Recap vs. Dallas Elite – August 8, 2015

D.C. Divas Hold Off Dallas Elite, 30-26, To Claim Second National Championship
DC 30, Dallas 26
By Neal Rozendaal

Recap • Statistics

Los Angeles, CA – Every season since their inception, the D.C. Divas have had a mantra that the team is on a mission.

For the second time in team history, the Divas ended their season with their mission accomplished.

Kenyetta Grigsby rushed for two of the Divas’ four first-half touchdowns, the powerful D.C. defense held the explosive Dallas offense to less than half of their season scoring average, and the D.C. Divas won the 2015 WFA national championship with a dramatic 30-26 victory over the Dallas Elite. Ashley Whisonant was a standout performer for the Divas in all three phases of the game and took home MVP honors for her efforts.

The game started well for the Divas (12-0). Midway through the first quarter, the Divas capped a long drive with a seven-yard touchdown run by running back Kenyetta Grigsby. A bobbled snap on the PAT destroyed any chance for an extra point, but the Divas led Dallas, 6-0.

Just over two minutes later, the Divas added to the lead. Dallas swung an errant backward pass toward the sideline, and Safi Mojidi fell on the ball for a fumble recovery at the Elite seven-yard line. The Divas quickly cashed in on the turnover with Grigsby punching it in from two yards out. Stephanie Nealis converted the extra point kick, and the Divas expanded their advantage to 13-0.

The Elite (11-1) continued to struggle on offense early, and the D.C. defense forced a Dallas punt to the Divas’ 25-yard line. The Divas advanced all the way down to the Elite 17-yard line and faced fourth and eight as the first quarter came to a close. The Divas led the Elite after a strong first period, 13-0.

On the first play of the second quarter, the Divas turned the ball over on downs when a fourth down pass fell incomplete. The Elite then fired up their vaunted offense, which was averaging nearly 63 points per game coming into the contest. Dallas running back Odessa Jenkins, who is also co-owner of the Dallas Elite, polished off an impressive 83-yard drive with a 20-yard touchdown run. The Divas stopped Dallas’ two-point conversion run attempt short of the goal line, but the Elite had sliced their deficit to 13-6 with 12:04 left in the half.

The Divas immediately responded to Dallas’ first score with their biggest offensive play of the game. Quarterback Allyson Hamlin found wide receiver Ashley Whisonant open for a 45-yard touchdown pass, and the PAT kick from Nealis put the D.C. lead back up to 20-6. Whisonant also made several terrific tackles on defense and special teams throughout the game to keep Dallas’ speedy backs from potentially long gains. Her presence everywhere on the field led to her being named the Most Valuable Player of the national title game.

The Divas’ defense then forced their second turnover of the contest. Rookie defensive back Quiana Ford picked off the pass from Dallas quarterback Jessica Gerhart and returned it all the way to the Dallas 34-yard line. The D.C. offense took advantage of their great field position, scoring on a 12-yard dash by fullback Okiima Pickett. Nealis’ third successful PAT kick of the game handed the Divas a commanding 27-6 lead with five minutes left before halftime.

But just when it looked like the Divas might have the Elite on the ropes, Dallas’ electrifying offense came out firing again. The Elite offense capped a 63-yard drive with a four-yard run to the end zone. The Divas’ defense once again stuffed the two-point conversion run attempt just shy of the goal line, but the Elite had narrowed the score to 27-12.

With just 1:19 remaining in the first half, the Divas put together another impressive offensive drive. But the Divas simply ran out of time, and Hamlin took a chance and threw a pass intended for wide receiver Kentrina Wilson, who was well-covered in the end zone. Hamlin’s pass was picked off by the Dallas defense, only her second interception of the entire season. Dallas preserved their 15-point deficit at halftime, and the D.C. Divas went to intermission leading the Dallas Elite, 27-12.

At halftime, the Women’s Football Alliance handed out their top league awards, and the Divas had two major recipients. Linebacker Tia Watkins was named the National Conference Defensive Player of the Year, while Divas head coach Alison Fischer earned the WFA Coach of the Year Award for leading the Divas to an undefeated regular season and a conference title for the first time in her coaching career.

The Dallas Elite and D.C. Divas exchanged punts to start the second half, but on their second offensive possession of the third quarter, Dallas’ offense struck again. A 77-yard drive ended with Gerhart’s first touchdown pass of the game, but once again, the Divas’ defense gained a bit of momentum back, swatting down the two-point conversion pass attempt. That stand preserved a two-score lead for the Divas, 27-18.

The Divas took the ball midway through the third quarter and burned nearly six minutes off the clock, methodically working their way down the field as they had done all season long. The drive stalled in the Dallas red zone, however, and the Divas faced fourth and long at the Elite 15-yard line. Stephanie Nealis trotted out on the field and calmly drilled a 32-yard field goal for the Divas’ only points of the second half. Her successful field goal padded the Divas’ advantage to 30-18.

The D.C. defense then forced the second Dallas punt of the period, and the Divas took over possession near midfield as the third quarter came to a close. The Divas led the Elite entering the final period, 30-18.

The Dallas defense once again stood tall and forced a D.C. punt early in the fourth quarter. The Elite took the football, trailing by 12 points, and started moving the chains down the field. They got as far as the Divas’ 28-yard line when they decided to go for it on fourth down in an effort to pull within a single score. The D.C. defense rose up and forced an incomplete pass from Gerhart, ending the threat and giving the Divas the ball midway through the fourth quarter.

This was the crucial moment in the game where the Divas so often this season had provided a knockout blow – a long, time-consuming drive down the field that ended with a demoralizing score. The Divas pushed the ball out to midfield, but a long run by Grigsby into the Dallas red zone was called back by a holding penalty, which halted the drive. D.C. eventually punted the ball back to the Elite with three and a half minutes left in the contest, still leading, 30-18.

The Elite only gained nine yards on their next three plays, and they were forced to spend their second timeout of the half to discuss their options on fourth and one. But with the game hanging in the balance, they converted on fourth down deep in their territory and suddenly gained new life. They needed a quick touchdown score, and they got it courtesy of Odessa Jenkins. Gerhart found Jenkins for Dallas’ biggest offensive play of the game, a 55-yard touchdown pass that came at the perfect time for the Elite. The Elite then converted their only two-point conversion of the game, passing for a score that cut the D.C. lead to 30-26 with 2:03 remaining in the contest.

Dallas had nearly recovered an onside kick in the first half before Whitney Simms fell on the ball and staved off disaster for the Divas. But with the game on the line, Dallas’ onside kick with just over two minutes remaining was too strong and sailed out of bounds near midfield.

Because the Elite had one timeout remaining, the Divas still needed a first down to run out the clock. The Divas handed the ball to Grigsby on three straight plays, and she gained nine yards to bring up fourth and one at the Dallas 44-yard line. After the third down run, there was a six-second differential between the play clock and the scoreboard clock, compelling the Divas to go for it on fourth and one.

With six seconds remaining, Hamlin took the snap and tried the quarterback sneak for the game-clinching first down. Hamlin was initially stood up at the line of scrimmage short of the first down, but with the help of Pickett, she was able to regain her balance and lunge forward a second time. Hamlin fell forward over her offensive line on the second effort and barreled ahead for three yards with three seconds remaining. The officials wound the clock, and the Divas had survived a furious second-half rally from the Dallas Elite to capture the 2015 WFA national championship by a 30-26 count.

The D.C. Divas won their 12th game of the season, setting a new team record for victories in a season. More importantly, the Divas won their second national championship in team history, adding to the NWFA title the team won in 2006. Since winning that championship in 2006, the Divas suffered a number of devastating postseason setbacks: an upset playoff loss to Atlanta in 2007, a controversial, penalty-laden loss in the 2009 national championship game, and five consecutive playoff losses to their archrivals from Boston. But in 2015, in the City of Angels, the D.C. Divas finally exorcised all those demons and, for the first time in nine years, returned to the top of the women’s football world.

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