Recap vs. New York Sharks – June 9, 2018

D.C. Divas Nearly Flawless In 55-6 Rout of New York Sharks
DC 55, New York 6
By Neal Rozendaal

Landover, MD – The D.C. Divas entered the final week of the regular season with a tenuous grasp of the #1 ranking in the Women’s Football Alliance (WFA) Eastern Conference standings. The Divas knew that with a strong performance against an excellent New York Sharks team Saturday night, they could secure home field advantage throughout the upcoming WFA playoffs.

The Divas needed to win convincingly, and they did. Boy, did they ever.

The offense scored a touchdown on all eight of their possessions in the game, the defense allowed just one first down outside of penalty, and the D.C. Divas rolled over the New York Sharks, 55-6, in one of their most impressive performances in recent years. The Divas locked up home field advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs and look to be peaking at the right time as they entertain the possibility of their third national championship game appearance in the last four years.

After a 20-minute delay for lightning, the Divas (6-2) chose to receive the opening kickoff. It took four plays until D’Ajah Scott broke off a terrific 49-yard run to the end zone to put the Divas on the board first. The snap on the extra point kick attempt went awry and the Divas fell on it for an unsuccessful PAT, but the Divas still led, 6-0, early in the contest.

The Sharks (6-2) are primarily a passing team offensively, and their offense would struggle all night in the wet, rainy conditions against the powerful Divas defense. The Sharks’ first offensive play led to a 15-yard facemask penalty on the Divas and an automatic first down; that would be the Sharks’ only first down for the first 55 minutes of the game. Soon after, Kianna Murphy closed in on New York quarterback Karen Mulligan as she dropped back to pass and knocked the ball free, and linebacker Tia Watkins recovered the fumble for the Divas at the Sharks’ 40-yard line.

D.C. quarterback Amanda Congialdi drew the Sharks defense offside on third and two to earn the Divas a first down at the 27-yard line, and then an 11-yard pass to wide receiver Kentrina Wilson gave the Divas a first down in the New York red zone. Congialdi soon threw her first scoring pass of the evening, with Shaquanda Gainey making a tough grab in traffic on third down for a 15-yard touchdown reception. Stephanie Nealis would convert all seven of her extra point kick attempts, and her first PAT put the Divas in front, 13-0, with 6:50 left in the first quarter.

The Sharks went three and out on their second drive and were forced to punt, and D’Ajah Scott nearly rocked the Sharks again. Scott reeled in the kick and returned it over sixty yards for an apparent touchdown, but the score was wiped out by a questionable blocking penalty that placed the ball back at the Divas’ 47-yard line.

The D.C. offense went to work again, and not even another penalty setback could slow them down. After a first down, a holding call had the Divas facing first and 20 from their own 48-yard line. But Okiima Trotter gained almost all of the penalty yardage back on a nine-yard run, and on third and nine, Gainey struck again with a great reception for 31 yards to give the Divas first and goal from the 10-yard line. Two plays later, Trotter powered into the end zone from six yards out to give the Divas the lead, 20-0, with just nine seconds left in the first period.

As the second quarter began, the D.C. Divas’ defense continued to assert their dominance. Three incomplete passes forced the Sharks to punt again to the Divas’ 41-yard line.

The Divas started to break out some big plays on their first drive of the second quarter. Two long catches by Wilson for 25 and 16 yards, respectively, netted first downs, and Shelly Freeman had a 15-yard run mixed in the drive as well. Freeman capped off the charge with a six-yard burst into the end zone, and the margin was 27-0 in favor of the Divas with 10:15 left in the first half.

Momentum was clearly on the Divas’ side at that point, and D’Ajah Scott kept the ball rolling when she recovered the ensuing kickoff for the Divas at the Sharks’ 45-yard line. An 11-yard run by Christiana Burton started the drive, but it looked as though the offense would be stalled by another holding penalty that brought up second and 20. Undeterred, Congialdi rushed for 13 yards to make it third and seven, and Freeman responded with an eight-yard run for a first down at the New York 23-yard line.

On fourth and eight, the Divas decided to go for it. Congialdi threw a pass to the end zone, and Lois Cook hauled it in and tiptoed her way in for a touchdown. Cook’s touchdown reception gave the Divas a 34-0 lead with just over five minutes left in the first half.

After losing two yards in three plays, the Sharks were again forced to punt on their next drive, with the Divas taking over at their own 23. The Divas’ offense polished off a magnificent half by putting together a 77-yard scoring drive. It got off to a quick start when Curtina Pope made a dazzling 25-yard run into New York territory. Kentrina Wilson then got into the scoring action, reeling in a 42-yard pass from Congialdi for a touchdown. Six different players scored touchdowns in the first half as the Divas seized a 41-0 advantage with just over a minute left in the second quarter, and that was the score heading into the halftime break.

With the prospect of more lightning looming, a running clock was instituted after halftime, which made the second half move extremely quickly. The Sharks received the second half kickoff, and Miteka Trueheart soon cashed in on New York’s third turnover of the game. Trueheart snared Mulligan’s pass and returned it to the Sharks’ 37-yard line, setting the Divas’ offense up for success again.

Three runs by Shelly Freeman netted 23 yards to the New York 14, and Christiana Burton then toted the ball for eight yards down to the six-yard line. Freeman finished it from there, carrying the ball the final six yards into the end zone for her second touchdown of the contest. The Divas led, 48-0, midway through the third quarter.

On their next drive, the Sharks gained nine yards on first down and were threatening for their first non-penalty first down of the game. But the D.C. defense forced three straight incomplete passes, with Kucheria Eades swatting down a pass on fourth and one to turn the Sharks over on downs at their own 39-yard line. The Divas’ defense allowed just three non-penalty yards of offense and no non-penalty first downs in the first three quarters of play.

The Divas would only have time for two more offensive plays in the third quarter before the running clock signaled the end of the third period with the Divas on top, 48-0.

Courtney Smith started the fourth quarter with an eight-yard reception on third and seven to net the Divas a first down at the New York 28. Curtina Pope then made another sparkling run, this time for 20 yards to bring up first and goal at the eight-yard line. After a three-yard run by Pope, Okiima Trotter scored her second touchdown of the game on a five-yard blast over the goal line. The Divas held a 55-0 lead with 11:10 left in the game.

The running clock was running even faster now, and the Sharks went three and out after gaining no yards and were forced to punt with six minutes remaining in the contest. But then the Divas, who had played a nearly flawless game to that point, made their first of two rare miscues on the evening. The Divas’ punt returner touched the ball on the ensuing punt, and the Sharks recovered the fumble at the Divas’ 32-yard line with five and a half minutes left in the game.

On the very next play, Karen Mulligan dropped back and found Brilynn Fields behind the D.C. defense for a 32-yard touchdown pass with just under five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. The pass resulted in the final points scored in the regular season in New York Sharks history, and it also counted as the Sharks’ first and only non-penalty first down of the contest. The extra point kick attempt sailed wide of the mark, but the Sharks eluded a shutout, 55-6.

The Sharks kicked off but were penalized and forced to re-kick, and by the time the Divas recovered the second kickoff, the rapidly running clock signaled the end of the game. The D.C. Divas defeated the New York Sharks, 55-6, and held on to their claim as the winningest team in the history of women’s football.

The Sharks, who have announced that the 2018 season will be their last, concluded their final regular season with an all-time record of 130-46. Their 130 victories are the second-most in women’s football history, behind the D.C. Divas’ all-time record of 132-42. Despite the loss, the Sharks – who compete in the WFA’s Division II – earned the top seed in the WFA2 Eastern Conference playoffs and will have home field advantage throughout the playoffs themselves.

For the D.C. Divas, their victory locked up home field advantage in the Eastern Conference playoffs in the WFA’s Division I. The Divas will make their 15th postseason appearance in franchise history – a women’s football record they will share with the Sharks – on June 30 at home against the Atlanta Phoenix in an Eastern Conference semifinal matchup.