Divas take down Passion in playoffs
Team advances to Independent Women's Football League Eastern Conference Championship
The D.C. Divas got big plays from their offense, defense and nearly another from the special teams en route to a 27-17 victory over the Pittsburgh Passion Saturday evening in the opening round of the Independent Women's Football League playoffs.
The Divas (9-0) will travel to face the Boston Militia (9-0) in the Eastern Conference Championship game on July 11. The Divas were in line to play host to the contest, but when the new IWFL power rankings came out after last weekend's games, Boston had replaced D.C. as the league's top-ranked team, thereby earning home-field advantage. The Militia's 20-point victory against Dallas lifted them past the Divas, who won by 10. The league power rankings take margin of victory into account.
Boston defeated the Dallas Diamonds, 34-14, in the other Eastern Conference opening round contest on Saturday. The Militia defeated the Divas in the 2008 season opener in Boston.
As they did in a 27-7 loss to the Divas on May 2, the Passion (7-2) opened the Saturday's game with two drives that took them deep into D.C. territory. But the Divas' defense stiffened on both occasions and forced the first turnover of the night. One play after Pittsburgh stopped the Divas on a fourth-and-goal play, Passion quarterback Lisa Horton fumbled and Sharina Western recovered for the Divas at the Pittsburgh 17-yard line.
La Shawn Foust carried twice for 12 yards, and Tiffany Matthews went the last five for a touchdown. Kathryn Hemlock's extra point gave the Divas a 7-0 lead. But much of the next two quarters belonged to the Passion. Horton guided the visitors on a 13-play drive that covered 61 yards and spanned the last 6 minutes, 39 seconds of the first half. It ended with a 27-yard field goal from Lauren Brocco, who carried six times for 21 yards on the drive.
Pittsburgh took the second half kickoff and went 69 yards, completing the drive in sharp fashion when Amanda Haeg, the team's leading rusher during the regular season with 408 yards on 59 carries, went 11 yards off left tackle to give the visitors a 10-7 lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, Tara Stephenson found a seam and went 70 yards for an apparent Divas' touchdown. But the return was nullified by a block in the back penalty. Denied the quick score, the Divas began to drive. Quarterback Allyson Hamlin connected with Stephenson on a 33-yard wide receiver screen pass. Matthews had a 15-yard run, and Hamlin connected with Stephenson in the left corner of the end zone for a 14-yard strike and a 14-10 lead.
Hemlock made her presence known on the Passion's next possession. On third and 10 from the Pittsburgh 14-yard line, Horton tried to hit Lori Johnson on a sideline pattern, but Hemlock jumped the route, intercepted the pass and returned it to the Passion 1-yard-line. On the next play, Rachelle Pecovsky-Bentley scored on her first carry of the game to give the Divas a 20-10 lead.
"I was just waiting to make a play and I saw my chance there, so I took it," Hemlock said. "I headed down the sideline and reached for the pylon with the ball. I thought I got in."
Pittsburgh committed several penalties on the first possession of the fourth quarter and turned the ball over on downs. The Divas countered with a 10-play, 34-yard drive that took more than four minutes off the clock and ended when Matthews scored from 2 yards out to make it 27-10.
As they did in the regular season meeting, the Passion cored in the last two minutes of the game. After a Hamlin fumble, Haeg found the end zone for the second time. Pittsburgh attempted an onside kick, but Donna Wilkinson recovered the ball to preserve the victory for the Divas.
"Our defensive line got pressure, but it wasn't consistent," Divas' coach Keith Howard said. "We just played slow tonight. We didn't play fast. Kathryn made a great play defensively. Now that was playing fast. Tara Stephenson is just amazing. She had a great kickoff return called back and then she made some great plays on offense."
Update: This story originally reported the Divas would play host to the Eastern Conference Championship game, but new power rankings released by the Independent Women's Football League on Monday require the team to travel to Boston for the playoff game.