Recap vs. Columbus Comets – May 25, 2019

Divas Use Record-Breaking Passing Attack to Cool Comets, 58-28
DC 58, Columbus 28
By Neal Rozendaal

Springfield, VA – With each passing game, the high-flying passing attack of the D.C. Divas reaches heights never before seen in the team’s 19-year history. But Saturday may have been their finest performance yet.

Amanda Congialdi tied the franchise record with seven passing touchdowns and broke her own franchise mark with 489 passing yards, and the D.C. Divas turned back a tough Columbus Comets team in a penalty-marred game, 58-28. D’Ajah Scott also shined with four touchdowns, three of them spanning 50 yards or more.

The Divas (4-1) received the opening kickoff and immediately drove for a touchdown. A 30-yard catch down the sideline by Kentrina Wilson followed by a 22-yard dash by D’Ajah Scott set up Scott’s three-yard touchdown run. The Divas’ only rushing touchdown of the contest gave them an early 6-0 lead.

Nichelle Blake came through with a big tackle for loss on the Comets’ first drive, helping force a three and out. Columbus dropped back to punt, and after initially missing the punt on a high bounce, Scott fielded the kick and zoomed for a 71-yard punt return touchdown. Less than six minutes into the game, the Divas took a 12-6 advantage.

The Comets (5-2) would counter several times in the game by taking advantage of Divas penalties. Two D.C. penalties for pass interference and roughing the passer gave Columbus 25 yards and set up a one-yard touchdown run by Pasha Johnson-Rivers that cut the Divas’ edge to 12-6.

As the first quarter came to a close, the Divas offense went on a long drive that showcased the versatility of their passing attack. Congialdi completed passes to five different receivers on this drive alone: Dana Blakey, Remy Olinzock, Kasee Hilliard, Curtina Pope, and finally, a six-yard touchdown pass to Wilson. Early in the second quarter, the Divas were back in front by two scores, 18-6.

Again, the Comets had an answer. Facing third and 13 from near midfield, Amanda Herbst – who played a gritty game at quarterback for Columbus – fired a 23-yard pass for a first down. The Divas were also flagged for both roughing the passer and a late hit on the play, and the simultaneous penalties plus the pass yardage set the Comets up with first and goal from the Divas’ six-yard line. Johnson-Rivers took it in from there, scoring on a touchdown run that pulled Columbus back within six points, 18-12.

The Divas were flagged with a 15-yard personal foul on Johnson-Rivers’ touchdown run as well, so Columbus kicked off from midfield and forced the Divas to start their next drive at their own 11-yard line. On the second play of the drive, Columbus recovered a fumble at the D.C. 20, the only turnover of the entire game by either team.

Midway through the second quarter, the Comets were now in prime position to tie or even take the lead on the Divas. But the D.C. defense rose up and forced a four and out on an incomplete Columbus pass at the Divas’ 24-yard line. On the very next play, Congialdi swung a short pass to Scott, who cut between two defenders and outraced the entire Columbus defense for a 76-yard touchdown catch. Scott’s third score of the game gave the Divas a needed cushion on the scoreboard at 24-12.

The Divas then forced a three and out, and outside of penalties, they played strong defense for much of the game. Tia Watkins led the squad with 6.5 tackles and two for loss, a stat line matched exactly by rookie Nichelle Blake. Sierra Skeen added 5.5 tackles and Whitney Simms had five for a defense that registered a dozen tackles for loss as a unit.

Columbus punted to the Divas’ 29-yard line, and the Divas immediately showed off the explosiveness of their offense. Lexie Floor reached over a defender to make a 30-yard catch in coverage, and then Scott ran the ball for ten yards more. Next, Floor reeled in a long pass, broke a tackle, and capped a three-play drive with the 31-yard touchdown. The Divas seized a 30-12 lead over Columbus with just under three minutes left in the first half.

On the ensuing drive, the Comets picked up eight yards on their first three plays. Facing fourth and two near midfield late in the first half, Columbus decided to go for it. But Kucheria Eades swatted down Herbst’s pass on fourth down, and the Divas went back to work on offense with a minute and a half left before halftime.

A 29-yard pass to Shaquanda Gainey got the Divas back into scoring position. D’Ajah Scott caught a swing pass and juked several defenders for an apparent 24-yard touchdown, but her bid for a fourth score in the contest was wiped out by a dubious holding call. No matter: the Divas went right back to a wide-open Gainey, who snared a 25-yard touchdown pass with 29 seconds left in the half to give the Divas a 36-12 advantage at intermission.

After the Comets went three and out to start the second half, Herbst avoided several D.C. rushers and got off a great punt to the Divas’ 14-yard line. But the Divas’ offense came out hot in the second half, driving 86 yards for a score on their first possession of the third quarter. The big play was the 56-yard touchdown reception by Scott in which she dodged multiple Columbus defenders on her way to the end zone.

Although the Divas’ offense exploded for nearly 600 total yards, only two offensive plays went for more than 31 yards. Both were receptions by D’Ajah Scott, who took passes for 56 and 76 yards for scores, while also adding a 71-yard punt return touchdown. Scott led the team with 60 rushing yards and 153 receiving yards, and her fourth touchdown of the contest put the Divas ahead, 42-12, midway through the third quarter.

Trailing by 30 points, the Comets’ offense snapped to life. Herbst threw a long pass downfield, and the Columbus receiver appeared to shove Divas defensive back Jen King in the back to gain separation and make the catch. The officials threw a flag for pass interference but made the call against King, which Columbus declined to accept the 35-yard reception into Divas territory.

A personal foul penalty against the Divas gave Columbus another first down, and that set up a 12-yard touchdown run by Johnson-Rivers, her third of the contest. Perhaps most notable was the fact that after the touchdown, Johnson-Rivers ran for the two-point conversion, the first successful conversion for either team on the game’s ninth touchdown, and the Divas’ lead was reduced to 42-20.

Scott made a solid return of the ensuing kickoff, but the Divas were again flagged for simultaneous penalties on the play, one a block in the back and another an unsportsmanlike conduct. After marking off both penalties, the Divas started their next drive from their own five-yard line.

D’Ajah Scott caught a 17-yard pass to get the Divas out of the shadow of their own goalposts, but the Divas were called for holding on the next play to bring up first and 20. Even the Divas’ potent offense was unable to dig out of that hole, and they were forced to punt for the only time in the contest.

Ashley Clark’s boot was returned to the D.C. 31, which put the Comets in great scoring position. The officials soon awarded Columbus almost half the distance they needed for the score by penalizing the Divas 15 yards for roughing the passer on a play where the Columbus quarterback was barely touched, bringing up first and ten at the Divas’ 16.

A few plays later, Johnson-Rivers punched in a two-yard touchdown run. Pasha Johnson-Rivers had an outstanding game, rushing for all four Columbus touchdowns, running for two two-point conversions, and scoring all 28 Columbus points. Johnson-Rivers’ second two-point conversion run made the score 42-28 in favor of the Divas with exactly two minutes remaining in the third quarter.

After consecutive Columbus touchdowns, the Divas found themselves in trouble on their next drive, facing third and 15 from their own 26. Shaquanda Gainey pulled in an important 10-yard pass to set up a manageable fourth and five situation, and the Divas decided to go for it in their own territory. On the final play of the third quarter, Congialdi found Remy Olinzock wide open for a crucial 17-yard pass to get a first down across midfield going into the fourth quarter.

The Divas’ offense got rolling from there, as Curtina Pope had an 18-yard run to open the fourth quarter. Kasee Hilliard became the fifth different Divas receiver to catch a touchdown pass when she broke multiple Columbus tackles and raced for a 30-yard touchdown. Whitney Simms added a two-point conversion run – the Divas’ first successful conversion in eight touchdowns – and the Divas led the Comets, 50-28.

The D.C. defense nearly responded with a three and out, stuffing Columbus for no gain on a running play on third and four. But again, officials flagged the Divas for a highly questionable roughing the passer penalty – on a running play – to give Columbus a first down in Divas’ territory.

The defense went back to work again, and this time they slammed the door. Tara Mason came through with a five-yard tackle for loss on fourth and 15, and although the Divas were again penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct, it was a dead ball foul enforced after the turnover which allowed the Divas to take possession at their own 40-yard line.

On the next drive, Kasee Hilliard took over the game from the wide receiver position. Hilliard drew a pass interference penalty on a long pass down the field, then on the next play, she caught a 12-yard pass for a first down. The Divas advanced the ball to the two-yard line, and on a broken play, Congialdi scrambled to her left and flipped an underhanded pass to Hilliard for the touchdown. Curtina Pope rushed for the two-point conversion, and the Divas had a 58-28 margin with just under six minutes left in the game.

Amanda Congialdi finished the contest with 489 passing yards, breaking the record of 474 she set earlier this year against the Tampa Bay Inferno. Her seven touchdown passes tied the franchise record for passing touchdowns in a single game set by Allyson Hamlin against the Boston Militia on May 18, 2013. Congialdi also finished the game with a perfect NFL passer rating of 158.3 after completing 28 of 36 passes for 489 yards and seven touchdowns with no interceptions.

It was up to the Divas’ defense to keep their margin of victory at thirty points as Columbus embarked on their last offensive drive. The Comets drove to the Divas’ 41-yard line and threw an incomplete pass on fourth and eight for an apparent turnover on downs. But the Divas were flagged for defensive pass interference, giving the Comets a first down at the 26-yard line.

On third and 12, the Divas stuffed Columbus on a run for minimal gain, bringing up fourth and long. But the Divas were penalized for being offsides, which instead brought up third and seven. The hometown officiating crew flagged the Divas for 23 accepted penalties – one shy of a franchise record – and assessed a total of 219 penalty yards against them, the most in team history.

At that point, the D.C. defense forced the Comets into two incomplete passes to turn them over on downs and mercifully end the game, as the D.C. Divas ran out the clock on a 58-28 victory over the Columbus Comets. With their regular season home schedule complete, the Divas go on the road for their final three games of the 2019 regular season, beginning this Saturday in Richmond against the Black Widows.