Recap vs. Boston Renegades – July 9, 2016

D.C. Divas Advance to Second Straight National Title Game, Defeat Boston Renegades, 47-21
DC 47, Boston 21
By Neal Rozendaal

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Oxon Hill, MD – For the first time in team history, the D.C. Divas have won back-to-back conference championships. More importantly, the Divas now have one shot at an even bigger back-to-back accomplishment.

The D.C. Divas’ offense exploded for seven touchdowns on their first eight drives as the Divas captured their second straight Eastern Conference championship, defeating the Boston Renegades, 47-21. The Divas advance to the 2016 WFA National Championship game in Pittsburgh on July 23, where they will face the Western Conference champion Dallas Elite in a rematch of last year’s national title game that was won by the Divas, 30-26.

The Renegades (7-4) had struggled on offense the past several weeks since losing star quarterback Allison Cahill to a season-ending shoulder injury. But against the Divas, the Renegades gained some early offensive momentum by calling on running back Stacey Tiamfook, who made her playoff debut after suiting up in just one regular season game for Boston all season long.

With a well-rested Tiamfook in the lineup, the Boston offense was considerably more potent against the Divas than it had been in recent weeks. The Renegades received the opening kickoff, and Tiamfook gained 32 yards on two carries to put Boston in business in the Divas’ red zone. A facemask penalty by the Divas extended the drive, and Chante Bonds – filling in the past few weeks for Cahill at quarterback – ran it in from three yards out to give Boston a 7-0 lead. The Renegades called 12 straight running plays to open the game to break out to an early lead.

The Divas (9-1) responded with a grinding, methodical drive that covered 75 yards and took nine minutes off the clock. The Divas converted three fourth-and-one situations on the drive and had the ball on Boston’s nine-yard line as time expired in the first period. On the first play of the second quarter, Divas quarterback Allyson Hamlin found wide receiver Ashley Whisonant in the end zone for a touchdown, and Stephanie Nealis booted her first of five successful extra point kicks to tie the score, 7-7.

Boston proved that their first touchdown was no fluke by engineering another scoring drive on their second possession. Third-down receptions by Tiamfook (16 yards) and wide receiver Adrienne Smith (17 yards) picked up first downs for Boston, and star Renegades running back Whitney Zelee zoomed into the end zone from ten yards out to put Boston back in front early in the second quarter, 14-7.

A team effort helped the Divas even the score. Callie Brownson set the Divas up with great field position on their next drive, returning the kickoff to the Boston 47-yard line. Divas wide receiver Kentrina Wilson made a huge 13-yard reception on third and six to keep the drive alive, and Whisonant drew a 15-yard pass interference penalty as well.

But running back Kenyetta Grigsby shouldered most of the load on the Divas’ second possession, carrying the ball five times for 24 yards. Her fifth carry of the drive was an eight-yard jaunt into the end zone, and Nealis’ kick re-tied the game at 14-all midway through the second quarter. Grigsby ended the contest with 26 carries for 123 yards and one touchdown.

Stephanie Nealis launched the ensuing kickoff out of the end zone for a touchback, and coupled with a Boston penalty, the Renegades started their next drive pinned at their own 15-yard line. The Divas’ defense then made their first big play of the game, as Safi Mojidi pulled down her seventh interception of the season and returned it to Boston’s 33-yard line.

Grigsby immediately ripped off a 24-yard run down the sidelines to set the Divas up with first and goal. Hamlin capped off the drive with a one-yard quarterback sneak into the end zone, and although Nealis’ kick was blocked, the Divas had their first lead of the game, 20-14.

Tiamfook returned the following kickoff 27 yards to near midfield, giving Boston great field position late in the first half. But the Divas’ defense forced a three and out, and Boston punted to the Divas’ 20-yard line. The Divas ran the ball three straight times up the middle, burning Boston’s remaining timeouts and most of the first half clock.

The Divas then punted the ball away, their only punt of the entire contest. After one play, time ran out on the first half, and the D.C. Divas took a 20-14 lead over the Boston Renegades into intermission. The Renegades successfully shortened the game in the first half, limiting the Divas’ offensive possessions and going into halftime trailing by just six points.

D.C. received the second half kickoff and immediately expanded on their lead. Brownson had a terrific 27-yard run into Boston territory, and Wilson caught a 12-yard pass to get the Divas inside Boston’s red zone. Whisonant polished off the drive with an 11-yard catch from Hamlin for a touchdown, and the Divas pulled ahead, 27-14.

But just as the Divas looked like they might be pulling away, Boston had one more counter-punch. Adrienne Smith returned the ensuing kickoff to midfield, and then Whitney Zelee took command. Zelee – the MVP of the 2014 national championship game who shattered a women’s football record with an astonishing 3,020 rushing yards in 2013 – had been slowed by injury for most of the season. But she proved that, even when not fully healthy, she is still a formidable adversary. Zelee carried the ball three times on the drive and gained 49 yards, including a 30-yard scamper for a touchdown. The Renegades cut their deficit back down to 27-21 midway through the third quarter.

The Divas’ red-hot offense, however, continued to put pressure on Boston. Whisonant dazzled the fans when she caught a pass from Hamlin, broke a tackle, and reversed course all the way across the field, gaining 34 yards before being pushed out of bounds at the Boston ten-yard line. Two plays later, Whisonant drew a pass interference call in the end zone to give the Divas first and goal from the Boston two-yard line. Hamlin called her own number on a one-yard touchdown run, and the Divas built their advantage back up to 34-21.

A rare mistake by the Renegades gave the Divas’ defense the opening they needed. Tiamfook returned the kickoff 26 yards to near midfield and then gained four yards on two carries to set up third and six. On third down, the Renegades completed two forward passes on the same play, drawing an illegal forward pass penalty and setting up fourth and ten. Trailing by two scores at midfield, Boston decided to go for it. But Kucheria Eades batted down a pass intended for Smith and the Divas took over on downs, leading after three quarters, 34-21.

The Divas maintained their offensive momentum as the fourth quarter opened. Wilson – who finished the contest with five critical catches for 67 yards – snared a 20-yard pass from Hamlin to open the period. Three plays later, fullback Okiima Pickett dashed into the end zone from ten yards out to pad the Divas lead to 41-21.

The tricky, razzle-dazzle passing game of the Renegades finally began to backfire late in the contest. On a first down play at midfield, Boston attempted two laterals to set up a possible pass. But the second lateral was fumbled on a hit by Divas linebacker Kira Robinson, and Ashley Branch fell on it for the Divas at Boston’s 40-yard line.

The D.C. offense then put the game away with their seventh touchdown in eight offensive drives. Tight end Melissa Washington caught a 14-yard pass on fourth and 11 for a first down, and Ashley Whisonant finished off the drive with a spectacular nine-yard touchdown catch from Hamlin at the back of the end zone. The Divas went on top, 47-21, midway through the fourth quarter. Allyson Hamlin finished the contest completing 14 of 21 passes for 186 yards and three touchdowns, while adding two touchdowns rushing. All three of Hamlin’s scoring passes went to Whisonant, who made six grabs for 75 yards and a trio of touchdowns.

The Renegades began to press for big plays on offense, and Quiana Ford made them pay with an interception for the Divas. The Divas’ defense stepped up big in the second half, led by Tia Watkins’ seven tackles and Cherre Marshall, who added six. Trigger McNair and Dex Walker contributed four tackles each to the Divas’ defensive cause.

The Divas drove into Boston’s red zone and chewed up most of the remaining clock, turning the ball over on downs for the first time with 2:41 remaining in the contest. But Boston was quickly forced to punt, and the Divas ran out the clock on a convincing 47-21 victory to claim the 2016 WFA Eastern Conference championship.

The D.C. Divas are the first defending national champion in WFA history to repeat as conference champions and return to the national championship game the following year. After losing their opening contest of the season to the Dallas Elite, 40-19, the 2016 D.C. Divas have won nine games in a row to make it back to the national championship game. For the first time in WFA history, the national championship game will be a repeat of the previous season, as the Divas face the Dallas team that handed them their only blemish of the year.

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