Recap vs. Richmond Black Widows – May 12, 2018

Efficient Offense Carries D.C. Divas to 61-12 Win over Richmond
DC 61, Richmond 12
By Neal Rozendaal

Richmond, VA – If the D.C. Divas want to contend for their third national title in four years, they will need an offense that puts points on the board at every opportunity. Saturday was a good start in that direction.

The Divas’ offense turned in one of their most efficient performances in team history – scoring eight touchdowns on all eight of their offensive possessions in the game – and the Divas’ defense held down a talented Richmond offense long enough to secure a 61-12 victory. The Divas improved their record to .500 on the year and spoiled the home debut of new Richmond head coach Brian West, who served as an assistant coach for the Divas from 2001-2003.

The Divas (2-2) kicked off to start the game and made a quick defensive stop, forcing a punt to near midfield. On the Divas’ first offensive possession, Shelly Freeman continued her strong play of late with a nine-yard run to the end zone. Stephanie Nealis converted her first of seven extra point kicks, and the Divas went out front, 7-0, with 9:37 remaining in the first quarter.

The Black Widows (3-1) promptly let the Divas know that they would not go down quietly. On Richmond’s next possession, Shermanda Fambro broke free down the sidelines and blew past the Divas’ defense for a 55-yard touchdown run. The Black Widows went for two and an early lead, but their pass fell incomplete and the Divas held on to a 7-6 advantage midway through the first quarter.

The Divas got those points right back on their next drive. D’Ajah Scott did the honors, plunging over the goal line from two yards out and padding the Divas’ lead to 14-6 with 3:11 remaining in the first period.

Once again, the Black Widows had an answer. Richmond quarterback Melyse Brown got the drive going with a terrific run down to the D.C. 37-yard line. Brown then completed a pass to Sherlanda Buskey, and Buskey advanced the ball all the way to the Divas’ 11-yard line as time expired in the first quarter. The Divas led after one period, 14-6.

With the Black Widows threatening, the Divas’ defense rose to the occasion. A ten-yard sack and a pair of stops brought up fourth and 20 from the D.C. 21-yard line, and defensive back Genaya Davis batted down a Richmond pass on fourth down to give the Divas the ball back in their own territory.

The biggest momentum shift of the game came two and a half minutes into the second quarter. D.C. quarterback Amanda Congialdi completed a long pass to star wide receiver Kentrina Wilson, and Wilson carried the ball to the Richmond 45-yard line. The Black Widows then forced a fumble that was scooped up by Buskey and returned all the way into the Divas’ red zone, and it appeared that Richmond had their first defensive stop of the contest.

But the Black Widows were flagged for a facemask penalty, which not only gave the Divas the ball back but awarded them a first down at the Richmond 30-yard line. One minute later, Congialdi found Shaquanda Gainey on a 30-yard touchdown pass. Nealis’ kick made the score 21-6 with 11:35 remaining in the first half.

Richmond made one last push to get back into the game. After starting from midfield, Sherlanda Buskey caught a pass from Brown, broke several D.C. tackle attempts, and made it all the way to the D.C. 18-yard line. Three D.C. penalties on three straight plays ultimately resulted in Richmond having a first-and-goal at the Divas’ one-yard line.

The D.C. defense responded by making a goal line stand and nearly breaking the game wide open in the process. Quiana Ford intercepted a Black Widows pass and appeared to return it 94 yards for a D.C. touchdown. However, D’Ajah Scott was flagged for a block in the back penalty on the play, which brought the ball back to the Divas’ three-yard line. But Ford’s interception allowed the Divas to regain possession and end the Richmond offensive threat.

Scott immediately atoned for her penalty with a piece of Divas history. The Divas picked up a first down at their own 14-yard line before Congialdi handed the ball off to Scott. D’Ajah Scott angled her way to the sideline and then outran the entire Black Widows defense for an 86-yard touchdown. Scott’s 86-yard rush was the longest run from scrimmage in the 18-year history of the D.C. Divas, breaking the previous record of 80 yards set by Monica Livingston in 2002 and matched by Natalie Randolph in 2007. Nealis’ kick attempt sailed wide, but the Divas led, 27-6, with 5:29 left in the first half.

Scott wasn’t finished. After the D.C. defense forced a three and out on Richmond’s next possession, Scott fielded the ensuing punt and returned it 65 yards for her third touchdown of the first half; it was the first punt return touchdown for the Divas since Ashley Whisonant ran one back for a score in a 2016 playoff game against the Pittsburgh Passion. Scott’s strike gave the Divas a 34-6 lead at the halftime intermission.

The Divas ended any thoughts of a Richmond rally right away as the third quarter began. The Divas returned the second-half kickoff back to the Black Widows’ 37-yard line, and Congialdi completed a 29-yard touchdown pass to Kentrina Wilson less than a minute into the second half. Nealis’ extra point attempt was blocked, but the Divas seized a commanding 40-6 advantage.

The Divas’ special teams unit came up with another big play when Mara Lockard recovered a Richmond fumble on the ensuing kickoff. That brought the Divas offense right back out onto the field in Black Widows territory, and Congialdi soon threw her third touchdown pass of the game to her third different receiver.

Lois McNeil first joined the Divas for one season back in 2004 and then played five years with the team from 2009-2013. Now going by the name Lois Cook, this seven-year veteran came out of retirement again for her third stint with the Divas in 2018. Cook made her first touchdown reception in a Divas uniform Saturday, hauling in Congialdi’s 18-yard touchdown throw to put the Divas in front, 47-6.

Richmond struck back with their second scoring drive of the game. Aided by a running clock, the Black Widows bled over ten and a half minutes of game time as they drove down into the Divas’ red zone. On fourth and goal from the nine-yard line, Richmond’s Melyse Brown avoided several tacklers, dove for the end zone, and stretched the ball over the goal line just before she hit the ground for an impressive touchdown run. The two-point conversion run was no good, but the Black Widows cut the deficit to 47-12 as the third quarter came to a close.

The running clock helped the fourth quarter go quickly as well. Shelly Freeman scored her second touchdown of the game on a three-yard run to make the score 54-12 with just under 11 minutes left in the contest. After a three and out and punt by Richmond, Okiima Trotter scored her first touchdown of the season by capping a 75-yard drive with a 12-yard plunge into the end zone. Pickett’s score with 55 seconds left in the contest made the final score 61-12 in favor of the D.C. Divas.

After starting the season with three road games in their first four games, the Divas are ready to host three home games in the next four weeks. The Divas’ home stand begins this Saturday against their archrivals, the Boston Renegades, who handed them a 21-14 defeat in their 2018 season opener.