Recap vs. Pittsburgh Passion – May 18, 2019

Divas Complete Hail Mary Pass as Time Expires to Stun Pittsburgh, 26-21
DC 26, Pittsburgh 21
By Neal Rozendaal

Pittsburgh, PA – When the Pittsburgh Passion seized a 21-20 lead with 16 seconds remaining, it looked as though the D.C. Divas were about to suffer a heartbreaking defeat.

Actually, they were about to witness the most electrifying finish in franchise history.

Amanda Congialdi scrambled away from a heavy Pittsburgh pass rush and threw a 66-yard touchdown pass to Kentrina Wilson as time expired, and the D.C. Divas stunned the Pittsburgh Passion, 26-21. Saturday’s contest was the 20th all-time meeting between these two historic rivals, and the dramatic ending ensured it would be one that neither team would soon forget.

The Passion (4-2) received the opening kickoff and drove into D.C. territory. But Divas defensive back Carolyn Lewis stripped the ball away from Pittsburgh quarterback Angela Baker, and Sierra Skeen recovered for the Divas near midfield.

The Divas (3-1) immediately threatened on their first offensive series. Congialdi found Kasee Hilliard for a 20-yard gain down to the Pittsburgh 25, and then Lexie Floor caught a six-yard pass into the Passion red zone. But a tackle for loss and two incomplete passes shuttered the drive, and the Divas turned the ball over on downs at the Passion 24.

The two teams exchanged punts, and then the Pittsburgh offense began to move the ball again. The Passion faced a critical fourth down and five play at the Divas’ 29-yard line when a fast and scoreless first quarter came to a close.

Baker opened the second quarter with a six-yard completion for a first down at the Divas’ 23-yard line. But the D.C. defense rose to the challenge, stopping the Passion on three straight plays. Then Lewis blew up the fourth down option play, drilling Baker and forcing an errant pitch that the Passion had to fall on for a turnover on downs at the Divas’ 17-yard line.

The Divas’ offense was unable to gain traction, going three and out. A beautiful deep punt to the Passion 31 was negated by a penalty, and the second punt attempt was shanked out of bounds at the Divas’ 23-yard line.

Once again, the Divas’ defense held their own. Jen King started the series with a tackle for loss, and then after two incomplete passes, Lewis made her presence felt yet again with a fourth down tackle for loss that gave the Divas the ball back at their own 28.

D.C. finally broke the stalemate by taking a couple chances on fourth down. On fourth and one from their own 37, the Divas picked up three yards on a run by Congialdi for a fresh set of downs. Three plays later, the Divas faced fourth and four near midfield, and they went for it again. This time, Shaquanda Gainey broke loose on a 54-yard touchdown run for a 6-0 lead with 5:25 left before halftime.

One minute later, the Passion had an answer. Baker found Devon Conner on a short pass, and Conner broke two D.C. tackles and raced 59 yards for the end zone. With 4:23 remaining before intermission, the Passion had seized a 7-6 advantage.

Back-to-back penalties stalled the Divas’ next drive. On their first play, a 65-yard touchdown pass to Kentrina Wilson was wiped out, instead bringing up first and 15. The Divas answered with an 18-yard pass to Kasee Hilliard for a first down, but again, the officials erased it with a penalty. The Divas were unable to climb out of a first and 20 situation and were forced to punt three plays later.

Ashley Clark got off a bouncing punt, and a Passion defender tipped the ball but was unable to bring it down. Madeleine Entwistle corralled the bounding ball near midfield for the Divas, regaining possession for the D.C. offense.

Given a second chance, the D.C. offense made Pittsburgh pay. The Divas faced fourth and eight at the Passion 38-yard line, and with rain starting to pour down, the Divas decided to go for it. Wilson reeled in a ten-yard pass for a big first down conversion, and two plays later, Lexie Floor went up between two Pittsburgh defenders and hauled in a 22-yard touchdown pass from Congialdi. A two-point conversion attempt was stopped short, but the Divas had retaken the lead, 12-7, just before the halftime break.

The Divas came out on fire in the second half, scoring their second touchdown in under two minutes of game time. After Jen King recovered a Passion onside kick at the Pittsburgh 45, Congialdi quickly found D’Ajah Scott down the sideline for a 40-yard touchdown. Less than a minute into the second half, the Divas had pulled ahead, 18-7.

The Divas’ defense forced a three and out, and a short Passion punt gave the Divas great field position at the Pittsburgh 31. A long pass to Hilliard set the Divas up with first and goal on the Passion eight-yard line, and one more touchdown would give the Divas a commanding three-score lead. However, on fourth and goal, D’Ajah Scott powered through the middle of the defense and tried to stretch the ball over the goal line, but she was marked down an inch short of the end zone for a turnover on downs.

On Pittsburgh’s next play, an errant snap rolled out of the back of the end zone for a safety. The Divas led, 20-7, with 9:13 left in the third quarter.

After the free kick, the Divas’ offense had a chance to extend the lead. But on the Divas’ first offensive play, Congialdi attempted to swing a pass to Scott. The ball hit the ground, and the officials ruled it a fumble and gave possession to the Passion in Divas territory.

Baker ran for a first down at the D.C. 20-yard line, but the Divas’ defense came through once again. Sierra Skeen and Jazmyne Claggett combined to sack Baker on fourth down a few plays later, ending the threat back at the Divas’ 33.

Amanda Congialdi drove D.C. back down the field. A 19-yard pass to Floor put the ball on Pittsburgh’s side of the field, and then Congialdi scrambled for 11 yards on fourth and ten to keep possession for the Divas. A short pass to Gainey coupled with a facemask penalty gave the Divas first and ten from the Pittsburgh 14.

Congialdi then juked 14 yards for an apparent back-breaking touchdown, but the score was negated by a holding call. Two plays later, the Divas tried a trick play at the Passion seven-yard line, but an errant snap resulted in an 18-yard loss. The following play turned out even worse when a bad exchange on a handoff resulted in the Divas’ second straight turnover, fumbling the ball over to the Passion at the 24-yard line, and the third quarter ended with the Divas on top, 20-7.

The Pittsburgh offense – which had been largely held in check the first three quarters of the game – caught fire in the fourth quarter. The Passion threatened to pull within a score early in the final period, but Jessica Johnson came up with an interception at the Divas’ five-yard line to preserve the 13-point lead. Johnson played a terrific game, leading the Divas’ defense with ten tackles. Genaya Davis and Kucheria Eades also added five tackles each.

The Divas’ offense advanced the ball out of danger, but they were then stymied by penalties once again. Congialdi completed a 33-yard pass to Gainey at midfield, but the completion was negated by an offensive pass interference call. The Divas were then forced to punt the ball back to Pittsburgh with a little over eight minutes remaining in the game.

Two incomplete passes and a sack by Tara Mason brought up fourth and 15 for the Passion. Baker’s fourth down pass fell incomplete, but the Divas were flagged for pass interference to give Pittsburgh a fresh set of downs. Baker finished the drive with a four-yard run to the end zone, and the Passion had cut the Divas’ lead to 20-14 with 5:09 left in the contest.

D’Ajah Scott took over from there, as the Divas tried to grind down the clock. Scott picked up two first downs on long runs to keep the clock moving, and then Congialdi connected with Floor on a 12-yard pass for a first down at the Passion 38-yard line. Pittsburgh called its first timeout of the half at that point with just over two minutes to play.

One more first down would have likely sealed the game for the Divas, but an energized Passion pass rush put the Divas in reverse. Consecutive sacks lost a total of 19 yards, and Pittsburgh burned both of their remaining timeouts to stop the clock. On third and 29, the Divas were tackled for a seven-yard loss, and then they took a five-yard delay of game penalty after letting the clock run down.

Clark got off a good punt, but the Passion returned it to the Divas’ 43-yard line with 48 seconds left in the game. Baker ran for a first down to the 32-yard line, then the Divas were flagged for holding on an incomplete pass to give the Passion a first down at the 22-yard line with 22 seconds left.

Angela Baker then found Devon Conner near the pylon for a 22-yard touchdown. Conner’s second touchdown reception of the game tied the score, and then Pittsburgh drilled the critical extra point attempt to recapture the lead, 21-20, with 16 seconds left.

The Divas fell on the ensuing kickoff at their own 34-yard line, but there appeared to be far too little time for a miraculous rally. Amanda Congialdi took the snap, stepped up in the pocket, and was met immediately by two Passion defensive linemen. As the Pittsburgh home crowd cheered what they believed would be the game-clinching sack, Congialdi rolled to her right and fought off the Pittsburgh defenders.

Congialdi’s scramble attracted the attention of the Pittsburgh defense, and many of the Passion’s defensive players swarmed toward the line of scrimmage to help corral the quarterback. Congialdi then pedaled backwards and rolled back toward the left side of the field. She found some open space, planted her foot, and – a split second before being leveled by a Passion defender – fired a pass 35 yards down field to Kentrina Wilson.

Wilson caught the ball at the Pittsburgh 40-yard line, and most of the Passion defense had been sucked toward the line of scrimmage by Congialdi’s theatrics. With only two Pittsburgh defenders in the vicinity of Wilson, Lexie Floor threw two key blocks to take out any possible Passion pursuit, and Wilson strode into the end zone with no time remaining on the clock for the game-winning score in front of a shocked Pittsburgh crowd.

The victory marked the first time in the Divas’ 19-year history that they scored a game-winning touchdown with no time remaining on the clock. The only other time the Divas had scored a game-winning touchdown in the final 30 seconds of play was on April 16, 2016. Kentrina Wilson was also responsible for that score, catching a four-yard touchdown pass from Allyson Hamlin with 17 seconds to play to guide the Divas to a 35-32 road win over the Boston Renegades.