Recap vs. Pittsburgh Passion – May 27, 2017

Blocked Kick Propels Divas to First Overtime Win over Pittsburgh, 35-34
DC 35, Pittsburgh 34 (OT)
By Neal Rozendaal

Springfield, VA – Earlier this season, the D.C. Divas played an overtime game for the first time in their 17-year history. But a 26-22 loss to the Boston Renegades left them still in search of their first overtime win.

On Saturday, the Divas found what they were searching for.

Veteran linebacker Trigger McNair blocked Pittsburgh’s attempted game-tying extra point kick in overtime, and the D.C. Divas walked off with a dramatic 35-34 victory over the Pittsburgh Passion. The Divas (4-3) saw their third game this season decided in the final minute of play, but this time the Divas made the key plays down the stretch to come away with a memorable win.

The Passion (5-2) came into the game with the top-ranked offense in the nation, and they showed why in the first half. Pittsburgh took the opening kickoff and wasted little time driving down the field for the first points of the game. Janice Masters has replaced the legendary Lisa Horton as the primary quarterback of the Pittsburgh Passion this year, while Horton has transitioned into one of the league’s top wide receivers. Masters found Horton in the end zone for a nine-yard touchdown pass, and less than three and a half minutes into the game, Pittsburgh led, 7-0.

The Divas gambled on their first offensive drive, going for it on fourth and one near midfield. A two-yard sneak by Divas quarterback Amanda Congialdi picked up a first down, and D.C. continued a long march into Pittsburgh’s red zone. But an extended drive ended when the Divas threw incomplete on fourth down, and the Passion took over at their own 19-yard line.

The defenses quickly settled in, and both teams exchanged punts on their next possession. The Passion were driving again into D.C. territory when the first quarter came to a close with Pittsburgh on top, 7-0.

The Passion would expand their lead a few minutes into the second quarter when Masters threw her second touchdown pass of the contest, this one to Angela Baker. Baker’s nine-yard reception put the Passion ahead by two touchdowns, 14-0.

On their ensuing possession, the Divas found themselves in a deep hole when consecutive penalties brought up a second and 43 situation at their own 30-yard line. Even a 15-yard run by D’Ajah Scott still left the Divas with third and long in their own territory.

But on third and 28, Scott took the ball and broke free for the longest offensive play of the game, zooming through the Pittsburgh defense for a 55-yard touchdown. The extra point kick by Stephanie Nealis was successful, and the Divas cut the deficit to 14-7 with 9:14 remaining until halftime.

Pittsburgh immediately responded in turn with their longest play of the game. Masters connected with Horton on a pass, and Horton shoveled the ball back to Ashley O’Neil for a huge gain. Safi Mojidi eventually ran O’Neil down from behind for the Divas, but not before the clever hook-and-ladder play picked up 40 yards.

The Passion took a gamble a few plays later, faced with fourth and one at the D.C. 21-yard line. Masters hit Baker with a four-yard pass completion, and Pittsburgh had a first down in the Divas’ red zone.

With their goal line in danger, the Divas’ defense made their first big play of the contest. Tia Watkins drilled the Passion ballcarrier and forced a fumble, and Cherre Marshall recovered the ball at the Divas’ 30-yard line. The Divas’ reprieve was short-lived, however, because the offense gave the Passion the ball right back a few plays later on a fumble of their own near midfield.

Just as they did their previous possession, the Passion picked up nine yards in three plays and decided to go for it on fourth and one. Masters gained two yards to the Divas’ 39-yard line on a quarterback sneak to move the chains. She then completed a ten-yard pass to Baker to the 29-yard line for another first down.

But disaster struck for the Passion on the next play. Masters dropped back to pass, and Trigger McNair sacked her for an eight-yard loss. Janice Masters was injured on the play and left the game after throwing two first-half touchdowns; she would not return.

Losing their starting quarterback would be a devastating blow for most teams, but the Pittsburgh Passion had veteran Lisa Horton – one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the sport – lining up at wide receiver. After Masters’ injury, Lisa Horton took over the reins of the Pittsburgh offense and finished out the game at quarterback.

Horton instantly revived the Passion drive. After a sack and a holding penalty had the Passion facing second and 28, Horton guided the team to a first down. Then with just 26 seconds remaining in the first half, Horton found Baker for a ten-yard touchdown pass. Baker’s second touchdown catch of the game put Pittsburgh in front, 21-7.

Even with very little time left in the first half, the Divas weren’t ready to go to the locker room just yet. The Divas returned the kickoff to their own 46-yard line with 20 seconds remaining, and Congialdi completed a 22-yard pass to Shaquanda Gainey at the Passion 32 before spending a timeout with 14 seconds left before halftime.

Congialdi tossed a pass to Scott along the Pittsburgh sideline, which she appeared to catch at the 18-yard line before stepping out of bounds to stop the clock with five seconds remaining. But the officials ruled that she stepped out of bounds before fully securing the pass and called the pass incomplete.

The Divas then had time for just one final play before intermission. Congialdi threw the ball up to Kentrina Wilson, who broke a Pittsburgh tackle and raced into the end zone for an apparent 32-yard touchdown. But the officials flagged Wilson for illegal touching, saying that she had been forced out of bounds by the Pittsburgh defender and – despite re-establishing herself inbounds before the pass arrived – therefore could not be the first player to touch the forward pass. With that penalty, time expired in the first half, and the D.C. Divas went to the locker room trailing the Pittsburgh Passion, 21-7.

Wilson would get her revenge early in the second half. She returned the second half kickoff to the 50-yard line, and three plays later, Wilson got her first official touchdown reception of the game on a 35-yard pass from Congialdi. Nealis kicked the extra point, and the Divas had pulled within a score again, 21-14, early in the third quarter.

The Pittsburgh Passion got that score right back with Lisa Horton now settled in at quarterback. Horton completed an eight-yard pass to Angela Baker on fourth and seven to retain possession for Pittsburgh, and Tara Catone capped off an impressive ten-play drive with a five-yard touchdown run. Catone’s score restored Pittsburgh’s two-touchdown lead at 28-14 with 6:30 remaining in the third period.

However, the Divas’ offense responded with a drive that was eerily similar to the one Pittsburgh just completed. The Divas avoided a turnover on downs when Congialdi found Kentrina Wilson for a four-yard pass on fourth and three, and on the tenth play of the drive, Congialdi took it in herself from one yard out for the Divas touchdown. Congialdi’s rushing score cut the Divas’ deficit to 28-21 with just over a minute and a half left in the third quarter.

Pittsburgh’s top-ranked offense was on the move again when the third quarter expired. The Passion had scored four touchdowns in six possessions, and they showed no signs of slowing down early in the fourth quarter. Facing fourth and five from the D.C. 14-yard line, Horton completed a 12-yard pass to Baker to give the Passion first and goal two yards short of the end zone.

But with exactly 12 minutes remaining in regulation, linebacker Trigger McNair made another one of the plays that has made her a women’s football legend. McNair, a 19-year veteran who began her women’s football career back in 1999, fell on a Pittsburgh fumble at the four-yard line to keep the Passion from extending the lead back out to 14 points.

The Divas’ offense picked up one first down to get the ball out of danger, but the drive stalled from there and they were forced to punt to their own 41-yard line. The Passion immediately threatened again, and Horton ran for 24 yards to pick up a first down at the Divas’ 12-yard line.

The Divas’ defense survived the threat by forcing their second turnover of the fourth quarter. Genaya Davis intercepted a Horton pass and returned it to the Divas’ 25-yard line with 6:46 left in the contest.

With time running down, the Divas’ offense came through in the clutch, mounting a 75-yard march to pull even with the visitors. The big play of the drive came when Wilson hauled in a 25-yard pass and tacked on an additional 15 yards on a personal foul penalty. That play took the ball from the Divas’ 30-yard line to the opposing one, and another personal foul penalty later in the drive gave the Divas possession in the red zone at the Pittsburgh 14.

Gainey caught a seven-yard pass before an incompletion brought up third down and three. Less than two minutes remained on the clock when D’Ajah Scott darted through the Pittsburgh defense for a seven-yard touchdown. Stephanie Nealis drilled a clutch extra point kick, and the Divas tied the game, 28-28, with 1:44 remaining in regulation.

That set up a wild finish to the fourth quarter, as both teams threatened to score. Pittsburgh returned the kickoff to their own 39-yard line, and Baker ran for an 11-yard gain to midfield. The drive stalled, however, thanks to a penalty and two incomplete passes.

On third and long, Horton’s pass was intercepted by Scott, who returned it to the Passion 31-yard line with 37 seconds left in regulation. The third turnover recovered by the Divas’ defense in the fourth quarter gave D.C. a chance to win the game in regulation. But the Divas would only pick up six yards on four plays, and Congialdi threw incomplete on fourth down as time expired in the fourth quarter.

The D.C. Divas had not played an overtime game in their first 16 years of existence, but they went to overtime for the second time in 2017 after finding themselves tied with the Pittsburgh Passion, 28-28, after sixty minutes of play. NCAA overtime rules were in effect, giving both teams one possession at their opponent’s 25-yard line. Pittsburgh won the toss and wisely elected to begin on defense, sending the Divas’ offense out on the field first.

Two running plays picked up six yards for the Divas to the 19-yard line, where they faced third and four. Congialdi completed a pass to Wilson for an eight-yard gain and a critical first down at the 11. On the next play, Congialdi took off running, found a seam in the Pittsburgh defense, and dove over the goal line for a D.C. touchdown. Nealis again booted a crucial extra point, and the Divas had their first lead of the game, 35-28, halfway through the first overtime.

The Passion now had a possession to counter the Divas’ touchdown. Following a two-yard run by Catone, Horton connected with Baker for a 16-yard gain to give Pittsburgh first and goal from the seven-yard line. Tia Watkins drilled Catone for a six-yard loss on first down, but on second down, Horton found Baker for a 13-yard touchdown pass. Baker’s third touchdown reception of the game cut the deficit to 35-34 with the extra point pending.

Pittsburgh lined up to attempt the extra point kick that would send the game to a second overtime session. The two kickers in this game had combined for nine successful PAT conversions in nine attempts, but the Divas’ special teams sealed the game in dramatic fashion. Trigger McNair broke through the middle of the Pittsburgh line and blocked the kick attempt, clinching a one-point win for the Divas, 35-34.

With the victory, the Divas are in solid position to assure themselves a home game in the first round of the upcoming playoffs. The D.C. Divas will conclude their 2017 regular season on the road next week against the Atlanta Phoenix.

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