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Monday, April 7, 2014

D.C. Divas Come Up Short in Season Opener, 36-32

Boston, MA – In one of the best rivalries in women’s football, the Boston Militia have had a decided edge lately over the D.C. Divas.

On Saturday night, the Militia maintained their upper hand in the series…but barely.

The Boston Militia (1-0) intercepted a pass by Divas quarterback Allyson Hamlin with 57 seconds remaining in the game to preserve a 36-32 victory. The D.C. Divas (0-1) lost their ninth straight game to the Militia, but almost all of their losses have been close, exciting, competitive contests.

This one could hardly have been closer.

Boston seemed to be easily in control of the game at the start. The Militia got on the board first with a long 48-yard touchdown run. After a muffed return on the following kickoff, the Divas quickly fumbled the ball to give Boston possession with great field position and a 6-0 lead.

Yet D.C. showed that 2014 would be a new season at that point. Safi Mojidi forced a Militia fumble which Desiree Abrams recovered for the Divas. The Divas defense forced a stop that seemed all too elusive in three games against the Militia last season, particularly in an 81-54 shootout loss in their last regular season meeting in Boston.

Then Kenyetta Grigsby got the Divas offense working. Grigsby, who missed most of that 81-54 defeat last season with an injury, was in excellent form early in this game, rushing 14 yards for the first D.C. touchdown of the year. Grigsby’s dash tied the game at 6-6 after one quarter of play.

Next, the Divas turned to their passing offense. The D.C. defense got the ball back for the offense, and Allyson Hamlin threw her first touchdown pass of the season to Kentrina Wilson, who made a spectacular catch and run over the goal line to give the visitors a 12-6 advantage.

Boston responded by going to their marquee player. On third and goal from the five-yard line, Militia quarterback Allison Cahill tossed a swing pass to Whitney Zelee, who took it five yards to the end zone. Zelee then rushed for the two-point conversion, and Boston led, 14-12.

It took the Divas about ten seconds to regain the lead. D’Ajah Scott ran the ensuing kickoff back through the entire Militia defense and into the end zone for a D.C. score. The Divas continued to flounder on their conversion attempts, coming up empty for a third time, but they still claimed an 18-14 lead.

In three meetings last season, Boston’s offensive game plan seldom shifted away from the running of Zelee, and it seldom had to. But with the Divas defense now doing a respectable job at times of slowing down Zelee, Boston was actually forced to turn to the air and throw the ball. The results weren’t pretty. Cahill was intercepted by D.C. defensive back Callie Brownson, who gave the Divas great field position in Boston territory.

With the Divas in possession of the ball and a four-point lead, Jenne Massie made a tremendous run inside the Boston red zone for a first down. But Massie’s run was negated by a penalty, which erased the first down and instead brought up third and 13. The Divas turned the ball over on downs, and Zelee, as she often does, made the Divas pay. Zelee scored her second touchdown of the game on a long run to put Boston ahead after a successful conversion, 22-18.

It was a disastrous end to the first half for D.C. The Divas advanced the ball to midfield on their next possession and faced a fourth and one with two minutes to go in the half. The Divas opted to throw a pass, which fell incomplete. Zelee stepped into the spotlight again, taking the ball to the house to extend Boston’s lead to 28-18 with 1:33 remaining before halftime.

The D.C. offense wasn’t done shooting itself in the foot. It turned the ball over on downs again with thirty seconds left in the half, and Boston drove down to the D.C. five-yard line in time for one last play. The Militia handed the ball to Zelee, but the D.C. defense stood tall and stopped her short of the goal line to keep the halftime deficit at ten, 28-18.

The Divas gave up consecutive touchdowns to end the first half and needed a goal line stand to keep it from getting worse. But any notion that the Divas might fold facing a ten-point deficit was completely dispelled as the third quarter began. D.C. once again took advantage of the Boston special teams by running back another kickoff for a touchdown. This time, the Divas finally converted the two-point play after the score, and just like that, D.C. had cut the Militia lead to 28-26.

The D.C. defense forced two consecutive punts from the Militia, and on their second punt, the Divas offense made them pay. Again it was Kentrina Wilson who made the big catch, snaring her second touchdown pass of the day to hand the Divas a 32-28 lead after three quarters.

Whitney Zelee would once again prove to be a Divas killer, scoring her fourth touchdown of the contest on a long run with10:28 left in the game. That would turn out to be the decisive score, as it staked the Militia to a 36-32 lead.

The usually explosive Divas offense had three opportunities to score and regain control of the game, but the Militia defense forced three turnovers on downs to seal a narrow victory for Boston. On the final D.C. possession, Hamlin threw an interception deep in Boston territory with under a minute to play as the Militia escaped with a win.

The Militia improved their home winning streak to 23 games, having not lost at home since being defeated by the Divas in the 2009 Eastern Conference championship game. The Divas, meanwhile, proved that they have enough to play Boston to the wire but are still searching for that elusive win over their bitter rivals.

The Divas next take the field for their home opener on April 19, when they will face the reigning national champion Chicago Force.

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