Recap vs. Oklahoma City Lightning – August 5, 2006
D.C. Divas Clinch First National Championship With 28-7 Victory Over Oklahoma City Lightning
DC 28, Oklahoma City 7
By Neal Rozendaal
Recap • Statistics
Pittsburgh, PA – At long last, the D.C. Divas are the national champions of women’s football.
It took six years to reach the top of the mountain, but the Divas etched their names among the sport’s national champions Saturday just outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The D.C. Divas (11-0) clinched the National Women’s Football Association (NWFA) title by defeating the Oklahoma City Lightning, 28-7.
For the Divas, it was the end of a journey that started six years ago, when the team was founded in 2001. The steady growth of the franchise finally reached its peak Saturday, as the Divas decisively claimed victory in their first appearance in the national title game.
The Lightning (10-1) were denied an opportunity for their own coronation. In their fourth season, the Lightning were veterans of four Southern Conference championship games and were making their second appearance in the NWFA national title game. But while this contest was more competitive than the 52-0 defeat Oklahoma City suffered in the 2004 NWFA championship game against the Detroit Demolition, it was the Divas who ultimately came away with their first national championship in team history.
Motivated by a rousing pre-game speech from head coach Ezra Cooper, the Divas got out of the gates early. Rachelle Pecovsky, who would be named the MVP of the national title game, entered the game just 21 yards shy of the franchise single-season rushing record of 1,267, set by Donna Wilkinson in 2003. Pecovsky topped that mark on the Divas’ second play from scrimmage, breaking free for a 56-yard rushing touchdown. That score staked the Divas to a 6-0 lead mere minutes into the game, a lead the Divas would never relinquish.
“I knew it was going to be a great play and get good yardage,” Pecovsky said. “I didn’t expect that it would go for a touchdown, but I had a really good feeling about it.” Pecovsky tacked on another rushing touchdown before the first quarter was over, and the Divas led, 12-0, after one period.
The D.C. defense played an excellent game, neutralizing the Lightning’s fiery running back, Iliana Calderon. Calderon led the NWFA this season with 1,821 rushing yards and 28 rushing touchdowns in just nine games. But despite averaging over 200 yards and three touchdowns per game on the ground, the Divas held Calderon to just 83 rushing yards and kept her out of the end zone.
Still, although the Divas led the Lightning at halftime, 12-0, the game remained tight in the second half. It got even tighter when Oklahoma City quarterback Kim Mitchell scored a rushing touchdown on a keeper, cutting the Divas’ lead to 12-7 late in the third quarter. Mitchell became just the third player to score a touchdown against the Divas this season, joining Kenyetta Grigsby of the Baltimore Burn and Shelly Gates of the Columbus Comets.
But the Divas responded like champions. They returned the ensuing kickoff all the way back to the Oklahoma City 26-yard line, and Pecovsky rushed for her third touchdown of the game early in the fourth quarter. Pecovsky ended the game with 186 yards on 23 carries with three touchdowns. Fullback Lauren Pruitt, named the NWFA’s offensive rookie of the year, plowed into the end zone for a two-point conversion that put the Divas comfortably ahead, 20-7.
The D.C. defense, which pitched an impressive eight consecutive shutouts during the season, had already allowed a season-high seven points to the Lightning. That was all they would get, as the Divas’ defense smothered the Oklahoma City rushing attack.
Divas quarterback Allyson Hamlin put the finishing touch on the Divas’ national championship victory by rushing for a seven-yard touchdown with 2:28 remaining in the game. Hamlin threw just seven passes in the game, completing four of them, while the Divas made 42 rushing attempts. Donna Wilkinson, the former star Divas running back who moved to linebacker this offseason, played despite an ACL tear and rushed for the Divas’ final two-point conversion and a 28-7 triumph.
“I was thinking about all the years and the six-year players and the people who are possibly retiring,” Hamlin said. “It was awesome. It’s definitely the best moment of my athletic career.”
“We’ve been on a mission since day one to win the championship,” defensive back Raynette Savoy added. “It’s hard to explain the feeling. But we are the best…we are the champions.”
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