Recap vs. Boston Militia – June 25, 2011

Defending Champion Militia Hand Divas Early Playoff Exit With 37-24 Loss
Boston 37, DC 24
By Neal Rozendaal

Recap • Statistics

Landover, MD – The D.C. Divas knew they had a tough challenge on their hands when they drew their archrivals, the defending national champion Boston Militia, in their 2011 playoff opener. Ultimately, it was a challenge that proved insurmountable.

Despite three rushing touchdowns from Kenyetta Grigsby, the D.C. Divas were eliminated from the playoffs by the Boston Militia, 37-24. The Divas had fought all season for home field advantage and the right to host this quarterfinal matchup, but the Divas lost a home playoff game for just the second time ever and suffered their first home playoff loss since falling to the Detroit Demolition in 2004.

The Divas (7-2) had defeated the Militia in DC in the season opener by a 35-20 score. The Divas seemed poised to repeat that success in the first quarter of the game. Grigsby capped an opening 62-yard drive with a rushing touchdown, which staked the Divas to an early 6-0 lead. The Divas controlled the ball for over 12 minutes in the game’s opening period, and the Divas led after one quarter, 6-0.

But just as the Divas were driving for another score, a fumble gave the Militia a reprieve at their own 20-yard line. A few plays later, the Boston Militia (8-1) cashed in with a momentum changing play. Boston quarterback Allison Cahill underthrew a pass down the sideline that appeared to be a sure interception, one that would have given the Divas excellent field position. But two Divas defenders collided going for the football, and the ball bounced into the hands of Militia wide receiver Adrienne Smith, who turned and raced for a 72-yard touchdown.

As if that weren’t enough, on the second offensive play of the Divas’ ensuing drive, Divas quarterback Allyson Hamlin fired a pass for wide receiver Nikki Williams. But Boston’s Mia Brickhouse jumped the route, picked off the pass, and returned it 36 yards for a touchdown. It was Boston’s second touchdown in the span of 58 seconds, and although the Divas had outplayed Boston for the most part through one and a half quarters of play, it was the Divas who found themselves trailing, 14-6.

Rarely does a kicker step into the limelight in a football game, but Boston kicker Ashley Snyder managed to kick the Divas while they were down. Following a long Boston drive, Snyder booted a 24-yard field goal with 2:27 remaining in the first half to extend Boston’s lead to 17-6.

The Divas were unable to make a last-minute drive to cut into the Militia lead and dropped back to punt. Rachelle Pecovsky’s punt attempt was blocked, which gave the Militia possession deep in D.C. territory. Although Boston could not gain a first down, Snyder made an impressive 39-yard field goal to put Boston ahead, 20-6, at halftime.

“We knew it wasn’t over at that point,” Cahill acknowledged. “They have a good team, and we knew they were not going to quit without a fight.”

Indeed, the Divas kept the game competitive in the second half. The Divas got their first big break midway through the third quarter on a Boston miscue. The D.C. defense forced a Militia punt deep in Boston territory, and the snap sailed over the head of Snyder.

With the Divas’ special teams swarming around her, Snyder tried to kick the loose ball out of the back of the end zone for a safety from around the Militia five-yard line. However, because Snyder was still in the field of play when she kicked the ball, the Militia were penalized for an illegal kick at the spot of the foul, and the Divas took over possession inside of Boston’s five-yard line. Grigsby quickly powered into the end zone on a two-yard rushing touchdown with 5:52 remaining in the third quarter, and the Divas pulled to within one score, trailing, 20-12.

But the Divas would get no closer. Early in the fourth quarter, Brickhouse returned a punt 33 yards to the Divas’ 23-yard line. Three plays later, a one-yard rushing touchdown pushed Boston’s advantage to 27-12.

Trailing by 15 points with 11 minutes remaining, the Divas were forced to take chances. The Divas faced fourth and 16 from their own 27-yard line, and they decided to go for it rather than punt away possession of the ball. But an incomplete pass gave Boston great field position for their next drive. Although the D.C. defense held strong, Snyder again displayed her range by drilling a 35-yard field goal for a 30-12 lead with under nine minutes remaining in the game.

The offenses were hardly finished for the evening, however. The Divas marched down the field on the ensuing possession, and Grigsby rushed for her third touchdown of the contest from two yards away to cut the Boston lead to 30-18.

But the Militia salted the game away with a long drive, bleeding the clock dry and clinching the game courtesy of a seven-yard rushing touchdown by reserve running back Whitney Zelee with 1:16 left in the game. The Divas drove down the field with the little time they had remaining, and Hamlin threw a 20-yard touchdown pass, her first of the game, as time expired in a 37-24 defeat.

Despite an excellent 7-1 regular season record, the Divas drew the defending national champions in the first round of the playoffs. As a result, for just the second time in eight postseason appearances, the Divas’ playoff journey ended as quickly as it began. The only other time the D.C. Divas were one-and-done in the playoffs was in 2007, when the defending national champion Divas were upset by the eventual Eastern Conference champion Atlanta Xplosion.

While this contest was just a conference quarterfinal matchup, it had the feel of a heavyweight fight between two of the top teams in women’s football. With the victory, the Militia advance to the conference semifinals to take on the Chicago Force. For the Divas, it’s an abrupt end to an outstanding season.

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