A powerful running game proved to be the factor in the DC Divas earning their first-ever WFA national championship and second title in franchise history. Facing off against a Dallas Elite squad that boasted the number one ranked defense in the nation, the Divas were slight underdogs, a position they had not been accustomed to during a dominant (and undefeated) season.
In the first quarter, the Divas took full advantage of clock possession, looking to exhaust the Elite defense. With Kenyatta Grigsby scoring the game’s first touchdown midway through the quarter, it placed the Elite in a rare position of being behind in a game.
Compounded by the frustration of being on the sideline for so long, the Elite offense did not appear in sync. An incomplete pass resulted in a fumble recovery by Safi Mojidi, as the Divas enjoyed remarkable field position. Lining up at the Elite seven-yard line, Grigsby scored on a two-yard run, as the Elite now suffered a 13 point deficit.
Heading into the second quarter, the Divas had a fourth-and-eighth situation. One of the few times in the first half that the Divas offense struggled, the ball was turned over on downs after an incomplete pass. Such an advantage worked in the Elite’s favor as Odessa Jenkins ran to daylight on a 20-yard run, providing her club with their first points of the game. With the two-point conversion unsuccessful, the Elite trailed by a 13-6 mark.
After the frustration of their last possession, the Divas offense wasted little time in adding to their lead. Allyson Hamlin, the only quarterback in Washington football history with 200 touchdown passes, connected with Ashley Whisonant on a 45-yard touchdown pass. With Stephanie Nealis converting the point after attempt, the Divas lead was extended to 14 points.
Despite Elite quarterback Jessica Gerhart orchestrating an 83-yard drive on their previous possession, such an occurrence would not repeat itself. Instead, Gerhart was intercepted by first-year player Quiana Ford. With the ball on the Elite 34-yard line, the Divas took full advantage as Okiima Pickett eventually scored on a 12-yard run.
Gerhart would redeem herself on the next possession. A sparkling 63-yard drive picked apart the Divas defense, culminating in a four-yard touchdown run, as the Divas lead was reduced to a 27-12 margin. Before the half would expire, the Divas had one more possession and were looking to demoralize their opponents with another scoring drive.
Employing a little risk, Hamlin attempted to connect with Kentrina Wilson for a touchdown. Under coverage, Wilson was unable to add to the Divas lead, as the Elite defense intercepted the ball, preventing a further deficit. Despite the risk not yielding the desired result, it proved to be only Hamlin’s second interception all season, testament to her laser-like accuracy.
In the third quarter, Gerhart showed tremendous poise as she assembled a 77-yard drive. Throwing for her first touchdown of the pass, the ensuing play was an unsuccessful two-point conversion, resulting in a 27-18 score. Taking into account that the Elite also had a failed two-point attempt in the first half, the final score would show that the PAT attempt on both attempts may have been the better strategy.
The next two offensive possessions of the game resulted in the Divas not only preserving their lead, but adding to it. A field goal by Nealis put the Divas ahead by 12 points. The Elite’s possession would result in frustration as the Divas defense forced a punt, adding to the pressure of mounting a comeback.
With a holding penalty nullifying a touchdown run by Grigsby, which would have also been her third of the contest, the thought of an Elite comeback was highly possible. Once again, Jenkins was the catalyst on offense for the Elite. Gerhart and Jenkins combined for the game’s finest play, a 55-yard touchdown. With their third attempt at a two-point conversion successful, the
Elite reduced the Divas lead to four points, 30-26. Had those other two-point attempts been just PAT’s, the score would have been 30-28, meaning that Dallas would have needed just a field goal to win.
Needing to recover an onside kick, the Elite tried valiantly, displaying tremendous effort. Luckily for the Divas, Whitney Simms managed to gain possession of the ball. Despite preventing the Elite offense from returning on the field, the Divas still needed a first down in order to win as their biggest opponent was the clock.
Three straight handoffs to Grigbsy resulted in nine yards of rushing offense. With six seconds remaining, the Divas needed just one yard to convert on fourth down. With the possibility of Dallas returning a punt for a touchdown, retaining possession and attempting one more rush seemed the more sensible plan. Although there was no denying that Gerhart would throw a hail mary had the Elite recovered on downs, Hamlin’s gutsy performance prevented such a scenario.
Despite being stonewalled by the Elite defense, Hamlin was still on her feet. As valuable seconds were still ticking away on the clock, she opted to leap forward again and try to surpass the line of scrimmage. Managing to grab that very valuable first down, the championship was now out of reach for the Elite, as the Divas were able to run out the clock.
Defensively, All-American Tia Watkins paced all Divas with 11.5 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss. Ranking second was Safi Mojidi, registering 6.5 tackles, along with a fumble recovery. Quiana Ford returned an interception for 23 yards, while Cherre Marshall had the Divas’ only forced fumble of the contest. At halftime, Watkins was recognized as the National Conference Defensive Player of the Year, while head coach Alison Fischer had the honor of WFA Coach of the Year bestowed upon her.
Averaging 5.2 yards per carry, the Divas utilized a running game in which 46 rushing attempts shredded the Elite defense for a total of 238 rushing yards and three touchdowns. WFA All-America selection Kenyatta Grigsby led the way for the Divas with an impressive 148 yards performance, racking up a pair of touchdowns.
Okiima Pickett would log the other rushing touchdown for the Divas, while accumulating 40 rushing yards, respectively. Longtime Divas player, Ashley Whisonant paced all Divas with 98 yards through the air, catching Allyson Hamlin’s only touchdown pass. Also competing on defense and special teams, Whisonant was recognized as the game’s Most Valuable Player.
References: Neal Rozendaal