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Friday, July 24, 2015

D.C. Divas Face Chicago Force for Conference Championship

It will be a classic matchup tomorrow.
Neal Rozendaal
Washington, DC – This is the showdown fans have been waiting for.
Two of the most historic franchises in women’s football history meet Saturday for the National Conference championship when the D.C. Divas host the Chicago Force. The winner earns the right to go to Los Angeles and represent the East in the 2015 Women’s Football Alliance (WFA) national championship game.
The Divas (10-0) advanced to the conference championship game with a physical 40-6 victory over the Atlanta Phoenix. The Divas raced out to a 34-0 halftime lead and coasted from there.
Divas head coach Alison Fischer was happy to wrap up the win. “I thought we had some good moments in the first half on both sides of the ball and on special teams against Atlanta,” Fischer said. “We played pretty well in the first half, and that allowed us to give some of our younger players some playing time in a playoff game in the second half.”
With the victory over Atlanta, the D.C. Divas improved to 10-0 for just the third time in team history. The Divas also pulled within one victory of the WFA national title game.
The last team standing in their way are the Force (9-1), who eliminated the Boston Renegades from the playoffs two weeks ago with a 49-18 victory. That win ensured that the Divas, who had lost to Boston in the playoffs each of the last five seasons, would not face a Boston squad in the playoffs for the seventh straight year.
The playoff victory by the Force avenged Chicago’s only loss of the season, a 30-24 overtime defeat at the hands of the Renegades. That game, which was played in rainy and windy weather conditions, marked Chicago’s lowest offensive output of the year by far. In their nine victories, the Force have averaged an incredible 63.8 points per game.
The D.C. Divas and the Chicago Force are arguably the two most historic franchises in the WFA. The Force and Divas both have 108 victories all-time, tied for the most of any WFA team. The Force and Divas are both making their 12th playoff appearance this year, also tied for the most of any WFA team. Chicago’s seventh appearance in a conference title game is the most by any WFA franchise, while the Divas are making their sixth appearance in the final four.
Yet for as much success as these teams have had over the years, meetings between the two have been rare. The Divas and Force have never met in the postseason and have opposed each other only once in the regular season. The only meeting between these two clubs took place last year, when Chicago traveled to D.C. and handed the Divas a 42-27 defeat on April 19, 2014.
While that game took place just one year ago, Chicago looks like a completely different team offensively this year as opposed to last. In last year’s game against the Divas, legendary Force quarterback Sami Grisafe had a masterful game, completing 20 of 27 passes for 308 yards and three touchdowns. Jeanette Gray was on the receiving end of most of those deep tosses, making 15 catches for 252 yards and three touchdowns and adding a fourth touchdown on the ground.
Grisafe has settled into retirement, but the Force offense has been bolstered by three key acquisitions from the West Coast – Rachel Gore, Jamie Fornal, and Cassey Brick. Gore, the former standout for the Seattle Majestics, has taken over for Grisafe under center and has been a star for the Chicago offense.
While Gore has had the same type of success at quarterback as Grisafe did, she has done it in a completely different way. Grisafe was a traditional drop-back passer who could complete any pass to anyone on the field. Gore, on the other hand, is a classic dual-threat quarterback – not only does she lead Chicago with 28 passing touchdowns, she also leads the Force in rushing and has scored 23 touchdowns on the ground.
Coach Fischer knows how difficult it will be to slow down Gore’s run-pass options. “Chicago has been playing very well lately. We expect Chicago to keep doing what they’re doing offensively, because they’ve had a lot of success with it this year,” Fischer noted. “Gore is a dual-threat quarterback, which puts a lot more pressure on the defense to contain and to cover. The combination of Gore being able to run and her ability to get the ball in the hands of their athletes has been a good system for them. We’ll need to be able to read it and execute and get some speed on the field to help defend against that.”
When Gore does choose to distribute the ball to someone else, she has a bevy of weapons to choose from. Maybe her most potent weapon is Cassey Brick, the MVP of the 2012 WFA national championship game as a member of the San Diego Surge. The Surge made a dramatic comeback in that game, defeating the Chicago Force in thrilling fashion. Now Brick wears a Chicago jersey, and despite battling through various injuries this season, she still leads the Force with 596 receiving yards. Brick is fully healthy now, as illustrated by the two long touchdown runs she made against the Renegades two weeks ago that helped eliminate Boston from the playoffs.
Not far behind Brick with 581 receiving yards is Gray, who the Divas know all too well after her tremendous performance against them last year. Wide receiver Fornal – Gore’s former teammate in Seattle – and running back Brandy Hatcher give the Force five elite offensive weapons at the skill positions.
“They have some really outstanding players, and they like to get the ball in their hands,” Coach Fischer said. “When you have the athleticism and speed they have, it makes it very tough to defend. They seem to be playing very well now, so we have our work cut out for us.”
Defensively, the Force are led by Angelique Smith, who racked up 11.5 tackles against the Divas last season. Elisha Okrey and Amber Kimbrough, who combined for ten tackles last season in Chicago’s win over the Divas, are also back to anchor the Chicago defense.
The Force come into the game with the edge in experience. Chicago is making their fourth straight conference title game appearance, and they are looking to clinch their third conference championship in the last four years. The Chicago Force won the WFA national championship in 2013 and are just two wins away from capturing their second national title in three years.
The Divas, on the other hand, are hungry to take the next step, making their first appearance in the conference championship game since 2010. With an undefeated regular season record, the Divas are hosting the conference championship game for the first time since 2006, the year they won their only national title.
“It’s really great to be at home for this,” Fischer observed. “I don’t think we’ve hosted the conference championship game since 2006. Being able to play in front of our own crowd, which I think is going to be pretty big this week, is a huge plus for us. This should be a great game; these are two excellent teams.”
For the Divas, one more home victory would put them in the national championship game for just the third time in team history. But while Coach Fischer appreciates the significance of this contest, she wants the Divas to keep their focus.
“It’s a huge game, but we can’t lose sight of just winning this week,” Coach Fischer said. “I don’t mean to downplay it, but we are taking this one game at a time, just as we have since the season started. Yes, it’s huge – the winner goes to the national championship, and Chicago is a great team. But at the same time, we’re going to try to be even-keeled and play it like we would any other playoff game. We don’t want to be overwhelmed with the implications of it.”
The D.C. Divas are pleased to host the Chicago Force, the 2013 WFA national champions, on Saturday in the National Conference championship game. The game on July 25 will be played at Lee High School in Springfield, Virginia, and will kick off at 6 PM. Fans can purchase their tickets online now at Tickets will be available for online purchase until noon tomorrow. As with regular season contests, fans can specify their favorite player during checkout, and 100 percent of the revenue from their purchase will go to support that player.
All-Time D.C. Divas Conference Championship Game Results
July 17, 2004 – Detroit Demolition – L, 14-20
July 16, 2005 – @Detroit Demolition – L, 16-38
July 22, 2006 – Columbus Comets – W, 32-7
July 11, 2009 – @Boston Militia – W, 27-21
July 10, 2010 – @Boston Militia – L, 0-28
July 25, 2015 – Chicago Force – ???

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