SPRINGFIELD, Virginia — After a challenging midseason stretch, the back-to-back defending national champion D.C. Divas are trying to recapture their dominant form in time for the Women’s Football Alliance (WFA) playoffs. Saturday was a good step in that
Quarterback Amanda Congialdi threw three touchdown passes and rushed for another, the defense forced four Carolina turnovers, and the D.C. Divas bounced back with a solid 41-22 victory over the Carolina Phoenix.
The Divas registered their first win since April 8 while handing the previously undefeated Phoenix their first loss of the year.
The Divas (3-3) were held scoreless in their last outing for the first time in seven years, but they wasted little time getting back on the scoreboard in this game, thanks to an assist from their dominant defense. On Carolina’s first offensive play of the game, Safi Mojidi intercepted a pass and returned it 34 yards before being pushed out of bounds at the Carolina 10-yard line. It was a short drive from there to the end zone, and Congialdi hit wide receiver Kentrina Wilson with a nine-yard touchdown pass that put the Divas on top, 6-0, three and a half minutes into the game.
The Phoenix (5-1) were unable to solve the Divas’ defense in the first half, but they got off a good punt deep into D.C. territory. The Divas’ offense responded with a terrific 83-yard drive for another touchdown, capped by a touchdown reception from Shaquanda Gainey. Congialdi found Gainey open behind the Phoenix defense for a 35-yard score, and the extra point kick was good to expand the Divas’ lead to 13-0. Gainey would end the game with five catches for 53 yards and a touchdown.
Carolina then executed their first of several outstanding kickoff returns on the day, running the subsequent kickoff all the way down to the D.C. 32. The Divas’ defense rose to the challenge, however, forcing an incomplete pass on fourth and goal to get the Divas the ball back as the first quarter expired. The Divas led after one frame, 13-0.
The Divas and Phoenix exchanged punts early in the second quarter, but D’Ajah Scott
took over on the next D.C. possession. She raced for an apparent 64-yard touchdown, but the play was called back by a holding penalty. Unfazed, Scott rushed for 21 yards and 33 yards on her next two carries, with the second one setting the offense up at the Carolina seven-yard line. Christiana Burton finished off the long scoring drive of the game with a four-yard touchdown run, and the Divas seized a 20-0 advantage.
Carolina once again got off a great kick return into D.C. territory, and with a solid offensive drive, they faced a third and one from the D.C. nine-yard line. But the Divas’ defense held strong once again. Veteran defensive lineman Dex Walker crashed through to tackle Carolina’s Porschia Holmes for a five-yard loss, and the Divas forced an incomplete pass on fourth down to take over possession at their own 15-yard line.
The Divas’ defense was led by Quiana Ford and Kira Robinson with five tackles each; Mojidi would add 4.5 tackles along with two interceptions, while Bisi Robinson and Trigger McNair both registered four tackles as well.
D.C. capped off perhaps their best offensive half of the season with a third long drive for a touchdown. On the 11th play of the drive, Congialdi found Wilson for an 11-yard touchdown pass. Wilson’s second touchdown reception of the day with just over a minute remaining in the first half provided the Divas a commanding 27-0 lead. Kentrina Wilson finished the contest with seven catches for 65 yards and two touchdowns.
The Divas carried their 27-0 lead into intermission, where the team had a ceremony to recognize the third class of the D.C. Divas Hall of Fame. Tara Kallal, Nikki Williams, Alison Fischer, and Joyce and George Marfull were recognized for their years of outstanding contributions to the organization.
After perhaps their best half of the entire season, the Divas came out sluggish in the
third quarter while the Phoenix came out on fire. Carolina received the kickoff to start the second half and quickly showed that this game was far from over. Hannah DeGraffinreed converted a fourth and two near midfield with a 14-yard run, and two plays later, Carolina quarterback Jennifer King found Holmes for a 27-yard touchdown pass. The two-point conversion attempt was good, and the Phoenix cut into the Divas’ lead, 27-8, early in the third quarter.
A deep kick along with a penalty gave the Divas their worst starting field position of the game at their own five-yard line. The two teams then engaged in a sequence where neither team seemed to want to keep the football, beginning when the Divas threw an interception that was picked off by Carolina near midfield.
Bisi Robinson bailed the offense out, forcing a Carolina fumble that was recovered by Eleni Kotsis. Yet the D.C. offense gave the ball right back two plays later with a fumble of their own, and the Phoenix made the Divas pay for their second straight turnover. King found Holmes for another touchdown pass, and although this two-point conversion attempt was no good, the D.C. lead had tightened to 27-14 with 2:14 left in the third quarter.
Carolina then attempted the onside kick, which was narrowly recovered by the Divas near midfield. In maybe the biggest play of the game, D’Ajah Scott dramatically shifted the momentum back to the home sideline with an electrifying 50-yard run up the middle for a Divas touchdown. Scott’s run gave the Divas some much-needed breathing room and extended the lead back out to 34-14. D’Ajah Scott had a terrific day on the ground, rushing for 153 yards and a touchdown on only nine carries.
However, the Divas weren’t out of the woods yet. For the third time in the game, the Phoenix returned the ensuing kickoff deep into D.C. territory, this time down to the 25-yard line. With their backs against the wall once again, the Divas’ defense got the stop they needed. On fourth and long, Monica Milton and Kira Robinson dropped King for a one-yard gain to regain possession for the Divas as the third period expired. The Divas led after three quarters, 34-14.
Early in the final quarter, the Divas’ running game would put the contest out of reach
for good. The Divas went on a 71-yard drive for the game-clinching score using nothing but running plays, the longest of which was a 36-yard scamper by Congialdi where she was pushed out of bounds a yard short of the goal line. She finished the drive two plays later with a two-yard touchdown run, and the Divas went on top, 41-14.
Congialdi then left the game having completed 15 of 23 passes for 146 yards and three touchdowns along with a rushing touchdown.
The D.C. defense made sure that there would be no dramatic comeback on this day by forcing two turnovers on the next two Carolina drives. Trigger McNair forced a
fumble that was recovered by fellow veteran linebacker Cherre Marshall, and on Carolina’s next possession, Mojidi picked off her second pass of the game.
Following both turnovers, the Divas’ offensive reserves turned the ball over on downs deep in Carolina territory. The Divas finally began to substitute liberally on defense as well, and the Carolina Phoenix notched one final score. Jurica Hargraves ripped off a 49-yard run to put the ball in D.C. territory and then finished the drive with a 25-yard touchdown dash. The two-point conversion was good as well, and Carolina cut the deficit to 41-22 with three minutes left in the game.
But the home team ran out the clock from there.
The Divas return to action Saturday for their last home game of the regular season, hosting the Pittsburgh Passion in a game with major playoff implications.