New quarterback finds groove for Divas
Hemlock tosses two touchdown passes as D.C. routs Baltimore
Though she made her first start at quarterback Saturday night for the D.C. Divas of the Independent Women's Football League, Kathryn Hemlock maintained her role as the place kicker and punter and she even returned several punts.
With Hemlock's versatile contribution, the Divas cruised to a 54-6 victory over the Baltimore Nighthawks in front of roughly 1,400 fans at the Prince George's Sports and Learning Complex in Landover.
Hemlock, an Alexandria, Va., attorney who graduated with a law degree from American University in Washington, D.C. three years ago, took over the signal-calling duties from longtime Divas' quarterback Allyson Hamlin, who opted not to return this spring. Hamlin led the Divas to last year's IWFL title game, where the local squad suffered a 21-18 setback to Kansas City. But the Eleanor Roosevelt High School and University of Maryland, College Park, graduate, who is a Prince George's County homicide detective, hung up her cleats and helmet this spring.
The start of the Divas' Hemlock era was inauspicious at best. On the Divas' first play from scrimmage, Hemlock fumbled the handoff and the Nighthawks recovered. A penalty gave the Nighthawks a first-and-goal situation, but the Divas' defense stiffened and held Baltimore out of the end zone. Following a short Hemlock punt, the Nighthawks started their next drive in D.C. territory and reached the Divas' 12-yard line before the defense again stopped the threat.
"I think we all had a few butterflies at first," said Hemlock, who eventually threw two touchdown passes, connected on two extra point attempts and returned a punt 19 yards to set up one score. "We have a lot of new players and a lot of players in new positions. We were a little out of sync at first, but once we got going we were fine. The offensive line did an excellent job. We've had a lot of change this year, but the one constant has been the offensive line. They're tremendous."
After the Divas' first four plays netted just 3 yards, the next five amassed 85 yards, and veteran running back Tiffany Matthews accounted for most of them. An Alexandria, Va., firefighter by day, Matthews nearly single-handedly torched the Nighthawks on that drive. She opened with a 10-yard run, watched Okiima Pickett carry twice for 11 yards and then scampered 61 yards for the first score of the game.
"We started off a little slow, but once the blocking kicked in we were in good shape," said Matthews, who ran for another touchdown and turned a short Hemlock outlet pass into a long scoring play.
"We have a lot of new faces here this year. But even with that the goals haven't changed. We're still thinking about a championship. We let one get away last year, but you put it behind you and you move on. We'll get a big test next week when we go to New York [to face the Sharks]."
Hemlock returned a punt 19 yards to the Nighthawks' 22-yard line, and three plays later she completed her first pass, connecting with veteran wide receiver Tara Stephenson for 13 yards to the Baltimore 6-yard line. On first and goal, Pickett finished the drive with a short run off left tackle. The Divas nearly added a third touchdown in the first quarter, but Hemlock had her next pass intercepted by Baltimore's Kendra Bates at the Nighthawks' 5-yard line.
Hemlock redeemed herself admirably in the second quarter. After Matthews rumbled 56 yards for her second score and Baltimore quarterback Lil Drummond countered with a 66-yard touchdown run, Hemlock connected with Matthews on a 45-yard scoring toss midway through the period. She hit Stephenson on a simple post pattern for a 31-yard scoring strike with 1:30 left in the half.
"We kept talking about the defense having nine players at the line to take away our running plays," Stephenson said. "So I kept telling [Hemlock] that the post was open. She floated it out there perfectly and I just ran under it. It was a nice way to start the season. Now we have to go to New York next weekend and face the Sharks and they're always tough."
New York began its season with a 64-0 win against the Philadelphia Firebirds on Saturday.
E-mail Ted Black at email@example.com.