Recap vs. Philadelphia Phantomz – May 21, 2016

Divas Shake Off Sluggish Start and Chase Off the Phantomz, 68-24
DC 68, Philadelphia 24
By Neal Rozendaal

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Landover, MD – The reigning national champion D.C. Divas found themselves locked in a tight battle at halftime with the upstart Philadelphia Phantomz, in large part due to a struggling passing game. But when the Divas’ passing attack got back on track, it did so in record-breaking fashion.

Wide receiver Ashley Whisonant broke a franchise record with four touchdown receptions in the third quarter, and the D.C. Divas escaped an early scare from the Philadelphia Phantomz and pulled away for a comfortable 68-24 victory. The Divas (6-1) won their sixth straight game heading into their regular season finale at home on June 4 against their archrivals, the Boston Renegades.

The Phantomz (4-3) proved right from the opening whistle that they would be a formidable challenge. Philadelphia took the opening kickoff and engineered a nice drive down the field, and on fourth and goal, Phantomz quarterback Satoria Bell ran the ball on a bootleg for a ten-yard touchdown. Bell’s run gave Philadelphia an early 6-0 lead.

That advantage would stand for a while, as the Divas’ offense misfired in the first quarter. A fourth down sack and a lost fumble on the Divas’ first two offensive drives of the game had the Divas facing a 6-0 deficit after one quarter of play; it was the first time this season that the Divas failed to score in the opening quarter.

Emboldened by their early lead, the Phantomz tried to capitalize on their momentum by going for it on fourth and one from their own 40-yard line. But linebacker C’Vette Henson made a key defensive play, stoning the Philadelphia ballcarrier at the line of scrimmage for no gain and forcing a turnover on downs.

The Divas went right to work behind their star running back, Kenyetta Grigsby. Grigsby took the ball on five straight carries, and her last carry for three yards put her across the goal line for the score. She was stopped inches short of the end zone on the two-point conversion attempt, but the Divas had tied the game at 6-6 with 12:20 remaining before halftime.

It took the Divas less than a minute to chalk up another score, thanks largely to a terrific special teams play. Stephanie Nealis kicked off and launched the ball deep toward the sidelines. The Philadelphia kick returners slowed their pursuit as the kickoff appeared to be heading out of bounds – which would have drawn an automatic D.C. penalty – but the spinning ball instead bounced inbounds and back toward the field of play. Shaquanda Gainey outraced the Philadelphia players to the ball and fell on it at the 20-yard line, giving the Divas great field position for their next drive.

Two plays later, Kenyetta Grigsby had her second touchdown of the contest, this one a 17-yard score. Grigsby then ran for the two-point conversion, giving the Divas their first lead of the game, 14-6. Kenyetta Grigsby finished the contest with 181 yards rushing on 22 carries and two touchdowns; Grigsby has now scored 99 touchdowns since joining the Divas in 2010 and is one score away from becoming the first player in Divas history to record 100 touchdowns with the team.

The Phantomz were victimized by another turnover on their next offensive drive, as Cherre Marshall recovered a fumble for the Divas at the Philadelphia 41-yard line. The Divas then gave Grigsby a breather and called heavily on fullback Okiima Pickett to run the ball. Pickett showed off her own power running game by blasting 14 yards for the touchdown. Pickett’s score provided the Divas with some breathing room and a two-touchdown lead midway through the second quarter.

But just when it looked like the Divas had some momentum, Philadelphia showed that they weren’t about to go quietly. Bell took advantage of a miscommunication in the Divas’ defensive backfield and found wide receiver Shantia Creech wide open on a 65-yard touchdown pass, cutting the D.C. lead to 20-12.

The Divas quickly restored their lead. Several nice runs by Grigsby set up the Divas’ first passing touchdown of the contest, a six-yard strike from quarterback Allyson Hamlin to Whisonant. The Divas went back in front by two scores, 26-12, with 5:37 remaining in the first half.

Yet again, Philadelphia had an answer. The Phantomz capped off a nice drive with a ten-yard touchdown pass from Bell to Creech, and the Phantomz had sliced into the Divas’ advantage once more, 26-18. That was the halftime score, and the Divas went to the locker room clinging to a one-touchdown advantage.

The Divas struggled in the passing game in the first half, completing only three of eight passes for just 24 yards. But the Divas’ offense responded with a third quarter for the record books and put the game out of reach early in the second half.

The Divas took the second half kickoff and immediately took control of the game. Hamlin finished off a nice drive with a nine-yard touchdown pass to Whisonant, and she then ran for the two-point conversion herself to put the Divas in front, 34-18.

After a Philadelphia fumble deep in Phantomz territory, it wasn’t long before Hamlin found Whisonant in the end zone again. Her 32-yard reception gave the Divas a 40-18 lead midway through the third quarter.

It wouldn’t be a Divas game in 2016 without a big play from linebacker Safi Mojidi, who is having a breakout season this year. The Phantomz made a nice drive into Divas territory when Bell completed a pass to her wide receiver. Mojidi arrived a split second later, got her hands on the ball, and literally ripped it out of the clutches of the receiver, returning the interception 17 yards into Philadelphia territory. Safi Mojidi has now recorded nine takeaways – six interceptions and three fumble recoveries – in the last five games.

On the ensuing drive, Hamlin found Whisonant for another touchdown pass, and the scoring plays kept growing longer and longer. This time it was a 45-yard pass that Whisonant broke to the end zone, and the Divas were now comfortably on top, 46-18.

But Hamlin and Whisonant weren’t finished. Near the end of the third quarter, the Phantomz decided to go for it on fourth down at midfield, but their deep pass fell incomplete. The Divas’ dynamic duo came back with a deep pass of their own, and Whisonant took the reception 51 yards for yet another score. Stephanie Nealis added the extra point kick, and the Divas had a 53-18 lead.

Whisonant had only four receptions in the third quarter, but they netted 137 yards and all of them went for touchdowns. It was the first time in Divas’ 16-year history that a player had four receiving touchdowns in a single quarter. For the game, Whisonant hauled in seven catches for 161 yards and five scores; her five receiving touchdowns in a game ties the single-game franchise record she set against the Boston Militia on May 18, 2013.

The Divas closed out the third quarter with yet another takeaway; for the second time in the contest, the Divas recovered their own kickoff. Kucheria Eades recovered the kickoff near midfield as the third quarter came to an end. Eades also recorded six tackles on the evening. Tia Watkins paced the defense with eight tackles, and Trigger McNair and Cherre Marshall added seven tackles each.

Amanda Congialdi, who played six seasons with the Philadelphia Firebirds before joining the Divas this year, dominated the fourth quarter against her hometown team. Congialdi caught a six-yard touchdown pass from Hamlin early in the fourth quarter to stake the Divas to a 59-18 lead.

Hamlin then departed the game with 242 yards passing on 12 completions in 20 attempts and six touchdowns. Hamlin’s six passing touchdowns were the second-most in a single game in team history, behind the seven she threw in the May 18 game against the Militia in 2013.

Another great kickoff by Nealis went over the heads of the Phantomz returners. By the time they caught up with it, they were downed at their own six-yard line. Soon after, Latriece Elcock broke through and tackled the ballcarrier for a loss in the end zone. The resulting safety gave the Divas two points and a 61-18 lead.

Philadelphia’s lone touchdown of the second half actually came as the Divas appeared to be closing in on yet another score. D.C. had the ball in the Phantomz red zone, but backup quarterback Kendra Bates was intercepted right at the goal line by Philadelphia’s Jade Bundy. Bundy ran down the visiting sideline and scampered 99 yards for a Philadelphia touchdown. That made the margin 61-24 midway through the fourth quarter.

The Divas would negate that mistake with an interception return of their own, and again, it was Congialdi who made Philly pay. Congialdi intercepted a pass in Philadelphia territory and then weaved and juked her way 58 yards to the end zone for the final score of the evening with 3:16 remaining in the game. Divas defensive back Dana Blakey put an exclamation point on the contest with an interception on Philadelphia’s last full drive of the game, and the Divas had secured a 68-24 victory.

After a season-opening loss to the top-ranked Dallas Elite, the D.C. Divas have now won six games in a row and will close out the regular season at home on June 4 against their archrivals, the Boston Renegades. The game against the Renegades will be pivotal to the Divas’ postseason chances, as they look to try to secure home field advantage throughout the WFA’s Eastern Conference playoffs.

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