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Sunday, June 2, 2013

A 10th division title will come down to the last week of the regular season


Divas Keep Division Title Hopes Alive Despite 36-27 Setback
Neal Rozendaal

Landover, MD – If there is such a thing as a bittersweet defeat, this is it.

Pittsburgh quarterback Lisa Horton threw four touchdown passes, and the Passion sent the DC Divas down to defeat, 36-27. However, the Divas earned a moral victory, playing Pittsburgh within eleven points and retaining control of their own destiny in their quest to win the division championship.

Horton got Pittsburgh (5-2) on the scoreboard first, completing a 46-yard touchdown pass on third and ten for a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter. The Divas immediately responded, with star running back Kenyetta Grigsby bulling into the end zone from five yards out to knot the score at seven.

It took the Passion just 36 seconds to retake the lead for good. Horton threw her second touchdown pass of the quarter – this one to her standout receiver, Rachel Wojdowski – and Pittsburgh surged back ahead, 14-7, after one quarter.

The Divas (4-3) struggled on offense in the second quarter, in large part due to the absence of 2011 WFA wide receiver Ashley Whisonant. Whisonant – who set a franchise record with five touchdown receptions two weeks ago – was forced to miss the game due to work commitments with her day job as a Alexandria, Va. firefighter.

DC’s offense stalled on their first possession of the second quarter, and the Divas then failed to get the punt away, which gave the Passion great field position. Although the Divas’ defense stopped Pittsburgh short of the end zone, the Passion drilled a 26-yard field goal to pad their lead to 17-7.

Divas defensive back Callie Brownson, who will be representing Team USA at the IFAF Women’s World Championship next month, intercepted a Horton pass on Pittsburgh’s next possession to hand the ball back to the Divas’ offense. But Wojdowski – playing on both sides of the ball – topped that; she picked off a pass from Divas’ quarterback Allyson Hamlin and returned it 37 yards for another Pittsburgh score.

Trailing 24-7, the Divas tried to mount a scoring drive as the half drew to a close and advanced all the way to the Pittsburgh 19-yard line. But they would get no closer, and time expired on the half before the Divas could cut into the Passion’s 17-point advantage.

With Whisonant out of the lineup, the Divas turned almost exclusively to the running game in the second half. Even though Pittsburgh’s top-rated defense was stacking the line of scrimmage and trying to slow the Divas’ running attack, Kenyetta Grigsby rose to the occasion and blasted the Passion defense for long gains. When Grigsby needed a break, Donna Wilkinson took the ball. The versatile Wilkinson, who has played tight end and running back this season, lined up at fullback and paired with Grigsby for a strong 1-2 running attack.

Kenyetta Grigsby dashed for a 31-yard touchdown less than two minutes into the second half to cut the deficit to 24-14. Elena Kotsis then picked off a Horton pass midway through the quarter to give the DC defense their second interception of the game. Still, Horton bounced back by connecting with Wojdowski on a 27-yard touchdown pass to push the lead out to 30-14.

Grigsby stepped up again, racing 26 yards for another DC score and pulling the Divas within 30-21. Grigsby missed most of the Divas’ previous game two weeks ago with an injury, but she returned to star form on Saturday, carrying the ball an astonishing 41 times for 259 yards and three touchdowns. Wilkinson chipped in with 15 carries for 66 yards.

As the fourth quarter began, the Divas forced an incomplete pass from Horton on fourth down to get a turnover on downs. The DC offense then began a long, methodical drive to the end zone, capped by Hamlin’s quarterback sneak on fourth and goal from the one-yard line. Hamlin’s one-yard touchdown run cut the Pittsburgh lead to 30-27. With the Divas playing without their top wide receiver and relying almost exclusively on the run, Allyson Hamlin was held without a touchdown pass for the first time this year.

The Divas’ defense played inspired football in the second half. Trigger McNair led the defense with six tackles, while Kotsis and Brownson recorded five tackles and one interception each. Keyed by a Devon Goldsmith sack and two incomplete Horton passes, the Divas forced a Pittsburgh punt late in the fourth quarter and gave the team a chance to take their first lead of the game.

Even with time running off of the clock, the Divas continued to rely on the running attack that had brought them within three points. Three runs for nine yards led to a fourth and one at the Pittsburgh 41-yard line with just under two minutes remaining in the game. But a failed quarterback sneak from Hamlin lost a yard and gave Pittsburgh the ball back with 1:13 left in the contest, effectively sealing the Divas’ defeat.

Yet the game wasn’t over. Earlier this season, the Divas defeated the Passion by 11 points, so Pittsburgh knew that winning by less than 11 would allow the Divas to retain control over their own destiny in the division race. Rather than take a knee and run out the clock with the victory all but secure, Pittsburgh had no choice but to throw the ball down the field and try to tally another score despite holding a 30-27 advantage.

The Passion succeeded, and it only took them 44 seconds to do so. With 29 seconds left, Horton threw her fourth touchdown pass of the game to increase the lead to 36-27. Pittsburgh was compelled to go for a two-point conversion and an eleven-point lead, but Horton’s pass in the end zone was batted down incomplete, keeping the Divas within nine points.

Pittsburgh, still needing more points, then attempted an onside kick, but the ball rolled out of bounds and the Divas took over possession. The Divas ran out the clock and absorbed a 36-27 defeat.

Holding the Passion to a nine-point margin was a moral victory for the Divas, because they still control their own destiny in the division race. By virtue of their 11-point victory over Pittsburgh earlier this season, the Divas hold the tiebreaker over the Passion despite Saturday’s nine-point defeat. A win over Columbus next week in the regular season finale will clinch the Divas’ tenth division championship in franchise history and secure a first-round bye in the WFA playoffs.

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