D.C. Divas to continue quest for gridiron glory

Host National Women’s Football Association semifinals Saturday

Thursday, July 20, 2006

If the D.C. Divas are going to capture their first National Women’s Football Association championship next month, the undefeated squad must do so on the strength of its stingy defense and punishing ground game.

Saturday night, the Divas (9-0) will host the North Conference championship game at the Prince George’s Sports and Learning Complex in Landover when the Columbus Comets (6-3), fresh off their 20-0 victory over the Pensacola Power, come to town. The winner of that contest will earn a trip to Pittsburgh for the Aug. 5, NFWA Super Bowl against the winner of this weekend’s Mass Mutiny-Oklahoma City game.

Adhering to the philosophy that ‘‘defense wins championships,” the Divas have limited their opponents to a grand total of one touchdown this season. The D.C. squad, which has outscored its foes 418-6 in nine games, including a 40-0 victory two weeks ago against the Chattanooga Locomotion in the league quarterfinals, will head into the conference championship game having blanked its last eight opponents.

‘‘Defensively, I can’t be any happier with how we’ve played,” said Divas’ coach Ezra Cooper. ‘‘We look at film on Monday and then practice on Tuesday. These women put in a lot of time, both in the film room and the practice field. Their hard work has paid off. We’d really like to get a chance to play for the championship in Pittsburgh.”

Through eight regular season games the Divas outgained their opponents by an average of 332 yards per game, limiting those squads to a grand total of 2 yards rushing. Two weekends ago against the Locomotion, the Divas were not quite as stingy as Chattanooga ran 37 times for 89 yards. Opponents have completed only 20 of 87 passes against the Divas.

During the regular season, linebacker Ivy Tillman led the squad with 44 total tackles, followed closely by Major Drea (34), Raynelle Savoy (29), Trigger McNair (27), T.K. Washington (23), Vickie Lucas (18), Stacey Michaels (13) and Donna Wilkinson (13). Drea has two interceptions and scored a touchdown, as has McNair. Michaels forced a safety in one game.

On offense, the Divas have relied primarily on the running of veteran back Rachelle Pecovsky, who is averaging more than 10 yards per carry this season. In eight regular season games, Pecovsky rushed for 1,087 yards and 16 touchdowns on 101 attempts. Her teammates added to the mix by rushing for another 1,005 yards and 21 touchdowns on 142 carries.

Pecovsky, who was a member of the Philadelphia Phoenix for five seasons and was an integral part of that team’s championship season in 2001, lives in the Tidewater area of Virginia and drives three hours to practice and to play.

‘‘They usually let me out of the film study on Monday knowing that I have such a long drive,” Pecovsky said. ‘‘But I don’t mind driving up for the practices. By the time I leave, I start to feel it on my way back home. That three-hour drive starts to catch up to me around midnight. But this is a great group of women. They practice hard and they play hard and they’re very determined to win a championship.”

Quarterback Allyson Hamlin, an Eleanor Roosevelt High School and University of Maryland graduate who works as a detective with the Prince George’s County Police Department, has completed 48 of 112 passes for nearly 800 yards and 13 touchdowns this season. Hamlin went 8 of 12 for 151 yards and two scores in the victory against Chattanooga last weekend and she also ran for a touchdown.

Some of the smaller members of the Divas have also made some big contributions. Kathryn Hemlock is the team’s place kicker and also plays at cornerback. Against the Locomotion, she converted on four extra point attempts and also returned an interception 71 yards for a touchdown. Lilah Blackstone, who is averaging 14 yards per punt return, also returned one for a touchdown.

E-mail Ted Black at tblack@gazette.net.