Recap vs. Boston Renegades – April 22, 2017

Determined Divas Clipped by Rival Renegades in Overtime, 26-22
Boston 26, DC 22 (OT)
By Neal Rozendaal

Springfield, VA – For the first time in their 17-year history, the D.C. Divas played an overtime game Saturday.

Sadly, they are still in search of their first overtime win.

Boston running back Whitney Zelee scored on a nine-yard touchdown run to open the overtime session, and the Boston Renegades held on for a 26-22 victory in the Divas’ 2017 home opener. The rebuilding Divas challenged their rivals for 60 minutes and beyond, but they came up six yards short of a dramatic upset win.

The Renegades (2-0) entered the game with a powerful, feared offense, and they quickly showed why. Boston won the opening coin toss and immediately drove down the field into the D.C. red zone. The Renegades decided to go for it on fourth and goal from the Divas’ ten-yard line, and the gamble paid off when Renegades quarterback Allison Cahill found Emily Beinecke open in the end zone for the first score of the game. With less than five minutes gone in the contest, Boston held a 7-0 lead.

The Divas (2-1) have been searching for an offensive identity so far this season following the offseason retirements of quarterback Allyson Hamlin, running back Kenyetta Grigsby, and wide receiver Ashley Whisonant. But the Divas’ offense showed signs of life early against the Renegades. Kentrina Wilson recovered an onside kick by Boston near midfield, and on the first offensive play of the game, Whitney Simms bolted 48 yards for the game-tying score. Fourteen seconds after Boston took their first lead, the Divas pulled the game even, 7-7.

Both defenses then settled in, forcing the opposing offenses to punt after their next two possessions. Early in the second quarter, the Renegades made the first major mistake of the game when Cahill tried to force a pass into coverage on third down. D’Ajah Scott intercepted the throw and made a weaving return down to the Boston 18-yard line.

Blessed with a short field, the Divas picked up a first down and eventually faced fourth and goal from the two-yard line. D.C. decided to go for it, and Whitney Simms powered ahead to give the Divas their first lead with a two-yard scoring run. Simms led the Divas in rushing with 78 yards on 12 carries and two touchdowns, and although the extra point kick sailed wide right, the Divas had a 13-7 advantage.

The Renegades tried to respond with a long, time-consuming drive down the field, but the Divas’ defense rose to the occasion by stopping Renegades wide receiver Adrienne Smith three yards short of the marker on a fourth-down pass completion at the D.C. 28. The Divas’ offense could not take advantage, however, going three and out and punting the ball right back to Boston with just a few minutes left in the first half.

Boston’s second scoring drive of the game looked much like their first, as a nice offensive charge appeared to stall out and left the Renegades with a fourth and 13 situation at the D.C. 18-yard line. But once again, the Renegades kept the offense on the field on fourth and long, and once again, it paid off when Cahill found Beinecke in the end zone for her second touchdown catch of the day. Boston’s extra point kick sailed below the crossbar for a missed PAT, but with only 33 seconds left before halftime, the Renegades had come back to tie the Divas, 13-13. The Divas would run out the clock, and the two teams went to the locker room even on the scoreboard.

The D.C. Divas received the second half kickoff, but they were soon forced to punt. A nice drive by Boston – sustained by a fourth-down conversion near midfield – eventually short-circuited as well, but Vicky Eddy got off a nice punt that pinned the Divas back at their own seven-yard line.

With their backs to the goal line, the Divas’ offense went three and out and was forced to punt. Smith scooped up the punt off of a bounce and ran it back 27 yards to retake the lead for Boston, 20-13, late in the third quarter.

Kendra Bates, earning her first start at quarterback in a Divas uniform, managed the offense well through the first three quarters of the contest. But she threw an interception on the Divas’ ensuing possession, and Boston had the ball with a seven-point lead as time expired in the third quarter.

The Renegades mounted another drive toward the Divas’ goal, threatening to go ahead by two scores and put the game out of reach. But Genaya Davis swatted down a fourth-down pass Cahill intended for Smith in the end zone, and the Divas took over at their own two-yard line to end the threat. The Divas’ offense picked up a couple of first downs to drive the ball away from their own goal line and punted to midfield with just over nine minutes remaining in the game.

The Boston offense had another chance to get some breathing room on the scoreboard, but they were victimized by multiple penalties and found themselves facing fourth and 34 and a punting situation. A shanked punt by Boston flew out of bounds at their own 40-yard line, and the Divas took over with 5:41 left in the game, trailing, 20-13.

With time running low on the clock and down by a score, the Divas needed to turn to the passing game. Bates was relieved in the fourth quarter by Amanda Congialdi, and her passing arm would help set the stage for the Divas’ rally. Congialdi connected with her favorite receiving target, Kentrina Wilson, on multiple occasions on the drive, culminating in a seven-yard touchdown pass from Congialdi to Wilson with 2:03 left in the contest.

A mild rain falling throughout the first half created slightly wet conditions throughout the entire game. Kicker Stephanie Nealis lined up and booted through a critical, clutch extra point kick, and the Divas had rallied even with the Renegades again, 20-20.

Wilson’s score preceded a wild final two minutes, as both teams tried to win the game in regulation. Cahill threw incomplete on fourth down to turn the ball over on downs with 52 seconds remaining, and Congialdi threw incomplete on fourth down to give possession back to Boston on downs with 20 seconds left.

Cahill then completed two passes in a row, with her second toss leading the receiver out of bounds at the D.C. 23-yard line, stopping the clock with two seconds remaining. Callie Brownson made the final play of regulation for the Divas, intercepting a Cahill pass near the goal line to send the game to overtime. The Divas’ defense played a spectacular game, holding the powerful Boston offense to two offensive touchdowns in regulation and keeping them scoreless in the second half.

Following NCAA overtime rules, both teams would get a shot to score from the opposing 25-yard line. The Divas won the toss and elected to go on defense. The Renegades’ gameplan in overtime was simple and effective; they handed the ball to Whitney Zelee on three straight plays, and she showed why she is regarded as one of the best running backs in women’s football history. Her third and final carry of the overtime session was a nine-yard scamper up the middle for a Boston touchdown, and Boston’s first rushing touchdown of the game staked them to a 26-20 lead with the extra point attempt pending.

The slick conditions played a role in an electrifying shift in momentum. While attempting the extra point kick, the snap sailed through the Boston holder’s hands. Safi Mojidi raced in, scooped up the football, and returned it 84 yards for a stunning defensive two-point conversion. Mojidi’s play cut the Boston lead to 26-22 and gave the Divas the opportunity to win the game with a touchdown on their possession.

Unfortunately for the Divas, it was not meant to be. The Divas picked up nine yards on their first three plays and had a fourth and one from the 16-yard line. Congialdi carried the ball for two yards on a quarterback keeper to move the chains.

Three plays later, the Divas found themselves in a similar predicament, this time faced with fourth and two at the six-yard line. But this time, the Boston defense rose to the occasion, dropping Divas running back Okiima Pickett for a loss to end the game. After fighting for sixty minutes and beyond, the D.C. Divas absorbed a 26-22 overtime defeat to their archrivals in another epic chapter of the D.C.-Boston rivalry.

The Divas will have no time to dwell on their first defeat in over a year. The Divas host their second Eastern Conference championship contender in as many weeks this Saturday when they take on the visiting Chicago Force.

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