The Pittsburgh Passion (7-2) stood together and turned back the challenge of the Atlanta Phoenix (6-3) 34-14 at home last Saturday in the first round of the Women’s Football Alliance playoffs. Coming into the second round, the Black and Gold travel Saturday, June 17, for a confrontation in Illinois with the Chicago Force (7-1) at Lazier Field, part of Evanston Township High School. This WFA National Conference match-up gets underway at 6:00 p.m. CT.
Followers of both Division 1 squads saw what their teams were capable of on offense last June as the Women of the Windy City claimed a 48-33 victory at home over the Women of Steel to wrap up the 2016 regular season. The Force won their only WFA National Championship in 2013, an 81-34 triumph against the Dallas Diamonds.
Entering the third weekend of June, the Massey Ratings has the Force ranked at No. 2 and the Passion slipping down three slots to No. 6. The crew at Massey places the over/under for this scuffle at 66.5. Another high-scoring meeting could be on tap.
PASSION READY TO ATTACK
Everyone at Titan Stadium, behind Shaler Middle School last week saw the Women of Steel build a 28-7 lead by halftime against the Women of the Peach State, and cruise through the second half to victory.
Janice Masters, injured in the second quarter of the Week 7 game against the D.C. Divas, was back calling the plays and threw for 139 passing yards and a touchdown. The 5-foot-8 quarterback has not had a pass intercepted in 2017. Pittsburgh’s wide receiving tandem of Angela Baker and Lisa Horton came up with seven receptions for 111 yards and a touchdown between them.
For the second time, this season, the running back trio of Gabrielle O’Neil, Kia Foster, and Tara Catone each contributed a touchdown to the box score. O’Neil led the way in her first playoff appearance with 65 yards on eight carries and a total of two trips to the end zone.
When it was time for head coach Teresa Conn’s defense to ground the Phoenix, inside linebacker Hannah Daman led the way with eight tackles and an interception while Catone at free safety contributed seven stops and one interception. Defensive end Chelsea Zahn chipped in a pair of sacks and a half-dozen tackles. Rookie linebacker Kelcei Edmonds added four stops of her own and a sack.
Rookie linebacker Rhondasia Shaw and second-year defensive back Kellie Bell met at the quarterback for a combined sack on the final play of the game in the conquest over Atlanta.
Peyton Hieb continues to make an impression on special teams as she hit four of her five point-after attempts and contributed four significant punts against the Phoenix. The Pittsburgh native came through with a career best 54-yard punt in the fourth quarter.
RESOLUTION OF THE FORCE
While two of Chicago’s seven victories came by forfeiture this season, the offense of the Force assaulted the score sheet for a total of 285 points in their six remaining contests where they went 5-1. The Black, Red, and White put up a minimum of 44 points in four of their five walkovers.
Running the prolific offense for head coach John Konecki is quarterback Samantha Grisafe, back under center after a two-year hiatus. The 5-foot-11 signal caller completed 112 of 169 passes for 1591 yards, four interceptions, and 21 touchdowns.
Wide receivers Tamika Robinson and Cassey Brick along with running back Emma Vanderheyden combined for 14 of Grisafe’s scoring strikes. Another wide out, Jeanette Gray added four touchdown receptions to the box score and is one of Chicago’s top kickoff return specialists.
Kristy “Special K” Moran rushed for 640 yards on 84 attempts and 12 touchdowns. The 5-foot-5 rookie running back averaged 7.6 yards-per-carry, and her longest run went 82 yards.
Chicago’s mean crew under defensive coördinator Trace Capps surrendered just 66 points in six meetings and delivered three shutouts. The linebacking duo of Kelsey Casey and Mary Choules, plus defensive end Sonja Drangsholt, were the top three leading tacklers for the Force. Veteran defensive linemen Kimberly Marks and Angelique Smith respectively had nine and eight sacks each.
Kicker Julie Harshbarger was perfect in making all 13 of her point-after attempts and connected on two field goals. The longest traveled 43 yards through the uprights.
My Prediction: The Black and Gold departs the Land of Lincoln with a 31-27 win to advance to the WFA Final Four.
Next Up: The winner of this clash battles the victor of the Boston Renegades and D.C. Divas matchup next in the playoffs. That third-round contest is Saturday, July 8 and the eventual conference champion moves to the W Bowl, Saturday, July 22, at Highmark Stadium in the City of Bridges.
From The Clipboard: Over in the American Conference, the San Diego Surge (6-3) take aim at the Central Cal War Hawks (7-0) while the Minnesota Vixen (7-2) invades the Lone Star State to collide with the Dallas Elite (6-0) in second-round action.
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