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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Divas win 3rd straight

See and read all about the 44-0 win over Atlanta.


Divas Honor Ezra Cooper with Victory over Atlanta, 44-0
Neal Rozendaal

Landover, MD – It was a performance that would have made Ezra Cooper proud.

Allyson Hamlin returned from injury to throw three touchdown passes, the defense recorded their third straight shutout, and the D.C. Divas earned a convincing 44-0 victory over the Atlanta Phoenix. The Divas (3-2) put on a dominating performance in all phases of a game they dedicated to the memory of their late former coach, Ezra Cooper.

The Divas got off to a fast start against the Atlanta Phoenix (4-2). D.C. took the opening kickoff and quickly drove down the field. Less than a minute and a half into the game, Nikki Williams put the Divas ahead, 7-0, with a 17-yard touchdown toss to Kentrina Wilson. The 48-year-old Williams, starting her third straight game at quarterback in place of the injured Hamlin, had five completions in eight attempts for 73 yards and two touchdowns.

Motivated by an Atlanta team video that asked, “Who Dey?” the Divas quickly answered that question for the visiting Phoenix. The D.C. defense played with incredible intensity, notching 11 sacks and harassing the Atlanta offense all evening long. Linebacker Alicia Hopkins tallied two sacks, while nine other Divas pitched in a sack of their own.

Allyson Hamlin provided the spark that finally broke the stiff resistance of the Atlanta defense. Hamlin had missed three games since being sidelined with an injury after the team’s season opener against Boston, but she returned to game action for the first time since April 5 midway through the second quarter. She immediately made an impact; on her first drive of the game, Hamlin found Wilson on a 20-yard touchdown pass to extend the Divas’ lead to 14-0.

An Atlanta fumble on the ensuing kickoff gave the Divas great field position, and D.C. cashed in again. Hamlin threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Ashley Whisonant, the first touchdown reception of the season for the dynamic wide receiver. Whisonant’s grab gave the Divas a 21-0 advantage.

Emily Grossman launched the following kickoff over the heads of the Atlanta special teams, and the Divas tackled the Phoenix returner all the way back at the two-yard line. The D.C. defense swarmed through the Atlanta backfield on first down, stuffing the Atlanta ball carrier for a safety. In less than two minutes, the Divas had extended their lead from 7-0 to 23-0.

Hamlin wasn’t done yet, however. With 2:53 left in the first half, she threw her third touchdown pass of the game to give the Divas a 29-0 lead. Whisonant reeled in the 42-yard scoring pass, her second of the evening. For the game, Whisonant made four catches for 99 yards and two touchdowns.

Hamlin’s return clearly invigorated the Divas’ offense, and she left the game after only half of one quarter. However, she made her mark in her short stint on the field. Allyson Hamlin finished the game with four completions on nine passes for 87 yards, with three of her four completions going for touchdowns.

The Divas added two more points on a second safety near the end of the first half. A bad snap went over the Atlanta punter’s head, and she fell on the ball in the end zone to give D.C. two extra points. The Divas led at halftime, 31-0.

Several former Divas gathered for a halftime ceremony to honor Ezra Cooper. Cooper, who served as the Divas’ head coach from 2001-2008, passed away this past offseason. Former star Divas running back Monica Livingston read a speech to the crowd, including a letter of support and encouragement from Jill Cooper, Ezra’s wife. In a nod to Cooper’s philosophy of “playing for the name on the front of the jersey rather than the name on the back,” the Divas covered their names on the backs of their jerseys for this game in his honor.

Kenyetta Grigsby started the second half scoring with a 14-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter. Grigsby’s run put the Divas ahead, 37-0. Grigsby had a spectacular game, rushing for 161 yards on just 13 carries with one touchdown.

Williams threw her second touchdown pass of the contest minutes later, and once again, her favorite target was Kentrina Wilson. Wilson continued to claim her place as one of the best wide receivers in women’s football by hauling in the 15-yard scoring strike, her third of the game. Kentrina Wilson ended the game with five catches for 60 yards and three touchdowns. The Divas led, 44-0, after three quarters.

As was the case in the Divas’ previous two games, the only fourth-quarter drama involved whether or not the Divas’ defensive reserves could preserve the shutout. Once again, the D.C. defense rose to the challenge, as Callie Brownson ended Atlanta’s best scoring threat with an interception at the one-yard line. Twenty-two different Divas recorded tackles in the game. Trigger McNair paced the team with eight tackles, and Brownson and Eleni Kotsis each added six.

With the 44-0 shutout win, the Divas’ defense has now gone over 13 quarters of play without surrendering a point. The victory also turned into a historic defensive performance for the Divas franchise, as it was the 50th shutout victory in team history. Thirty-five of those shutout victories came during Ezra Cooper’s head coaching tenure from 2001-2008.

The Divas now have an even fifty shutout victories under their belts, and that’s a milestone that surely would have made Coach Cooper smile.

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