Recap vs. Pittsburgh Passion – April 28, 2018

Pittsburgh Passion Hold Off Divas’ Comeback Bid, 32-27
Pittsburgh 32, DC 27
By Neal Rozendaal

Pittsburgh, PA – The last time the D.C. Divas visited Pittsburgh, they finished off a thrilling rally to win the 2016 national championship game over the Dallas Elite, 28-26.

The Divas nearly repeated the feat Saturday, but this time they came up one play short.

Two late D.C. touchdowns were not quite enough to snatch victory away from the Pittsburgh Passion, who secured an interception in the final minute of play to hold off the D.C. Divas, 32-27. The Divas suffered their second road loss this year to a top Eastern Conference contender, and once again, the Divas were one score away from coming out on top.

The Divas (1-2) were embroiled in an officiating controversy from their very first drive. D.C. took the opening kickoff and promptly drove down the field into the Passion’s red zone. On third and 11 from the Pittsburgh 14-yard line, quarterback Amanda Congialdi lofted a pass into the end zone for running back D’Ajah Scott. Scott reeled in the pass and fell to the ground, and the official initially threw both hands in the air to signal a touchdown before waving off the score, asserting that Scott did not maintain control throughout the catch. That reversal kept the Divas off the scoreboard for a time, as Stephanie Nealis’ 32-yard field goal attempt on fourth down was blocked and recovered by Pittsburgh.

The Passion (3-0) went largely to the running game on their first offensive drive, using several long runs to advance the ball to the Divas’ 31-yard line. After a nine-yard run by Pittsburgh’s Tara Catone on first down, the Divas’ defense stiffened. An incomplete pass in the end zone and a run for no gain by Catone brought up fourth and one from the D.C. 22, and Divas rookie Miteka Trueheart spilled Catone for a five-yard loss on fourth down to end the Passion scoring threat.

Pittsburgh would quickly get the ball back, however. After a first down run to near midfield, Scott was pulled down for a seven-yard loss. On second and 17, Congialdi’s pass was intercepted by Krystal Cozzo of Pittsburgh, who returned it to the Divas’ 40-yard line.

The D.C. defense maintained a stranglehold on the game, however. Facing fourth and 16 from the Divas’ 31, the Passion elected to go for it. But Pittsburgh quarterback Lisa Horton’s pass fell incomplete, and the Divas had another turnover on downs.

The Divas and Passion then exchanged three and outs. After the Divas punted to the Pittsburgh 20-yard line, Pittsburgh gained two yards in three plays and faced a punting situation of their own.

But the Passion punter was unable to corral a low snap, and the Divas swarmed the ballcarrier to take over possession at the Passion 12-yard line. Scott carried the ball for ten yards to the two-yard line, and then she took the ball again and this time toted it into the end zone. Stephanie Nealis booted the extra point, and with 25 seconds left in the first period, the Divas were out to a 7-0 lead.

As the second quarter began, the officials made their presence felt again. Horton found star wide receiver Angela Baker for a pass down to the Divas’ 27-yard line. A D.C. defender dragged Baker out of bounds by her hair, but the officials flagged the Divas for a 15-yard facemask that gave Pittsburgh first and ten from the 12-yard line.

Two plays later, the Passion faced third and four from the six-yard line. Lisa Horton was flushed from the pocket and scrambled to try to pick up a first down. As she tried to extend the play, Horton was hit near the first down marker and fumbled as she was going to the ground, and the Divas recovered the fumble inside the five-yard line. But the officials ruled Horton down before the fumble at the Divas’ three-yard line, bringing up fourth and one.

Incredibly, the next play had nearly the exact same result. On a designed quarterback draw by Horton, she was hit near the first down marker and again fumbled as she was going to the ground. Again the D.C. defense recovered, but again the officials ruled her down before the ball came out. This time, however, the officials also spotted her at the two-yard line to give Pittsburgh a first down.

On the very next play, Horton completed a two-yard touchdown pass to Krystal Cozzo. The potential game-tying extra point kick was missed, but the Divas’ lead was cut to 7-6 with 11:51 remaining in the first half.

The D.C. offense picked up one first down on their next drive when Congialdi broke off a 12-yard run on third and five down to the Pittsburgh 42-yard line. But the Divas then went four and out, turning the ball over on downs at the Passion 41.

Lisa Horton made a critical play for Pittsburgh on their next drive. The Passion decided to go for it on fourth and one at midfield, and Horton got the Divas’ defense to jump offside with a hard count that would have given Pittsburgh a first down anyway. Blessed with a free play, Horton tacked on the punishment by completing a 15-yard pass down to the D.C. 35-yard line.

Following two more big offensive plays, Horton found Baker for a four-yard touchdown pass to seize the lead. A two-point conversion pass fell incomplete, but the Passion were ahead, 12-7, with just over four minutes left in the half.

Things went from bad to worse for the Divas, as momentum had clearly shifted to the home sideline. On third and five near midfield, Pittsburgh’s Miashanti Smith jumped the passing route, intercepted Congialdi’s pass, and returned it all the way back to the Divas’ 20-yard line.

The Passion were only able to gain one yard in the next three plays, but on fourth and nine, Horton completed a 19-yard touchdown pass to Sharon Vasquez. That pass was the 200th career touchdown pass of Horton’s remarkable career. The extra point kick was good, and the Divas went behind by a 19-7 score with 54 second left before halftime. The Divas would trail by 12 at halftime, the largest halftime deficit for the Divas since trailing by 14 at intermission the last time they faced the Passion in 2017.

The Divas fell into an even deeper hole as the second half got underway. The Passion took the opening kickoff after halftime and drove right down the field. Lisa Horton completed a 13-yard pass to Angela Baker on fourth and ten from the Divas’ 48-yard line to keep the drive going, their fourth straight fourth down conversion.

Several plays later, they faced another fourth down, this time a fourth and one from the ten-yard line. Just as she did in the first half, Horton got the Divas’ defense to jump offside with a hard snap count, resulting in a five-yard penalty and another first down. On first and goal, Horton tossed a five-yard touchdown pass to Baker for the score. The Divas had scored the first touchdown of the game, but now they had surrendered four straight unanswered touchdowns and found themselves trailing, 26-7, midway through the third quarter.

The D.C. offense countered with some fourth down magic of their own. Facing fourth and four from the Passion 45, Congialdi completed a long pass to Kentrina Wilson that gained 20 yards for a first down. A holding penalty threatened to derail the drive and brought up third and 20. But Congialdi scrambled on a broken play to pick up 12 yards, and then she found Wilson again on fourth and eight for a nine-yard gain and another first down.

Kentrina Wilson had been the star on this drive with two critical fourth-down receptions, so it was only appropriate that she cashed in with the Divas’ first receiving score of the game. Although the extra point kick was blocked, Wilson’s nine-yard touchdown catch pulled the Divas back within 26-13 with 1:38 remaining in the third quarter.

The Divas still trailed by two touchdowns as the fourth quarter began, but the Passion were threatening again. The opening play of the final period was a long pass from Horton to Baker, who came up just short on a dive for the end zone at the two-yard line. Ebony Montgomery entered the game at quarterback for Pittsburgh, and while her first two draw plays were stopped for no gain, she optioned to the right on third down and pitched the ball to Kia Foster for a two-yard score. The extra point kick was no good, but the Passion extended their advantage to 32-13 with a minute and a half gone in the fourth period.

With just over 11 minutes left in the contest, the Divas turned the ball over on downs again at the Pittsburgh 42. A long pass by Horton put the ball in Divas territory, and the Passion offense was threatening again. But then Whitney Simms came up with an interception of a Horton pass and made a great return down to the Pittsburgh 45-yard line; Simms was slammed down by her hair at the conclusion of the play, which, unlike in the first quarter, the officials correctly ruled as no penalty.

Simms’ pick sparked the D.C. offense. On third and one, Shaquanda Gainey pulled in a 19-yard pass from Congialdi at the Passion 17. Congialdi followed that up on the next play with another long throw, a 17-yard touchdown pass to Kentrina Wilson. The extra point kick got the Divas within 32-20 with 7:43 left in the game. Kentrina Wilson ended the contest with eight catches for 83 yards and two touchdowns.

The Passion recovered the ensuing onside kick and once again threatened to score. With third and eight from the Divas’ 19-yard line, Horton flipped the ball to Baker, who broke a tackle and appeared to be in the clear for the game-clinching touchdown. But Quiana Ford flew in and made a touchdown-saving tackle, getting Baker’s knee on the ground just before she broke the goal line and setting up first and goal from the one.

Although the Passion were still in a prime position to score, the Divas’ defense came up big with their backs to the goal. Miteka Trueheart pressured Horton out of the pocket, which gave Kianna Murphy time to come through with a huge sack back at the nine-yard line. Two plays later, Pittsburgh faced fourth and goal from the nine with just over three minutes left in the game.

Lisa Horton threw the pass over the middle, and it was intercepted by veteran Divas linebacker Trigger McNair. With a Pittsburgh defender closing in, McNair flipped the ball to Ford, who returned the interception all the way to midfield to set up the D.C. offense. Miteka Trueheart led Divas with 9.5 tackles, including three tackles for loss, Trigger McNair added 7.5 tackles, and Genaya Davis recorded seven. Quiana Ford registered 6.5 tackles, and Kianna Murphy and Tia Watkins added five each.

Amanda Congialdi ran the two-minute offense to perfection, mixing short passes to Wilson, Lois Cook, and Courtney Smith with a 13-yard run to get the ball to the Passion three-yard line. Then she called her own number, scoring on a three-yard run with 1:12 remaining on the clock. Amanda Congialdi completed 16 passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns, and she was also the Divas’ leading rusher with 100 yards on 14 carries and one touchdown. Congialdi’s touchdown cut the Divas’ deficit to just five points, 32-27.

The Passion recovered the onside kick at midfield, and with the Divas in possession of only two timeouts, it looked like the Passion were going to be able to run out the clock on a victory. But there was still some excitement to come in the final minute.

The Passion ran two plays but remained inbounds, forcing the Divas to call their final timeout with 57 seconds to play and Pittsburgh facing third and nine. On third down, rather than run a safe play inbounds, the Passion tried to end the game with a first down pass. But the throw fell incomplete, stopping the clock and bringing up a likely punting situation on fourth and nine from midfield with 51 seconds remaining.

Pittsburgh rolled the dice again, deciding to go for it on fourth down rather than pin the Divas deep. Once again, their risk did not pay off as Horton’s fourth down pass was deflected at the line of scrimmage and fell incomplete, giving the Divas possession of the ball at midfield with 45 seconds left and a chance to win the game.

However, the Passion defense ultimately made the key play to salvage a victory. Congialdi dropped back to pass and appeared to have a wide receiver open behind the defense for a potential game-winning score. But Pittsburgh pass rush got home to Congialdi, hitting her arm as she released the ball. The wobbly pass came up well short of its target, and Angela Baker sealed the deal by intercepting the pass to preserve Pittsburgh’s 32-27 victory.

The Divas now get a well-deserved bye week before five games in five weeks to end the regular season. The Divas return to action on May 12 on the road against the Richmond Black Widows.