Recap vs. Boston Renegades – June 17, 2017

Three-Point Playoff Loss Dashes Divas’ Three-Peat Hopes, 27-24
Boston 27, DC 24
By Neal Rozendaal

Boston, MA – The D.C. Divas had not experienced the finality of a playoff loss in three years, and it can be easy to forget just how much they sting.

The Divas were dealt a tough reminder Saturday.

Boston quarterback Allison Cahill threw the game-winning touchdown pass to Chante Bonds with just over two minutes remaining, and the D.C. Divas let a late 11-point lead slip away, falling to the Boston Renegades, 27-24. The Divas missed a golden opportunity to pull a memorable upset over their undefeated rivals and instead saw their season come to a premature end with a conference semifinal loss.

The Divas (6-4) kicked off to start the game, and their defense made its presence felt early. Safi Mojidi intercepted Cahill and returned the ball to the Boston 42-yard line to give the Divas their first offensive possession. But the Renegades (8-0) got the ball right back three plays later with an interception of their own at the Boston 32-yard line.

Those interceptions were indicative of the defensive first quarter to follow. Both teams came up empty on their first three offensive series, with an interception followed by two punts. The Renegades went three and out and punted to the D.C. 46-yard line on their second drive, and the Divas’ offense showed a glimmer of life when quarterback Amanda Congialdi ran for a first down at the Boston 40. The drive stalled out after two incomplete passes, however, and the Divas pinned the Renegades at their own 17-yard line with a punt.

The two teams then traded punts after three and outs, and Boston took over at their own 23-yard line following the exchange. Boston running back Whitney Zelee gained 13 yards on a run to the sideline for a first down at the Boston 36, but three plays later, she was stopped for one yard to bring up fourth and two at the Boston 44 as time expired in a scoreless first quarter.

The Divas took over at their own 42-yard line early in the second quarter, and they mounted a long drive to notch the first score of the game. Congialdi completed a pass along the sideline to Shaquanda Gainey for 28 yards on third and nine to net a first down, and a strong run by Whitney Simms gave the Divas first and goal at the Boston seven-yard line. Although a holding penalty pushed the Divas back, Congialdi hit Kentrina Wilson with a 14-yard touchdown pass on third and goal to give the Divas the first lead of the game. Midway through the second quarter, the Divas led, 7-0.

The Renegades responded quickly on their ensuing drive. Passes from Cahill to Stacey Tiamfook and Adrienne Smith picked up first downs to get the Boston drive going. On third and 12, Cahill found Smith for a 45-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 7-7.

With under four minutes remaining in the first half, Boston then tried to surprise the Divas with an onside kick. Mojidi recovered the kick for the Divas and nearly scored with it before being narrowly tripped up at the Boston 11-yard line. After the Divas could only gain six yards on their next three plays, Stephanie Nealis kicked a 22-yard field goal to put the Divas back ahead, 10-7, with a minute and a half left in the second quarter.

The Renegades tried to rally for their first lead at the end of the first half. Boston returned the kickoff to midfield, and Cahill broke loose for a long run down to the Divas’ 18-yard line with seconds remaining in the half. But the Divas’ defense successfully defended three passes, including one that fell incomplete in the end zone as time ran out in the first half. The D.C. Divas led the Boston Renegades at halftime, 10-7.

Just as most of the first quarter was played on Boston’s side of the field, most of the third quarter was played in D.C. territory. The Divas recovered an onside kick to start the second half, but a third-down sack forced the Divas to punt just past midfield. Boston was only able to pick up one first down on their opening drive of the second half, but they pinned the Divas with a punt back at their own 19-yard line.

The Divas went three and out and were forced to give the Renegades the ball with excellent field position and a chance to take their first lead, but the Divas’ defense rose to the challenge again. Safi Mojidi made perhaps the most spectacular of her many interceptions this season, pulling in a Cahill pass for a diving interception at the Divas’ 20-yard line.

Two bad snaps would victimize the D.C. offense, however, and the Divas recovered the second fumble at their own one-yard line. A short punt gave Boston starting field position in the Divas’ red zone at the D.C. 16. The D.C. defense took tall, forcing a third and long situation, but a timely penalty gave the hometown Renegades a first down at the 14-yard line.

On the next play, Cahill found Emily Beinecke in the end zone for a touchdown that gave Boston their first lead of the contest. The extra point attempt was blocked, but the Renegades seized a 13-10 advantage on the scoreboard with under a minute remaining in the third quarter.

D’Ajah Scott opened the Divas’ next possession with a 15-yard run down to the Renegades’ 37-yard line. She was then stopped for a three-yard loss on the next play, and time expired in the third quarter with Boston holding a 13-10 lead over the Divas.

The Divas struck back quickly. A long pass to Wilson set the Divas up with first and goal at the Boston six-yard line, and Simms ran it in from there to put the Divas back in front, 17-13. The Divas trailed for less than two minutes before retaking the lead on Simms’ run with 14:02 left in the game.

The Renegades had already attempted two onside kicks in the game, so the Divas turned the tables on them with an onside kick attempt of their own. The Divas recovered the kick at the Boston 33-yard line, and they used five straight runs to find the end zone again.

Three rushing attempts by the Divas gave them a first down at the Boston 22-yard line. A false start cost the Divas five yards, but D’Ajah Scott ran for eight to set up second and seven. Congialdi pitched the ball to Scott on the next play, and Scott weaved her way through the Renegades defense for a 19-yard touchdown run. Nealis kicked the extra point, and the Divas had taken a 24-13 lead with just over ten minutes left in the game.

But Boston, who had won their last three games by a combined total of nine points, did not panic. They started the following drive from their own 41-yard line, and they turned to their star running back, Whitney Zelee. Three Zelee runs brought the ball down to the Divas’ 29-yard line, and the Renegades were on the move.

An incomplete pass and a tackle for loss brought up third and 14 from the 33-yard line. Cahill found Stephanie Pascual open for a critical 18-yard gain to convert the first down at the D.C. 15-yard line. Tiamfook took the carry on the next play, and the Divas’ defense dragged her down a yard short of the goal line.

A false start cost the Renegades five yards, but it proved to be a temporary setback. Cahill called her own number and ran the ball into the end zone from six yards out to get Boston right back in the game. Cahill then completed a pass to Smith for the two-point conversion, and Boston had cut their deficit to 24-21 with 6:17 remaining in the contest.

The Divas recovered their third onside kick of the game and returned it into Boston territory to the 45-yard line. Okiima Pickett carried the ball for four yards, as the Divas looked to run the clock. But disaster struck for the Divas on the next play when a failed handoff led to a fumble that Boston recovered at their own 45-yard line.

The D.C. defense held strong for two plays, forcing a third and ten. Cahill responded by swinging a pass to Smith for a ten-yard completion and a crucial first down in D.C. territory. Stacey Tiamfook gained 20 yards on two runs to advance the ball to the Divas’ 25-yard line, giving Boston a chance to retake the lead.

Chante Bonds took over for the Renegades at quarterback last season after Cahill went down with a season-ending injury, and the Divas knocked the Bonds-led Renegades out of the playoffs last year in the National (Eastern) Conference championship game. It was Bonds who came up with the final score Saturday, reeling in a 25-yard pass from Cahill for a touchdown with 2:13 left on the clock. Boston’s two touchdowns in a little over four minutes of game time gave the Renegades a 27-24 advantage.

The Divas had one last chance to rally with time running down. The Divas returned the kickoff to their own 48-yard line, and D’Ajah Scott caught a pass at the Boston 47. Kentrina Wilson then took over, catching a pass for a first down at the Boston 39-yard line and following that up with a 16-yard reception for a first down at the Renegades 23.

But the Divas were unable to get any closer. Three straight incompletions brought up fourth down, and the Divas faced fourth and ten with around a minute to go and trailing by three points. Stephanie Nealis, one of the top kickers in all of women’s football, came out to attempt a franchise-record 40-yard field goal that would have tied the game. The field goal attempt fell about a yard short of the goalposts, and the Renegades ran out the clock on a 27-24 victory.

The Boston Renegades will host the Chicago Force on July 8 in the Women’s Football Alliance (WFA) Eastern Conference championship game. The D.C. Divas end their season with a 6-4 record, having defeated six of the eight opponents they faced this year but suffering a three-game season sweep at the hands of their archrivals from Boston.