless, Divas head coach Alison Fischer was pleased with the Divas’ performance that clinched the top seed for D.C.

“That was a big win, because it sealed home field advantage for us and the top seed in the conference,” Fischer confirmed. “Boston obviously is a different team without Cahill, but I still thought we played pretty well in all phases. We finished the year strong, which is what you want to do at the end of the season going into the playoffs.”

The Divas concluded the year with the top seed in the East and a 7-1 overall record. After a season-opening loss to the top-ranked and undefeated Dallas Elite, the D.C. Divas have won seven in a row against a schedule ranked as the toughest in women’s football.

“We got off to a sluggish start in our first game [against Dallas], but we’ve grown and gotten better each game since then,” Coach Fischer said. “We’re playing our best football of the year, which is what you want to do at this point in the season. Our coaching staff preaches to the team that we need to get better every week, and for the most part I think we’ve done that.”

The Divas – the defending WFA national champions – will need to continue to improve as they prepare for a conference semifinal matchup against the Pittsburgh Passion. The Passion left the WFA in 2014 and joined the smaller Independent Women’s Football League (IWFL); Pittsburgh dominated that league for two seasons, winning back-to-back titles before rejoining the WFA this season. Because of their two-season absence, the Divas have not faced their old Pittsburgh rivals since 2013, and although some of the younger players are unfamiliar with what the Passion bring to the table, Coach Fischer knows what a difficult challenge they pose.

“They’re a very, very good squad,” Fischer remarked. “We have a lot of young folks who haven’t been around long enough to play them, so this will be new territory for them. Pittsburgh will give us some different looks than most of the other teams we’ve played this season. We will definitely have our hands full. It should be a great game between two really good teams.”

Two of the top quarterbacks in women’s football will face off in the Passion’s Lisa Horton and the Divas’ Allyson Hamlin. Coach Fischer praised the leadership Horton brings to the opposing sidelines.

“Similar to us, Pittsburgh has a veteran quarterback who is really an outstanding leader on that team,” Fischer said. “[Horton] is given a lot of freedom to call the plays and make adjustments on the field. When you have that in a veteran quarterback, it’s a huge benefit to your team. She’s a smart quarterback who reads defenses very well; she’ll find your weaknesses and exploit them. She’s a terrific competitor, and we expect a great game from her and the rest of their offense. Our defense will have their hands full, for sure.”

Both teams are also powered by outstanding running backs. In the Divas’ last game against Boston, Kenyetta Grigsby became the first player in franchise history to score 100 touchdowns with the team. Pittsburgh will counter with Tara Catone, who has impressed Coach Fischer on film.

“Catone is a very good running back. She runs low, she’s strong, and she’s quick. She has all the skills you need for a great running back,” Coach Fischer observed. “She has definitely done some damage throughout the season. It will be a very big challenge trying to stop that offense, which runs through Lisa [Horton] and the passing game but which is complemented by a pretty solid running game as well.”

The Pittsburgh Passion also feature a smart, hard-hitting defense. “What impresses me about Pittsburgh’s defense is that they are very disciplined,” Fischer said. “They play together as a team and everyone does their job. They’re always hustling and always seem to end up where they need to be. We’re going to be challenged on offense to execute in order to be effective.”

The D.C. Divas will be making their 13th playoff appearance this year, a women’s football record. In the “win or go home” setting of the playoffs, Coach Fischer believes that a tough regular season schedule and the presence of several veteran leaders has prepared the team for this moment.

“We’ve treated several games on our schedule this year like playoff games,” Fischer noted. “Having been through this process last year, we have a lot of veteran players who are familiar with the playoff atmosphere and who know what needs to be done. Our veterans know that we can’t leave anything on the field and that we have to play our best. The players are aware of the stakes. It definitely gets cranked up a notch from here on out.”

Like last year, when the Divas stormed their way to the national championship, the Divas have been rewarded for an outstanding regular season with home field advantage throughout the playoffs. “We’re looking forward to playing at home and being in front of our fans,” Coach Fischer declared. “It looks like we’ll finally get a good weather day, so hopefully people come out to see a great football game. There will be two great women’s football teams battling it out in a playoff matchup, and we’re just thankful to be in front of our home crowd for this one.”

Tickets are on sale now for the D.C. Divas’ conference semifinal playoff game against the Pittsburgh Passion. Visithttp://dcdivas.com/tickets/pittsburgh-2016/ for more information and to reserve your tickets today.

What: D.C. Divas vs. Pittsburgh Passion
When: Saturday, June 25 – Kickoff at 6:00 PM
Where: Prince George’s Sports Complex, across from FedEx Field
Address: 8100 Sheriff Road, Landover, MD 20785
For tickets and more information: http://dcdivas.com/tickets/pittsburgh-2016/

Series Notes

This will be the 15th all-time meeting between the D.C. Divas and the Pittsburgh Passion...the Divas hold a 10-4 advantage in the overall series, but the Passion have won four of the last seven regular season meetings between the two teams dating back to 2006...the Divas have a 2-0 record all-time against the Passion in the playoffs: a 27-17 victory in the conference semifinals in 2009, and a 45-30 win in the conference quarterfinals in 2012...the Divas (117) and Passion (103) are two of only seven active teams with over 100 victories all-time in women’s football.

Allyson Hamlin (1,436) and Lisa Horton (1,418) rank third and fourth in the WFA, respectively, in passing yards...Divas running back Kenyetta Grigsby (825) and Passion running back Tara Catone (812) each rank in the top ten in the league in rushing yards...Angela Baker leads the Pittsburgh receiving corps with 724 yards, good for second in the league, while the Divas’ Ashley Whisonant ranks fifth in the league with 600 receiving yards of her own...Whisonant led the WFA in the regular season with 12 receiving touchdowns, while Baker was right behind with 11...defensively, Pittsburgh linebacker Hannah Daman (73) and D.C. linebacker Tia Watkins (62.5) each rank in the top ten in the league in tackles for two of the best defenses in the sport.