Recap vs. Philadelphia Phantomz – April 1, 2017

Revamped D.C. Divas Down Philadelphia Phantomz, 28-8
DC 28, Philadelphia 8
By Neal Rozendaal

Philadelphia, PA – New coaching staff. New offense.

Same defense. Same results.

The D.C. Divas relied on their stellar defense and great offensive performances by a pair of hometown stars to defeat the Philadelphia Phantomz, 28-8. The Divas (1-0) improved to 12-5 all-time in season openers and started the 2017 season with an important win.

The Divas are the back-to-back defending champions of the Women’s Football Alliance, but 2017 appears to be a year of major changes under new head coach Greg Gaskins. For the last six seasons, the Divas’ offense has been led by quarterback Allyson Hamlin, running back Kenyetta Grigsby, and wide receiver Ashley Whisonant. Against the Phantomz, all three watched the contest from the sidelines as a young Divas offense gained valuable experience battling a tough opponent.

Amanda Congialdi played for five seasons as the quarterback of the now-defunct Philadelphia Firebirds before joining the Divas in 2016. With Hamlin on the sidelines mentoring her as the quarterbacks coach, Congialdi earned her first start under center with the Divas. Ironically, her debut as the Divas’ quarterback would come on the road in Philadelphia, where she spent several standout years with the Firebirds.

Congialdi guided the Divas’ young offense to paydirt on their first drive of the season. The Divas took the opening kickoff and drove the ball down the field for the first score of the game. Congialdi threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Kentrina Wilson just over three minutes into the game, and the Divas led, 7-0.

The Phantomz (0-1) immediately responded with a 58-yard scoring drive of their own. Quarterback Satoria Bell, who burned the Divas for three touchdowns when these two teams met last season, picked up where she left off in 2016. Bell scored on a run where she was met by a pair of Divas defenders inside the five-yard line and reached the ball over the goal line for the score. She then pitched the ball to a teammate on an option run for a successful two-point conversion, and Philadelphia jumped on top of the Divas, 8-7.

The Divas were forced to punt on their second possession, and the Phantomz were on the move again as the first quarter came to a close. But an incomplete pass on fourth down gave the Divas the ball at their own 40-yard line early in the second period, and D.C. would find the end zone again. Once more, it was Kentrina Wilson doing the damage.

Wilson played two seasons with the Philadelphia Firebirds alongside Congialdi before joining the Divas in 2014. With Ashley Whisonant watching the game in street clothes, Wilson put on a show in her first game in Philadelphia since suiting up for the Firebirds. Kentrina Wilson hauled in her second touchdown pass of the game from Congialdi with just under six minutes to go in the first half to put the Divas back in front, 14-8.

The end of the first half could have spelled disaster for the Divas. The D.C. defense once again halted the Phantomz offense and forced a punt, but the Divas’ punt returner touched the kick and Philadelphia recovered possession at the D.C. 14-yard line. The Phantomz had a first down inside the Divas’ red zone with a chance to reclaim the lead late in the first half.

But on the very next play, Divas linebacker Bisi Robinson recovered a Philadelphia fumble, ending the threat. The Divas punted the ball away with under a minute remaining in the half, and the teams went to the locker room with the Divas ahead at halftime, 14-8.

The Divas continued to play stellar defense in the second half, forcing a punt on Philadelphia’s first drive of the third quarter. The Divas’ offense, meanwhile, continued to adjust to their new personnel. Kenyetta Grigsby, the all-time leading rusher in WFA history, made her debut as the running backs coach for the Divas, and her players responded as the Divas utilized the running game more in the second half.

Facing fourth and two from the Phantomz’ 28-yard line midway through the third quarter, the Divas decided to go for it. Okiima Pickett took the handoff and powered toward the first down line. After a measurement, Pickett had picked up the first down by the length of the football. Okiima Pickett, a veteran presence and one of the Divas’ all-time leading rushers, earned the start at running back and responded with a terrific game.

Her first down gave the Divas momentum, and on the very next play, Congialdi found Wilson for a 26-yard touchdown pass. Their third scoring connection of the game put the Divas ahead, 21-8, after three quarters of play.

Sophomore running back Christiana Burton had a promising rookie year prematurely come to an end in 2016 after a season-ending injury against, ironically, the Philadelphia Phantomz. Burton made her first mark on the 2017 season by rushing for a two-yard touchdown, a score that essentially put the game out of reach for the Divas. Burton’s two-yard run gave the Divas a 28-8 lead with just over nine minutes left in the game.

The Divas’ defense played a terrific game and kept the Phantomz out of the end zone with two late interceptions. Trigger McNair and Eleni Kotsis both picked off Philadelphia passes late in the contest to preserve the Divas’ 20-point lead. After giving up a touchdown on Philadelphia’s opening drive, the Divas did not yield a single point the rest of the contest, and the D.C. Divas left Philly with a 28-8 victory over the Philadelphia Phantomz.

The Divas continue their 2017 season on the road next Saturday against the New York Sharks. The Divas then return to D.C. for their 2017 home opener on April 22 against the Boston Renegades.

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