Recap vs. Boston Renegades – May 2, 2015

D.C. Divas End Boston Curse by Defeating Renegades, 32-27
DC 32, Boston 27
By Neal Rozendaal

Recap • Statistics

Boston, MA – At long last, the muskets fell silent.

After years of coming up short against their rivals from Boston, the D.C. Divas made critical plays late in the game and finally topped their longtime Boston tormentors, sending the Boston Renegades to defeat, 32-27. The Divas are the first team to leave Boston victorious since they defeated the Boston Militia in the 2009 Eastern Conference championship game and the first team to win a regular season game in Boston in seven years.

The Boston Militia eliminated the D.C. Divas from the playoffs each of the last five seasons, winning three national championships over that span and establishing themselves as the premier dynasty in women’s football. Meanwhile, the Divas – perennially rated as one of the top teams in the sport – dominated most of the teams they played but seemed to be jinxed against the Militia. Over the past six seasons, the Divas compiled a 1-14 record against Boston, while assembling a 31-4 record against all other opponents.

For the Divas organization, those disparate records and annual playoff defeats made the Militia a constant source of frustration and angst. The Militia, on the other hand, understandably relished being their rivals’ perpetual stumbling block.

After winning the 2014 national championship, Boston Militia owner Ernie Boch discontinued the Militia this past offseason, folding his franchise and taking the Militia name with him. The talented cast of players he assembled, however, simply reorganized into a team named the Boston Renegades, adopting the mantra “New Name, Same Awesome.” While Saturday was the D.C. Divas’ first ever meeting with the Boston Renegades, it was a showdown against the same group of players that had stymied so many great Divas teams of the past.

It looked at the start as though this game might follow the same script as so many other recent Divas-Boston games. The D.C. Divas (3-0) won the coin toss and deferred to the second half, electing to kick off to the Boston Renegades (1-1). Renegades wide receiver Adrienne Smith made the Divas pay for that decision, taking the opening kickoff and racing down the home sidelines for a quick Boston touchdown. The Renegades led, 7-0, just 17 seconds into the contest.

The Divas’ offense took over for the first time and began a long, time-consuming drive down the field, which would be the story of the game. The Boston defense bent but ultimately failed to break, as a D.C. pass fell incomplete on fourth and goal from the five-yard line. A long pass to Smith got the Renegades out from the shadow of their own goalposts and placed the ball at midfield.

On the next play, the Renegades handed the ball to their all-star running back, Whitney Zelee. But four Divas converged on Zelee and made a ferocious gang tackle, and Zelee had to be carried off the field. Although she briefly tried to return to the game in the second quarter, Zelee was sidelined for the better part of the game with the injury, taking a potent weapon out of the Renegades’ hands.

Boston was then forced to punt for a touchback, and the Divas’ offense began their second long possession. Midway through their offensive charge, the first quarter ended with Boston in the lead, 7-0. But the Divas capped an 80-yard drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Allyson Hamlin to Kentrina Wilson, tying the game at seven less than three minutes into the second quarter.

With the game back to even, the Divas’ defense made a key fourth down stop on Boston’s next possession, forcing Renegades quarterback Allison Cahill to throw incomplete on fourth and ten from the D.C. 28-yard line. The D.C. offense then put together their third straight long offensive series of the game, with Hamlin finding wide receiver Ashley Whisonant for a 44-yard touchdown reception to hand the Divas their first lead of the contest, 14-7, with 5:28 remaining in the first half.

Callie Brownson, who played a terrific game on both sides of the ball, reeled in a long Cahill pass at the D.C. six-yard line late in the half to secure the game’s first turnover. With time running down in the half and stuck deep in their own territory, the Divas ran the ball with the hopes of simply making it to halftime with a seven-point lead. The Renegades countered by burning two timeouts to bring up third down, hoping to force a D.C. punt. But when the Divas converted the third down at midfield with under a minute to play, the offense geared up to try to expand the D.C. lead.

The Divas drove down to the Renegades’ 16-yard line and called timeout with one second remaining in the first half. Hamlin threw a pass in the end zone for Wilson, but Wilson was tackled at the five-yard line by a Boston defender. The officials picked up the flag and ruled that the pass was uncatchable, allowing time to expire on the half. The Renegades raced to the locker room, relieved to be trailing at intermission by only a touchdown, while the Divas’ coaching staff remained on the field for a few minutes to discuss the call with the officiating crew.

The Divas received the ball to start the second half and once again drove deep into Boston territory. The drive stalled, however, when the Divas – facing fourth and one from the Boston 21-yard line – lost a yard to turn the ball over on downs. Cahill made the Divas pay, scoring Boston’s first offensive touchdown of the game midway through the third quarter by breaking free for a long run to the end zone that tied the game, 14-14. The Divas immediately responded with yet another long offensive drive down the field. As the third quarter ended, the Divas faced third and 13 from the Renegades’ 19-yard line.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, the Divas jumped back out front. Hamlin found Whisonant for their second touchdown connection of the day, a 19-yard toss that put the Divas back ahead, 20-14.

With Zelee sidelined for Boston, the Renegades once again turned to their standout receiver, Adrienne Smith. Cahill found Smith in the end zone for a five-yard touchdown pass that knotted the game for the third time, this time at 20-20. 17-year veteran linebacker Trigger McNair made her presence felt, however, blocking Boston’s extra point kick attempt to keep the game deadlocked with 10:16 showing on the clock.

The D.C. Divas’ offense had been able to chew up yards and time of possession all evening, and in the fourth quarter, the Divas’ offense once again responded to the challenge. A great kickoff return by Callie Brownson to midfield was erased by a penalty, backing the Divas up to their own 26-yard line. Undaunted, the D.C. offense methodically consumed over six minutes off the clock, and Kenyetta Grigsby finished the drive with an eight-yard run for a touchdown. The Divas’ first rushing score of the night gave the visitors a 26-20 advantage with 3:50 left to play in the game.

The Boston Militia had won 11 straight games against the Divas from 2011-2014, and four of these games were Boston victories by a touchdown or less. In one 2012 contest, the Divas led, 25-24, with under two minutes to play before a Zelee touchdown sealed a 32-25 Militia victory. In their two regular season meetings last season, the Divas held a fourth-quarter lead against Boston only to twice see it slip away in the waning minutes. The Divas led in the 2014 regular season finale, 28-21, and had the ball in Boston territory with six minutes to play. But a turnover set up a Militia touchdown and two-point conversion with under three minutes remaining in a 29-28 Divas loss. These were agonizing defeats for the Divas, having victory ripped away from them in the final minutes as Boston compiled a long winning streak in the series.

On Saturday, the Boston Renegades had the ball with under four minutes remaining and trailing by a 26-20 score. But this time, the Boston rally was finally destined to come up short. Brownson tipped a Cahill pass into the air, and it was secured by Trigger McNair to give the Divas the ball at midfield with under two minutes to play. Grigsby ripped off a long run to the Renegades’ two-yard line, and Brownson plowed into the end zone for the clinching score that put the Divas in front, 32-20, with 1:13 remaining in the game.

Cahill found Adrienne Smith in the end zone on a touchdown pass as time expired, and the successful extra point kick made the final margin 32-27. After the touchdown, the militiamen fired off their muskets, a jarring celebration that punctuates every Boston score. But in this case, their gunfire also put the exclamation point on a D.C. victory, and when the smoke cleared, the Divas had succeeded on the field where the previous 30 Boston opponents before them had failed. The Divas became the first squad to hand a Boston team a regular season home defeat since May 10, 2008, when the New York Sharks – led by Adrienne Smith – downed the Militia, 26-24.

It was a truly significant victory for the D.C. Divas franchise, yet it was one kept in context by the fact that they will encounter the Renegades again on June 13 in D.C. and, if history is any guide, potentially a third time in the WFA playoffs. For now, the Divas will enjoy a hard-earned win in what was, surprisingly, the Renegades’ regular season home finale, as they will play their final four regular season games on the road. Meanwhile, the Divas are left to prepare for their home opener which is still two weeks away – on May 16 against the Columbus Comets.

Over the past several years, the D.C. Divas have steadfastly squared off against their Boston rivals despite their long losing streak against them. Rather than try to find a way to avoid playing them, the Divas have, year after year, gone out of their way to continue a distant home-and-home series with Boston. The frequent losses to Boston have dragged down the overall record of one of the sport’s greatest franchises, yet the Divas have endured it all so that they could test themselves against the sport’s reigning dynasty. On Saturday, for one glorious evening, the Divas’ years of persistence and their ongoing refusal to back down from any challenge finally paid off with one of the biggest regular season wins in franchise history.

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