The Pittsburgh Passion (6-2) open the first round of the National Conference playoffs in the Women’s Football Alliance Saturday, June 10 at home against the Atlanta Phoenix (6-2). The clash gets underway at 7:00 p.m. at Titan Stadium, behind Shaler Middle School in Glenshaw, Pennsylvania.
Saturday marks the 10th time since the 2007 campaign for Teresa Conn’s squad to enter the postseason. It is also the second straight season the Black and Gold welcome the Blue, Orange, and White to the City of Bridges. Last June, Pittsburgh weathered a 24-point rally in the second-half by Atlanta to claim a 35-24 victory at West Allegheny High School at the beginning of the WFA playoffs.
Coming into this weekend, the Massey Ratings raised the Passion up one slot to No. 3 while the Phoenix slipped down three spots to No. 18. Which team’s coaches and players are prepared to move forward in this week’s playoff challenge?
PASSION PRIMED AND READY
After quarterback Janice Masters had gone down to an injury in the second quarter of the D.C. Divas game, Lisa Horton took over the duties under center. The 5-foot-6 signal caller led the Black and Gold to 17-3 victory over the Comets (4-4) in Columbus a week ago to close out the season.
Horton connected on 10 of 14 passes for 136 yards, one interception, and a touchdown in collecting her 85th victory as a starting quarterback. She is responsible for 250 Passion touchdowns with 191 passing, 52 rushing, and seven receiving. Horton added WFA first-team All-American honors as a wide receiver in 2017.
Angela Baker, an alternate at first team All-American wide receiver, hauled in eight passes for 118 yards and a touchdown against Columbus. The versatile athlete from Carnegie, Pennsylvania also led the squad this season with a trio of interceptions.
There is always a fresh pair of legs to keep the ground game moving. Gabrielle O’Neil had 68 yards rushing against the Comets and 690 for the season. The Second Team All-American tailback had a total of 12 touchdowns – nine rushing, one receiving along with one kickoff and one punt return for a score.
Kia Foster chipped in 13 rushing yards against the Women of Mid-Ohio and 530 yards for the season. Tara Catone tallied 67 yards and a touchdown in securing the win over Columbus and averaged 4.3 yards-per-carry.
Each contest, the offensive line, under co-offensive coördinator Steve Scureman, works hard to manage the line of scrimmage. The remarkable unit of Kaitlain Niedermeyer, Lauren Ferragonio, Second Team All-American center Samantha Simeone, Kate Sullivan, and Kim Zubovic is central to the success of the Black and Gold’s offense.
The win over the Comets was the second time this season the defense, under co-defensive coordinators Stephanie Balochko and Jaharia Filmore, held the opposing team to single digits. Leading the charge was Second Team All-American defensive tackle Kaitlain Niedermeyer with eight tackles. It is the first time since she joined the Passion in 2010 that she is the leading tackler during the regular season with 48 stops.
Linebacker and Second Team All-American Tia Montgomery recorded three tackles and was second overall with 46. Defensive lineman and First Team All-American Chelsea Zahn claimed four tackles against Columbus and led the Black and Gold this season with 8.5 sacks and 13 tackles for a loss.
Helping to keep the opponent’s offense in check are First Team All-American free safety Kim Beaver, First Team All-American defensive end Kim Zubovic, defensive back Krystal Cozzo, and inside linebacker Hannah Daman.
Pittsburgh’s special teams got a boost in the win over Columbus as second-year wide receiver Peyton Hieb hit a 31-yard field goal attempt, and made a pair of point-after kicks. Hieb is the first player in the history of the team to kick a field goal and score a touchdown in her career.
FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX
Atlanta wrapped up the 2017 campaign with a 34-0 loss at home last week to the D.C. Divas. Despite a couple of opportunities in the Red Zone, it was the only match-up this season where they failed to put up a minimum of 30 points in the box score. Four times this season, the Phoenix went over the 50-point mark.
Offense coordinator Eric Brinn’s gang recorded 325 points over eight regular-season contests. The leader of the effective ground attack is First Team All-American running back Ronkia Toombs. Help in the backfield comes from Brittney Smith and Marcie Myers. Smith was also the Blue, Orange, and White’s leading pass catcher followed by Third Team All-American wide receiver Chavala Jones.
Head coach and defense coordinator, Brian Montgomery’s squad, allowed just 127 points on defense and put up three shutouts. Linebacker and First Team All-American Carla Odom led Atlanta in total tackles, tackles for a loss, and forced fumbles. Defensive end and First Team All-American Jenitra “J.Roc” Shields and linebacker Lavonda Thompson were the second leading tacklers. Cornerback and Second Team All-American Chanee Key is one of the Phoenix leaders in pass deflections.
Katherine Williamson is a solid contributor on special teams as she handles the place-kicking chores. If the scoreboard is close near the end, she could be a factor in the Phoenix rising to victory.
My Prediction: Fans of the Black and Gold enjoy a 30-21 victory this Saturday night.
Next Up: The winner of the match-up visits the Land of Lincoln Saturday, June 17, for a battle with the Chicago Force (7-1) at Evanston Township High School in Illinois. Kick-off for this second-round meeting is 6:00 p.m. CT.
From The Clipboard: The other first-round contest this Saturday in the National Conference of the WFA has the D.C. Divas (5-3) hosting the Cleveland Fusion (5-3) at Lee High School in Springfield, Virginia. The winner goes on to meet the Boston Renegades (7-0) in West Roxbury, MA.
The Kansas City Titans (4-4) head to the Gopher State Saturday, June 17 to confront the Minnesota Vixen (6-2) in the first round of the American Conference playoffs. The Dallas Elite (6-0) awaits the victor. The last first-round meeting this Saturday has the Pacific Warriors (5-3) at home to face the San Diego Surge (5-3). The winning squad moves on to challenge the Central Cal War Angels (7-0).
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