Recap vs. Boston Militia – July 11, 2009

Kickoff Return Touchdown in Final Minute Gives D.C. Divas Second Conference Championship
DC 27, Boston 21
By Neal Rozendaal

Boston, MA – The D.C. Divas appeared headed for a heartbreaking defeat when the Boston Militia scored a go-ahead touchdown with under a minute left in the 2009 Eastern Conference championship game.

Instead, the Divas are headed to the national title game for the second time in four years, thanks to the most stunning play in franchise history.

Tara Stephenson returned a kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown with 41 seconds left in the game, and the D.C. Divas earned a shocking 27-21 victory for the 2009 Eastern Conference championship. The Divas won their second conference championship in team history and will head to Round Rock, Texas, to play the Kansas City Tribe for the 2009 national championship.

The Divas (10-0) got off to a rocky start. After forcing an initial Boston punt, the Divas lost three yards in three plays and were forced to punt. The punt snap was fumbled, however, and Boston took over with great field position on their second possession.

The Militia (9-1) quickly cashed in. Mia Brickhouse raced for a 22-yard touchdown, and the Divas fell behind, 7-0.

Another D.C. miscue put the Divas in an even deeper hole. The Divas fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and Boston took over in great field position again. This time, Dot Donaldson scored on a touchdown run from seven yards away, and the Divas trailed, 14-0, late in the first quarter.

The Divas’ offense began to click at the start of the second quarter. An 18-yard pass from quarterback Allyson Hamlin to Tara Stephenson gave the Divas first and goal from the Boston eight-yard line, and two carries by Okiima Pickett got the Divas on the scoreboard. Pickett’s four-yard touchdown run cut the Divas’ deficit to 14-7 early in the second period.

The Militia went three and out on their next possession, and the Divas earned good field position with a bit of trickery. Boston punted to Vickie Lucas, who flipped the ball to Kathryn Hemlock for a 15-yard gain to the Militia 39-yard line.

Nikki Williams hauled in a pass for a first down at the Boston 24, and then two runs by Pickett gained nine yards. The Divas faced third and one from the 15-yard line, and Hamlin found Tara Stephenson open for a 15-yard touchdown pass. The extra point was blocked, however, and the Divas still trailed midway through the second quarter, 14-13.

The Divas forced another Boston punt on their next drive. The D.C. defense was led by the terrific play of linebacker Ivy Tillman, who recorded 13.5 tackles, seven of them for a loss. Former Militia standout Jay Hodge recorded seven tackles for the Divas, while Vickie Lucas and Trigger McNair added 4.5 tackles each.

The D.C. offense made a push to take the lead before halftime, but a holding penalty stalled the drive. An 18-yard pass to Nikki Williams set up third and two, but two incomplete passes led to a turnover on downs. Time would expire on the Militia’s next drive, and the Divas went to halftime trailing, 14-13.

The third quarter turned into a defensive stalemate. The Divas opened the second half with a solid ten-play drive into Boston territory, but a tackle for loss and three straight incomplete passes resulted in a turnover on downs. Boston and D.C. then traded punts before the D.C. defense forced another three and out. The Militia punted to the Divas’ 32-yard line as the third quarter came to a close, with Boston still leading by a point, 14-13.

Tara Stephenson got the Divas’ first drive of the fourth quarter off to a strong start. Stephenson took two reverses to gain 20 yards on the ground and put the ball into Boston territory. Stephenson then caught a 20-yard pass from Hamlin, and two receptions by Nikki Williams gave the Divas a first down at the Militia 20-yard line.

Hamlin then connected with Stephenson for their second touchdown pass of the evening. Stephenson’s leaping touchdown catch gave the Divas their first lead of the contest, and although a two-point rushing attempt was stopped short of the goal line, the Divas pulled in front, 19-14.

Three straight incomplete passes by Boston quarterback Allison Cahill led to a punt, but the Divas went three and out after throwing an incomplete pass on third and four and punted the ball right back to Boston.

The D.C. defense continued their stellar play. Jay Hodge came through with a big sack of Cahill, Tillman tackled a Boston ballcarrier for a loss, and an incomplete pass on third down led to yet another punt with four minutes left in the contest.

The Divas had a chance to potentially run out the clock on a victory, but they were only able to muster one first down. LaShawn Foust picked up a first down after a six-yard run on second and six, but the drive stalled from there. Foust and Okiima Pickett each gained just one yard, and Hamlin was sacked for an eight-yard loss on third and eight to force a punt back to Boston with less than two minutes remaining in the contest.

The Militia were out of timeouts, but they engineered a drive down the field by running out of bounds and spiking the football after first downs. With just over a minute to play, Boston had the ball on the D.C. 30-yard line. Cahill took the snap and scrambled down the home sideline for a 30-yard touchdown run with 55 seconds left in the contest. The delirious Boston home crowd saw the Militia go back on top, 21-19, as Cahill’s run seemingly clinched an Eastern Conference title for the Militia.

Wanting to pin the Divas deep in their own territory, Boston boomed the kickoff down to the Divas’ 15-yard line. Tara Stephenson fielded the kick and weaved through a swarm of potential Militia tacklers. Stephenson found a seam down the Divas sideline and ramped up the speed, outracing the defenders for an 85-yard kickoff return touchdown with 41 seconds remaining. Stephenson then rushed for the two-point conversion, and the Divas led, 27-21, in a turn of events that left the Boston faithful stunned.

The Divas’ defense closed out the rest of the game. The Boston punt returner ran out of bounds at the Boston 30-yard line. On the next play, Trigger McNair dropped Cahill to the turf with a crushing sack. As time ran down, the Militia lined back up for one more play. Cahill took the ball and threw a deep desperation pass down the field that was intercepted by Kathryn Hemlock as time expired, and the Divas came away with an unforgettable 27-21 victory.

The win clinched the D.C. Divas’ second conference championship in the last four years. The Divas will return to the national title game, where they will face the Western Conference champion Kansas City Tribe for the 2009 national title.

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