Recap vs. New York Sharks – May 5, 2007

Divas Top Sharks in Epic First Meeting, 20-14
DC 20, New York 14
By Neal Rozendaal

New York, NY – Two streaks collided Saturday when the D.C. Divas traveled to New York to face the Sharks: The D.C. Divas had not lost a regular season game since 2003, while the New York Sharks had not lost a regular season home game since 2000.

When an irresistible force meets an immovable object, something has to give. After sixty minutes of punishing football between two women’s football heavyweights, the New York Sharks gave, and it was their streak that came to an end.

Kathryn Hemlock had two of the Divas’ four interceptions and a 55-yard punt return for a score, and the Divas erased a 14-point halftime deficit to rally for a thrilling 20-14 win. New York lost a regular season game at home for just the second time in franchise history and the first time since dropping a 3-0 decision to the New England Storm on October 28, 2000.

After an initial exchange of punts, the Divas (2-0) made the first big gamble of the contest. Facing fourth and two in New York territory, the Divas decided to go for it, but Pecovsky was stuffed for a five-yard loss and a turnover on downs. The Sharks (1-1) then proceeded to run out the rest of a fast first quarter with a long drive to the Divas’ one-yard line.

On the first play of the second quarter, Shauntay Stewart got the Sharks on the scoreboard. Divas linebacker Trigger McNair appeared to stop Stewart short of the goal line, but the officials credited her and the Sharks with a one-yard touchdown run.

After a three and out and a short punt by the Divas, the Sharks were on the move again. New York quarterback Karen Mulligan found Brooke McKinney on a six-yard slant pass for another touchdown, and just like that, the Divas trailed, 14-0.

Divas defensive back Vickie Lucas made a nice interception of a Mulligan pass on New York’s next possession and returned it 23 yards near midfield. But the Divas’ offense struggled throughout the first half, resulting in another three and out.

Late in the first half, the Sharks drove into D.C. territory, threatening to add to their 14-point lead. The Divas’ defense didn’t break, however. The New York drive stalled at the Divas’ 19-yard line, and the Sharks’ 36-yard field goal attempt came up just short of the crossbar. The Divas were led on defense by Ivy Tillman’s seven tackles, while Lucas added 4.5 tackles. Drea Major and Mozette Timmons contributed four and 3.5 tackles, respectively.

With seconds remaining before halftime, Nikki Williams ran 11 yards for a first down on an aborted double pass trick play; it was the Divas’ only first down of the first half. But quarterback Allyson Hamlin then threw an interception as time expired in the first half, and the Divas went to the locker room trailing, 14-0.

The Divas had suffered through an abysmal first half offensively, and the Sharks received the kickoff to open the third quarter. The Divas quickly made it clear that they were ready to get up off the mat and get back in the game. On New York’s first offensive play of the second half, Kathryn Hemlock intercepted a Mulligan pass and returned it 35 yards to the Sharks’ 46-yard line.

The D.C. offense came on the field and immediately called the number of running back Rachelle Pecovsky. Pecovsky took the handoff, gave a Shark defender a stiff arm, and raced 46 yards for the Divas’ first touchdown of the game. The two-point conversion run was no good, but the Divas had pulled within 14-6 just over a minute into the third quarter.

The Divas’ defense forced a three and out, and the Divas were threatening again. D.C. drove into the New York red zone, and facing fourth and 13, the Divas elected to go for it. A run by Pecovsky picked up only ten yards, however, and the Sharks took over on downs.

The Sharks did not escape danger for long. Deep in their own territory, the New York offense went three and out again. The Sharks got off a good punt to the D.C. 45-yard line, but Hemlock fielded the kick and returned it 55 yards for another Divas touchdown. Pecovsky rushed for a two-point conversion, and with 2:51 left in the third quarter, the Divas had pulled even, 14-14.

The Divas had all the momentum, and they kept it going on New York’s next possession. Divas defensive back Dameka Reese intercepted Mulligan’s pass and appeared to return it 33 yards for a go-ahead touchdown, but a holding call on the return placed the ball back at the New York 21-yard line, where the Divas would take over.

The Divas would waste no time getting the lead. Pecovsky ripped off a 12-yard run to set up first and goal, and rookie Okiima Pickett took it from there, racing nine yards for the touchdown. Pecovsky was stopped short on a two-point conversion, but the Divas were in front after three quarters, 20-14.

In the fourth quarter, the New York offense tried to recapture the lead with a long drive into Divas territory, but the D.C. defense turned into robbers again. Hemlock snared her second interception of the contest – the fourth pick of the game for the Divas’ defense – to end the threat. After the Divas went three and out, Pecovsky executed a critical 40-yard punt to put the Sharks far away from a possible go-ahead score.

With time ticking down in the final period, the Divas’ defense had their best series of the evening. Three New York plays sent them backwards 14 yards, and facing fourth and 24, the Sharks had no choice but to punt and hope to get a quick stop from the Divas’ offense.

D.C. never gave the Sharks the ball back. The Divas gained two first downs and ate up the rest of the remaining time, running out the clock on a dramatic 20-14 comeback victory.

“Now that was a football game,” a relieved head coach Ezra Cooper remarked afterward. “It was a little too close for comfort, but it’s a good experience for our team to build from.”

The Divas will need to build from it quickly. After a road game in two weeks against the Cape Fear Thunder, the Divas will return home on June 2 to face their old nemeses, the Detroit Demolition.

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