Recap vs. Chicago Force – April 29, 2017

D.C. Divas Drop Second Straight Heartbreaker in Final Minute, 28-21
Chicago 28, DC 21
By Neal Rozendaal

Springfield, VA – Over the last two weeks, the rebuilding D.C. Divas have proven that they can still compete with the best teams in the Women’s Football Alliance (WFA). The next step is to close the deal and pull out a win, but for now, it’s a step left untaken.

Australian import Kristy Moran ran for the game-winning touchdown with 55 seconds remaining, and the Chicago Force handed the Divas their second straight home loss by a 28-21 count. For the second week in a row, the Divas (2-2) rallied to tie the game late in regulation but could not come away with a signature victory.

The Force (4-0) entered the game leading the WFA with a scoring average of 84 points per game. Their vaunted offense flexed its muscles early. Cassey Brick returned the opening kickoff all the way to the D.C. 33-yard line, and Chicago quickly notched the first score of the contest. Force quarterback Sami Grisafe found Emily Vanderhayden for a ten-yard touchdown pass, and although the snap on the extra point was fumbled, Chicago had an early 6-0 lead just over two minutes into the game.

Last week against the Boston Renegades, the Divas also gave up a touchdown on their first defensive possession, but they responded with a touchdown of their own 14 seconds later. On Saturday, the Divas’ response to Chicago’s opening touchdown took just a bit longer – a total of 15 seconds.

Immediately following Vanderhayden’s score, D’Ajah Scott returned the ensuing kickoff 81 yards to the end zone for a Divas touchdown. Scott’s fourth career kick return touchdown tied the game, and kicker Stephanie Nealis drilled the extra point to give the Divas their first lead, 7-6.

The first big defensive play of the game was registered by veteran Divas defensive back Eleni Kotsis, who picked off Grisafe on Chicago’s next possession. The Divas’ first offensive drive was kept alive when quarterback Amanda Congialdi found Scott for a 38-yard reception on third and 24; D’Ajah Scott would lead the team with 108 receiving yards on six catches, in addition to her kickoff return touchdown.

But the Divas eventually turned the ball over on downs at the Chicago 29-yard line, and the Force responded with their most impressive scoring drive of the game. A long 71-yard march down the field culminated in a touchdown run for Chicago’s Kelsey Casey, and she then rushed for the two-point conversion to put Chicago back in front, 14-7.

The most controversial play of the game came on the Divas’ next series. Congialdi flipped a shovel pass to wide receiver Shaquanda Gainey, who could not make the catch. But Chicago fell on the ball, and the officials ruled that the pass had gone backwards, making it a lateral and a fumble recovery for Chicago at the D.C. 29-yard line.

The Force immediately capitalized on the momentum shift. On the very next play, Grisafe hit wide receiver Jessica Javelet for a 29-yard touchdown, their second in just over a minute of game time. The extra point kick was good, and Chicago had taken a commanding 21-7 lead.

Trailing by 14 points against a high-flying offense, the Divas decided on their next possession to go for it on fourth and two from their own 34-yard line. On the final play of the first quarter, it was found after a measurement that the Divas had narrowly picked up the required two yards and a first down by the length of the football. The Chicago Force seemed to be in total control of the game after 15 minutes, leading the home team, 21-7.

But that critical first down conversion at the end of the first quarter set the stage for a D.C. rally. The Divas offense would continue the drive and capped off a long, impressive march to the end zone with a 12-yard touchdown pass from Congialdi to wide receiver Kentrina Wilson. Wilson would end the game with four receptions for 82 yards and a touchdown, and the Divas’ first offensive score of the contest cut their deficit to 21-14 early in the second period.

The Divas then victimized Grisafe again; she threw her second interception of the first half when she was picked off by veteran Divas linebacker Cherre Marshall. Although the D.C. offense subsequently went three and out, a nice punt by Emily Grossman was downed at the four-yard line and pinned Chicago deep in their own territory.

Chicago and D.C. exchanged punts, and the Force took over at their own 15-yard line with less than two minutes remaining in the first half. It looked like it would be a seven-point game at halftime, but Chicago’s electrifying offense made it interesting. Several well-placed passes by Grisafe put the ball on the D.C. 43-yard line with six seconds left on the scoreboard.

Divas linebacker Tia Watkins slammed the door, however, sacking Grisafe as the first half ended. Watkins led an outstanding defensive effort with nine tackles and a sack, while Trigger McNair added 7.5 tackles. The D.C. Divas went to halftime trailing the Chicago Force, 21-14.

The Divas received the second half kickoff and began a time-consuming, methodical march toward the Chicago goal. D.C. had a first and goal just eight yards away from a game-tying score, but the Force defense stiffened and drove the Divas backwards over the next three plays. On fourth and goal, Nealis missed a 34-yard field goal wide left, and a drive that chewed up almost nine and a half minutes of game clock drew the Divas no closer to Chicago on the scoreboard.

The Chicago Force quickly countered the Divas’ drive with a long, impressive offensive march of their own. Cassey Brick caught a Grisafe pass for a first down and was pushed out of bounds at the D.C. eight-yard line as a fast-moving third quarter came to an end. Chicago led after three quarters, 21-14, and was threatening for more.

But the Divas defense came up big once more, with Watkins once again making a signature play. On fourth and goal from the one-yard line, the Force tried to run the ball over the goal line. Watkins met the Chicago ballcarrier at the line of scrimmage and stood her up for no gain in a ferocious collision, and the Divas regained possession with under ten minutes remaining in the contest.

The Divas’ dramatic goal line stand was followed by the team’s best offensive drive of the year. First, the offense picked up a couple of first downs to get the ball away from their own goal line, and then Congaldi found Wilson on a 51-yard pass for the longest offensive play of the season. Congialdi finished the drive by tossing a 13-yard touchdown pass to Shaquanda Gainey with 5:28 remaining in the contest.

Gainey’s first career touchdown pulled the Divas within a point, and for the second week in a row, Stephanie Nealis booted a clutch extra point kick through the uprights to tie the game late. The Divas’ superb 99-yard scoring drive evened the contest at 21-21. Congialdi ended the game with 249 yards on 19-of-28 passing and two touchdowns.

The Force picked up just one yard in three plays on their ensuing drive, and it looked as though the Divas had all the momentum when they took over following a Chicago punt. But Congialdi threw her only interception of the game with two and a half minutes remaining at the D.C. 37-yard line, and the potent Chicago offense took advantage.

The D.C. defense, which had held the Force scoreless since the first quarter of play, finally surrendered the deciding touchdown in the final minute. Kristy Moran broke to the Chicago sideline and into the end zone on a 17-yard touchdown run with 55 seconds remaining, and the Force went back on top, 28-21. The Divas tried to rally for a game-tying score, but they only made it to the Chicago 45-yard line when time expired in the contest.

The D.C. Divas conclude a difficult three-game stretch this Saturday, when they travel to Boston for a rematch with their archrivals, the Boston Renegades.

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