Recap vs. Baltimore Nighthawks – April 11, 2009

D.C. Divas Win Season Opener, 33-0
DC 33, Baltimore 0
By Rich Daniel

Baltimore, MD – Coming off of a subpar season in 2008, the D.C. Divas are hoping for a return to their usual dominant form this year.

So far, so good.

Highlighted by Tessa Nelson’s 78-yard fumble return for a touchdown, the Divas opened the 2009 campaign with a 33-0 victory over the Baltimore Nighthawks. Last year, the Divas dropped their first season opener in seven years in a 28-22 loss to the Boston Militia, but the Divas made sure this season got off to a much better start.

The Divas (1-0) forced two quick punts from the Nighthawks on their first two possessions. On Baltimore’s second punt, the Divas returned the kick 30 yards into the Nighthawks’ red zone. Okiima Pickett then finished off a short D.C. drive with a 12-yard touchdown run for the Divas’ first score of the year. Pickett led the team in rushing with 67 yards on 14 carries and one touchdown. Her touchdown gave the Divas a 7-0 lead after one quarter of play.

The Nighthawks (0-1) responded with a long 11-play drive into Divas territory, intent on tying the game. But the Divas defense stuffed the Nighthawks on three plays inside the ten-yard line, bringing up fourth and goal. On fourth down, Sharina Western sacked Baltimore quarterback Lillian Drumgold and forced a fumble that bounced high into the air. Defensive lineman Tessa Nelson, a grandmother of five, scooped up the fumble in midair and rumbled 78 yards for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead.

That play was typical of the Divas’ outstanding defensive performance on the evening. Jay Hodge and Western led the Divas with 5.5 tackles apiece, while Vickie Lucas added five. Nelson, Ivy Tillman, and Trigger McNair contributed four tackles each.

With the defense keeping the Nighthawks at bay, the offense expanded on the lead late in the first half. LaShawn Foust added a three-yard touchdown run to give the Divas a 20-0 lead going into halftime.

Any hopes of a Baltimore second-half comeback were immediately dashed as the third quarter began. Vickie Lucas fielded the second half kickoff and returned it 70 yards for a touchdown that put the Divas on top, 26-0.

Quarterback Allyson Hamlin threw a nine-yard touchdown pass to start the fourth quarter which capped the scoring. The successful extra point kick made the final margin 33-0. Defensive back Alison Fischer picked off a Baltimore pass with a couple minutes remaining in the game to end their final offensive drive and preserve the D.C. shutout.

The D.C. Divas struggled to a 4-4 record in 2008, which snapped a streak of six straight winning seasons. In the wake of last year’s .500 record, former head coach Ezra Cooper stepped down after eight seasons guiding the team as the Divas’ only head coach. The victory over the Nighthawks was the first game in D.C. Divas franchise history without Coach Cooper on the sidelines, and the win is an important first step in what the Divas hope will be a memorable comeback season.

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