Recap vs. Dallas Elite – April 9, 2016

Dallas Elite Even the Score Against the Divas, 40-19
Dallas 40, DC 19
By Neal Rozendaal

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Landover, MD – The 2016 D.C. Divas will have to overcome a circumstance they never faced last year in their undefeated national championship season. For the first time since 2014, the Divas will need to bounce back from a loss.

Thanks to an explosive second-half effort, the Dallas Elite avenged last year’s loss in the national title game and sent the Divas down to defeat, 40-19. The Elite scored five touchdowns in the second half as they overcame a 13-0 halftime deficit and earned a statement victory.

In the 2015 Women’s Football Alliance (WFA) national championship game last August, the Divas defeated the Elite, 30-26, to earn their first national title in nine years. The Divas (0-1) opened their 2016 campaign by hosting a rematch of that game, and frigid temperatures in the 40s along with wind gusts of 25 miles per hour made Saturday’s game a much different atmosphere than the one the teams experienced when they first met last year in sunny Los Angeles.

The Elite (2-0) received the opening kickoff but were forced to operate into the teeth of the wind in the first quarter. Dallas’ first drive stalled near midfield, which forced them to punt. But a D.C. return player touched the ball on a short punt, and Dallas recovered the live ball to continue the drive. The Elite eventually turned the ball over on downs at the D.C. eight-yard line, but they had bled over nine minutes of the clock before allowing the Divas’ offense to touch the ball for the first time with the favorable wind at their backs.

The Divas’ offense wasted little time, however. Wide receiver Ashley Whisonant – the MVP of last year’s title game victory over Dallas – scored the first touchdown of the season on a 58-yard reception from quarterback Allyson Hamlin. Whisonant finished the game with 114 yards on six receptions and one touchdown. Her touchdown catch capped an impressive 92-yard drive in a little over two minutes of game time, and the Divas kicked the extra point to seize a 7-0 lead.

Helen Deer then recovered the only Dallas turnover of the game, falling on a fumble forced by Dex Walker at midfield. The Divas penetrated the Dallas red zone as the first quarter came to a close, leading 7-0.

D.C. faced fourth and six from the Dallas 11-yard line early in the second period, and – now with the wind in their faces – bypassed a field goal try to attempt to gain the first down. The move paid off, as Dallas was flagged for a holding penalty that gave the Divas first and goal. Hamlin finished off the drive with a three-yard run to the end zone. The extra point kick attempt was blown drastically off course by the wind, but the Divas had taken a 13-0 advantage.

On their next drive, the Elite decided to go for it on fourth and 12 from the D.C. 42-yard line. Their fourth down try fell incomplete, and the Divas took over with great field position and a 13-point lead.

Misfortune struck for the Divas, however. Hamlin lofted a pass to wide receiver Samantha Williams, and the ball bounced out of her hands and right into the arms of a waiting Dallas defender. On their ensuing drive, the Elite were able to flip field position when a fourth down pass thrown into heavy coverage was somehow pulled down by a Dallas wide receiver. That kept the Dallas drive alive, and they moved the ball down to the D.C. two-yard line with two minutes remaining in the half.

But the tough Divas defense turned Dallas back again, holding them to a one-yard gain on fourth and goal from the two. The Divas were then content to run three plays straight ahead, gain a critical first down, and let time expire on the half with a 13-0 lead.

The D.C. Divas held the halftime lead, but Dallas would dominate the second half in one of the most impressive performances by a visiting team ever seen at Prince George’s Sports Complex. The Divas got the ball to start the second half but were unable to do much with it on three downs. They faced fourth and long near midfield, but because a punt would be unlikely to generate much yardage going into the wind, the Divas decided to go for it. A bad snap resulted in a turnover and great field position for the Elite.

Dallas immediately took advantage. Tiffany Hill, who played a terrific game at running back for the Elite, scored on a two-yard touchdown run. A successful two-point conversion run sliced the D.C. lead to 13-8 less than four minutes into the second half.

It was déjà vu on the next two drives, as almost the exact same sequence played out again. The Divas went for it on fourth and long near midfield, eschewing a punt into the wind. When the pass fell incomplete, Dallas leveraged their great field position into a nice drive down the field, capped off by a short touchdown run and another two-point conversion. Midway through the third quarter, Dallas had taken their first lead of the game, 16-13.

The Divas responded to the challenge, embarking on a 78-yard drive to the end zone. Hamlin rushed for her second score of the game, a one-yard quarterback sneak for the touchdown. Hamlin completed nine passes on 26 attempts in the foul conditions, notching 144 yards with one touchdown and one interception and adding two rushing touchdowns herself on the ground.

Going into the wind, the Divas decided to go for two rather than kick the extra point, and the pass attempt fell incomplete. However, the Divas still led, 19-16, with 1:26 left in the third quarter.

It took the Elite less than a minute to retake the lead. With the wind at their backs for only a few more seconds, Dallas quarterback Jessica Gerhart lobbed a pass for receiver Erika Bobo. Bobo caught the pass in coverage, broke a tackle, and raced to the end zone for a 47-yard touchdown. The Elite again converted the two-point conversion, and they led after three quarters, 24-19.

The Divas drove the ball to midfield, hoping to retake the lead. But a bad snap on fourth down gave Dallas excellent field position once again, and their impressive speed finally began to take its toll. They ripped off large gains on several runs, finishing off the drive with a nine-yard touchdown run. The two-point conversion put Dallas on top, 32-19, with just over ten minutes remaining in the contest.

By this time, the D.C. offense was completely out of sync. The Divas went backwards on three plays and faced fourth and long. With the wind to their backs and trailing by two scores, the Divas decided to try to punt and pin Dallas deep in their own territory midway through the fourth quarter.

Odessa Jenkins – the co-owner, head coach, and outstanding running back of the Elite – destroyed that strategy and put the game out of reach by getting loose for a 57-yard touchdown run. Dallas went five-for-five on two-point conversion attempts, rushing into the end zone once again for a 40-19 advantage with six minutes left in the game. The Divas were unable to generate enough offense on their final possession of the game, and the Elite ran out the clock on a 40-19 victory.

Kenyetta Grigsby churned out 78 yards on 24 carries to lead the Divas’ rushing attack. Tia Watkins led the defense with an astounding 11.5 tackles, and Cherre Marshall chipped in with 11 tackles as well.  Newcomer C’Vette Henson shined in her first game with the Divas, recording 10.5 tackles, and Helen Deer recovered the only Dallas turnover of the contest, a fumble forced by Divas lineman Dex Walker.

The Dallas Elite, who were the heavy favorites to win the WFA’s American (Western) Conference coming into the game, made an emphatic statement to their Eastern Conference foes that they remain serious national title contenders after falling just four points short of the crown last season. The D.C. Divas, on the other hand, will need to recover quickly, as they go on the road this Saturday for a matchup against their archrivals, the always formidable Boston Renegades.

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