Recap vs. Cleveland Fusion – June 6, 2015

D.C. Divas Win Critical Decision over Cleveland Fusion, 27-7
DC 27, Cleveland 7
By Neal Rozendaal

Recap • Statistics

Landover, MD – In a matchup between two top-five ranked teams, this game lived up to the hype.

With huge playoff implications on the line, the D.C. Divas topped the Cleveland Fusion, 27-7. The Divas’ victory all but secures their 12th division title in 13 years and virtually clinches home field advantage for the Divas for the first two rounds of the WFA playoffs.

The Divas (7-0) started the game strong. D’Ajah Scott returned the opening kickoff to the Cleveland 34-yard line, and Kenyetta Grigsby finished off a short drive with an 11-yard touchdown run to put the Divas in front, 7-0. Grigsby had another spectacular game, rushing for 161 yards on 27 carries with one touchdown.

The Fusion (5-2) went three and out, and the Divas’ offense went back to work. Allyson Hamlin tossed a 16-yard touchdown pass to Ashley Whisonant, and the Divas seized a 13-0 lead with seven minutes left in the first quarter. Whisonant led the Divas with 77 receiving yards on four catches.

Armed with a 13-point lead after one quarter, the Divas’ offense drove down the field again early in the second period. The Divas made it all the way down to the Cleveland two-yard line, but the Fusion defense rose up and stopped Grigsby for no gain to regain the ball on downs.

Cleveland’s defensive stop seemed to give the Fusion a shot of confidence. They put together their best offensive drive of the first half, advancing the ball to midfield. But the D.C. defense stepped up to the plate and made the big play. Linebacker Cherre Marshall picked off a Cleveland pass and raced 58 yards for a momentum-changing touchdown. Marshall’s pick-six gave the Divas a 20-0 advantage with 5:30 remaining in the first half.

But the Divas weren’t finished yet. They took over at their own 45-yard line with 1:01 left in the half, and it took them just two plays to reach the end zone. A 30-yard reception by Whisonant set up a 25-yard touchdown catch by Lillian Cherry. Cherry’s touchdown gave the Divas a 27-0 lead at halftime. Quarterback Allyson Hamlin threw for 106 passing yards with two touchdowns on the evening; Hamlin has now thrown 198 passing touchdowns in her terrific career.

The Divas held a commanding 27-0 lead at halftime, but the Fusion responded like champions and outscored the Divas in the second half. On their second drive of the second half, the Fusion put together a ten-play drive to crack the scoreboard. Keri Palma scrambled for a 12-yard gain on fourth and ten from the Divas’ 16-yard line, and three plays later, Maria Jackson reeled in a six-yard touchdown pass. Cleveland cut the D.C. advantage to 27-7 midway through the third quarter.

While the first half was played almost entirely on Cleveland’s side of the field, the second half was the opposite story. The Divas’ offense struggled in the third quarter while pinned deep in their own territory. The Divas were forced to punt, and Cleveland returned the kick all the way to the D.C. 19-yard line. The Fusion got a first down and had first and goal from the nine-yard line, but the Divas’ defense stood tall again. With the Fusion seeking to climb within two touchdowns, the Divas stopped Jackson short on a fourth-down pass reception and gave the Divas possession at the two-yard line.

The Divas drove the ball out of danger as the third quarter ended, but they were forced to punt early in the fourth period. Cleveland again mounted a nice offensive drive, but they were turned away when Tia Watkins picked off a Fusion pass and returned it to midfield.

The Divas’ offense was finally in business and put together their only drive of the second half in Cleveland territory. The Divas picked up two first downs, but Cherry was stopped after a 13-yard catch on fourth and 14 to give the Fusion the ball back at their own 15-yard line with five minutes remaining in the game.

Cleveland churned out one last time-consuming drive, hoping to cut the final score down to two touchdowns. But with a little over a minute left in the contest, the Divas snared their fourth interception of the night, this one by 17-year veteran Trigger McNair. The Divas’ defense was led by Cherre Marshall, Tia Watkins, Eris Woodard, and Eleni Kotsis with four tackles each; Kotsis also recorded a second-quarter interception. McNair had 3.5 tackles, while Alicia Hopkins registered three.

The top-ranked D.C. Divas ran out the clock after McNair’s interception for a critical division victory over the fifth-ranked Cleveland Fusion in a contest that lived up to its advanced billing. The Divas are now 7-0 for the seventh time in team history but just the first time since 2009. The Divas will shoot for an undefeated 8-0 record when they wrap up their regular season slate next week at home against their archrivals, the Boston Renegades.

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