Saturday, June 25, 2016
By Meg Kelly and Mark Simon
EVANSTON, Illinois – With a gutsy defensive performance, the Boston Renegades eliminated the heavily favored Chicago Force from the playoffs, 17-13, Saturday night at Lazier Field. In the Women’s Football Alliance (WFA) conference semifinal matchup, running back Whitney Zelee #33 scored both of Boston’s touchdowns in her first significant playing time of the season. The Renegades’ defense was lead by Jessica Penta #31 who forced a fumble and made a game high 12 tackles, and safety Brooke Gause #6 who collected a pair of interceptions and a fumble recovery as well as five tackles.
The victory was sweet for the Renegades who lost a May 21 regular season home game to Chicago by a score of 58-14. In that game, starting quarterback Allison Cahill #7 sustained a shoulder injury that ended her season, her MVP campaign, and presumably Boston’s playoff chances. For this playoff match, Massey Ratings tabbed Chicago as a 16-point favorite with an 81% win probability, while the Pure Points model predicted a Chicago victory by 28 points, making Boston’s victory the biggest upset of the year in the WFA.
Struggling since to score points in Cahill’s absence, the Renegades turned to their defense and special teams to anchor a master plan for victory on Chicago’s turf. Boston’s special teams, lead by punter Emily Weinberg #85 and kicker Brooke Goodman #97, saddled Chicago with an average starting field position at their own 23 yard line and prevented Chicago’s explosive kick returners from having an impact. The Renegades’ defensive unit attacked Chicago’s misdirection offense and forced turnovers and penalties that kept the conference’s top offense off the scoreboard until late in the third quarter.
In a total team effort, the Renegades held Chicago to its lowest scoring output in over six years (12 points in a loss to the Kansas City Tribe, June 5, 2010). It had also been more than six years since Chicago was held scoreless in the first half of a game (May 22, 2010 in a 7-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Passion). Chicago was averaging 54 points per game coming into this contest.
The Renegades’ defense set the tone of the game in the first quarter. On Chicago’s first possession, a sack by All-American rookie Laura Pula #53 set up a third and long for Chicago. Safety Gause picked off Force quarterback Rasan Gore on the next play. On Chicago’s next possession, Gause again collected a turnover from Gore, this time on a fumble forced by Jen Olivieri #25. Despite getting some traction on their third possession, Chicago was stalled by Boston’s smothering defense, being forced to punt. The Force then went 3-and-out on their fourth possession.
The ensuing punt netted only nine yards, which put Boston in great scoring position at Chicago’s 34. Zelee, who had previously seen only spot action as she recovered from a leg injury, found the end zone after three rushes of 6, 10 and 18. A successful conversion kick by Brooke Goodman put Boston ahead 7-0 just 25 seconds into the second quarter.
The defensive struggle continued. Boston thwarted a fake punt attempt. Chicago forced Boston to three 3-and-outs while Boston forced two three-and-outs and collected a turnover on downs. Boston missed a field goal attempt. Gause collected her second interception of the game to end a promising drive by Chicago with 30 seconds remaining in the half. Starting from their own 38 yard line, Renegades drove to the Force’s 11-yard line before a field goal by Goodman put Boston ahead, 10-0, as the first half came to a close.
Chicago started the second half with a time-consuming 60-yard drive, but they fizzled out at Boston’s 28, turning the ball over on downs at the 8:39 mark.
Chicago reclaimed possession on its 26-yard line after forcing Boston to punt. Gore connected with wide receiver Jeanette Gray for a 74-yard touchdown strike, cutting Boston’s advantage to 10-7 with 5:49 left in the third.
The Renegades followed with an 11-play drive that stalled at midfield, but effectively ate up the remaining time in the third quarter.
But the Force then took the lead on their next possession. Gore crossed the goal line to give Chicago the upper hand at 13-10 with 12:28 left in the game after a missed extra point attempt.
With Boston then being forced to punt on their next possession, it seemed as though the momentum of the game had swung in Chicago’s favor, but the Renegades defense showed great resolve, making a crucial stop of the Force on their next drive at Boston’s 35 yard line.
With 7:20 remaining and the season hanging in the balance, the Renegades’ offense rose to the occasion, stringing together a 58-yard drive culminating in a 19-yard touchdown rush by Zelee. Quarterback Chanté Bonds #21, stepping in for injured starter Cahill, completed five of six passes on Boston’s final scoring drive. Goodman’s successful extra point kick extended Boston’s lead to four points, 17-13, meaning Chicago would have to score a touchdown in the remaining 4:32 for a chance to win. Goodman added pressure by kicking her second touchback of the game, forcing Chicago to start at their own 20.
The Renegades finished the Force, stopping Chicago’s next drive and grinding the clock down on their final possession on their way to preserving the 17-13 victory.
In the other conference semifinal, the D.C. Divas eliminated the Pittsburgh Passion 41-29. The Renegades face the D.C. Divas on July 9 for the WFA National Conference Final, whose victor will advance to the league championship, The W Bowl.
|Lazier Field, Evanston, Ill.||1||2||3||4||F|
Q1 – BOS Whitney Zelee #33, 18-yard rushing TD (B. Goodman PAT)
Q2 – BOS Brooke Goodman #97, 21-yard FG
Q3 – CHI Jeannette Gray #83, 74-yard receiving TD from R. Gore (K. Rehr PAT)
Q4 – CHI Rasan Gore #3, 3-yard rushing TD (PAT failed)
BOS Whitney Zelee #33, 19-yard rushing TD (B. Goodman PAT)
Game Day Captain: DE Erin Diette #30
Previous game: 19-13 victory over Cleveland Fusion, 6/11/2016
Previous game vs. opponent: 58-14 loss to Chicago Force at Dilboy Stadium, 5/21/2016
Previous game at site: 30-24 victory over Chicago Force, 5/30/2015
Franchise record vs. opponent: 2-2