Washington, DC – Games like this are what women’s football is all about. Two highly-rated teams collide in a game with major playoff implications when the D.C. Divas square off against the Cleveland Fusion Saturday night.
The D.C. Divas (6-0) are ranked #1 in the Women’s Football Alliance and hold the top ranking in the sport for the first time since 2011. The Divas kept their undefeated record alive last Saturday with an impressive 54-0 road victory over the Atlanta Phoenix. The Divas overcame three uncharacteristic first half fumbles and dominated play coming out of the halftime break to earn a hard-fought victory.
“We didn’t start out the way we wanted to or planned,” Divas head coach Alison Fischer confessed. “We got off to a very slow start in the first half. We had some turnovers and had a little bit of trouble running the ball. But we picked it up offensively towards the end of the first half and into the second half.”
The Divas’ defense set the tone for the game by recovering seven Atlanta turnovers, including five in the third quarter alone. The Divas have held five of their six opponents this season to less than seven points.
“Defensively, I thought we did pretty well, and that kept us in the game. The defense held when they needed to,” Fischer said. “Our defense continues to gel and get better every week, and that’s what we’re looking for. As long as they continue to hustle and get to the ball, we feel confident they’re going to make plays.”
The Divas now return home for their final two games of the regular season, including Saturday’s clash with the Cleveland Fusion. The Fusion (5-1) are ranked #5 in the Women’s Football Alliance and have historically been rated as one of the top teams in women’s football, year in and year out. Yet despite their storied histories and close geographical proximity, the Divas and Fusion have only met one time, over ten years ago: an 18-0 Divas victory on April 16, 2005.
Offensively, the 2015 Fusion have some outstanding playmakers, led by Beth Andrasik, who in her fourth season has developed into one of the top quarterbacks in women’s football. She has thrown for over 1,000 passing yards each of the past two seasons and has improved every year under center. Andrasik threw 19 touchdown passes to 13 interceptions in 2013 and improved on that ratio last season when she tossed 20 touchdowns against just seven picks. So far this year, Andrasik has 14 touchdown passes to only two interceptions.
Andrasik’s emergence as a top quarterback in women’s football has coincided with the establishment of third-year Fusion wideout Maria Jackson as one of the best receivers in the women’s game. Jackson leads the WFA in touchdown receptions with 14, already setting a career high in that category and reaching the double-digit mark in touchdown scores for the third straight year. In addition to leading the league in touchdown receptions, Jackson ranks second in the league in overall catches and receiving yards behind Kansas City’s Liz Sowers.
The passing connection of Andrasik and Jackson has been complemented nicely by the running of newcomer Mercedes Ephraim. Ephraim is currently leading the WFA in rushing with 921 rushing yards on the season. Overall, these three standouts have helped the Fusion compile one of the top scoring offenses in the WFA.
On the other side of the ball, Cleveland has been very solid defensively, boasting the #2-ranked defense in women’s football. The Fusion’s defense is ranked behind only the defense of the D.C. Divas, making Saturday’s game a clash between two of the best defensive units in the sport.
“They’re a very solid team,” Coach Fischer noted. “They have some really good athletes, and they’re very disciplined and well-coached. They’ve got a very high ranking, and they deserve it.”
The contest Saturday will largely decide the Mid-Atlantic Division championship. If the Divas want to extend their women’s football record and capture their 12th division title in 13 years, they will need to give their best performance against an elite opponent.
“We expect this to be a real dogfight,” Fischer continued. “We know they are going to bring their A-game. We’re going to give it right back to them, and it should be a great game.”
The playoff implications for this contest are enormous, as Coach Fischer well knows. “It looks like the winner of this game will likely have home field advantage for the first two rounds of the playoffs, and the loser might have to travel immediately in the first round. You always want to be at home during the playoffs and not make that road trip, so this game is absolutely huge as far as playoff seeding is concerned.”
In their quest to obtain home-field advantage through the first two rounds of the WFA playoffs, the Divas have one distinct edge over the Fusion: the Divas get to play this critical match in D.C. “It’s great playing at home,” Fischer said. “It’s a huge advantage and we’re happy to have this game here.”
The Divas’ 2015 Homecoming contest is tomorrow night, Saturday, June 6, against the Cleveland Fusion. Kickoff will be at 6 PM at the Prince George’s Sports Complex in Landover. Homecoming festivities will be highlighted by a halftime ceremony honoring the D.C. Divas Hall of Fame Class of 2015: Tessa Nelson, Gayle Dilla, Vickie Lucas, and Coach Ezra Cooper. Single-game tickets are $12 with discounts for seniors, students, and service members. Buy your tickets online today!