Recap vs. Chicago Force – April 19, 2014

Champion Force Halt Short-Handed Divas, 42-27
Chicago 42, DC 27
By Neal Rozendaal

Recap • Statistics

Landover, MD – With the Chicago Force in town, the D.C. Divas adjusted to a critical injury by springing a new-look offense on the reigning national champions.

It was nearly enough to steal the crown away from Chicago, but ultimately, the Force held off the Divas and captured a 42-27 victory.

The game started in a most peculiar manner. The Chicago Force (3-0) received the opening kickoff, but D’Ajah Scott knocked the ball away from the Chicago returner. Eleni Kotsis fell on the football in the end zone for the D.C. Divas (0-2), which gave D.C. a 6-0 lead just ten seconds into the game.

More strangely, the ensuing PAT kick attempt by the Divas was blocked, and Chicago scooped up the ball and ran it all the way back for two points. Chicago’s excellent special teams play left the Divas with a highly unusual 6-2 advantage.

It was only the start of a first half filled with offensive fireworks. Chicago’s Jeanette Gray, the receiving star for the Force, scored her first of four touchdowns a few minutes later. With a successful two-point conversion, the Force took a lead they would never relinquish, 10-6.

At this point, the Divas threw the Force a major curveball. Divas quarterback Allyson Hamlin was sidelined for her first game since 2010 after sustaining an injury two weeks ago against the Boston Militia. Callie Brownson got the start in her place under center and alternated snaps with wide receiver Ashley Whisonant, but it was far from a traditional quarterback performance. In Hamlin’s absence, the Divas unveiled a Wildcat style of offense that minimized passing and instead featured a multi-faceted running attack.

Brownson or Whisonant would take the snap and either run the ball themselves or toss the ball off to running backs Kenyetta Grigsby and Okiima Pickett. As a result, the Divas offense recorded just three yards of passing for the entire game, while Brownson, Whisonant, Grigsby, and Pickett combined for 47 carries on the evening.

The Divas’ new Wildcat offense got off to an inauspicious start. D.C. fumbled on their first offensive snap, and Chicago recovered. Gray notched her second touchdown of the contest on a run, and midway through the first quarter, Chicago had a 16-6 advantage.

But on their second possession, the Divas’ Wildcat offense paid dividends. A drive of over five minutes culminated with a seven-yard touchdown run by Kenyetta Grigsby. Grigsby finished with 76 yards on 14 carries and one touchdown. Her score cut the Chicago margin to 16-13.

Aided by a pass interference call on third down, the Force drove down the field for their third touchdown of the contest. Chicago led the Divas after an exciting first quarter, 22-13.

D.C. struck back in the second quarter behind Ashley Whisonant, who was incredibly effective running the Wildcat formation. She scored on a long 31-yard run to the end zone to pull the Divas within two, 22-20. Whisonant led the team in rushing with 101 yards on 11 carries and one touchdown.

Although it didn’t directly result in points, the Chicago passing combination of Sami Grisafe to Gray struck again. Gray hauled in a Grisafe pass and was tackled inches short of the goal line, and Brandy Hatcher punched it in for the Force to give them a 28-20 advantage with just under three minutes to play in the first half.

Just as they did in their previous game against Boston, the Divas lost momentum in the final two minutes before halftime. The Divas were stopped on fourth down near midfield, and Grisafe found Gray open on a long pass down the field for another Chicago touchdown. She connected with Gray again on the two-point conversion, and the Divas fell behind, 36-20, at halftime.

D.C. took the ball to start the second half and began a long, methodical drive down the field. The Divas took nearly eight minutes off of the clock, and Callie Brownson raced into the end zone to put the Divas back within nine, 36-27. In her first career start at quarterback, Brownson rushed for 48 yards on eight carries and a touchdown out of the Wildcat formation.

The Force responded less than a minute and a half later. Gray scored her fourth touchdown of the game, turning a short screen pass into a 49-yard scoring run. Chicago’s only score of the second half gave them a 42-27 advantage with 5:59 left in the third quarter.

What had been an offensive shootout for two and a half quarters turned into a completely different game in the final stanza. For the last 21 minutes of the game, neither team was able to score a single point, and the Force made their two-touchdown lead hold up as the game became a defensive struggle.

Early in the fourth quarter, the Force faced a fourth and three near midfield. Grisafe, who did the Force’s punting as well, fielded a poor snap and tried to run for the first down. But the D.C. defense was prepared for a fake, and Grisafe was gang-tackled for no gain and slammed to the turf. Grisafe stayed on the ground for several minutes before being carried to the sidelines.

The Divas turned the ball over on downs at the Chicago 19-yard line, and Grisafe came back into the game. On third and 12, Grisafe dropped back to pass when her knee buckled. She dropped the ball and fell to the turf without being touched. The Divas recovered the apparent turnover, but the officials whistled the play dead when Grisafe collapsed, giving possession back to Chicago. Grisafe did not return to the game.

As was the case two weeks ago against Boston, the Divas’ defense, which was a bit unsteady at times in the first half, made critical halftime adjustments and was nearly impenetrable in the second half. Cherre Marshall paced the D.C. defense with seven tackles, while Trigger McNair made 6.5 stops.

Unfortunately for the Divas, they just could not muster enough offense in the fourth quarter to get any closer. D.C. eventually took over at the Chicago 17-yard line with six minutes left in the game, but four plays netted them just one yard, and the Force were able to run out the clock on a 42-27 victory.

It was the first ever meeting between these two historic franchises, and the duel lived up to the advanced billing, as the D.C. Divas played the reigning national champions to the limit despite a short-handed roster. The Divas will return to action at home on April 26 in a critical division contest against the Columbus Comets.

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