By Kyle Wescott, Senior Writer for MyWSports.com
Special Contributor for the Women’s Football Alliance
On April 1st, the 65 teams in the Women’s Football Alliance began their season with one goal in mind: winning the National Championship.
Since then, hundreds of games have been played — including two playoff rounds in June – and the league is now whittled down to twelve teams, all of which will play in Conference Championship games on July 8th. The winners of these games will reach the W Bowl II Championship, held at Highmark Stadium in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on July 21st and July 22nd.
Starting with the league’s largest division, here is a preview of what fans can expect this upcoming Conference Championship weekend.
Division 1 Conference Championships
Division 1 will have a new champion for the first time since 2014, as the two-time defending champions were DC Divas were knocked out of the playoffs in the Regional Finals. The DC Divas are tied with the Boston Militia (now known as the Boston Renegades) for the most WFA titles and, although the name has changed, the Renegades know what a “win” in Pittsburgh would mean for the legacy of football in Boston.
Chicago Force (8-1) at Boston Renegades (8-0)
The Boston Renegades have been arguably the second best team in the WFA for the last couple of years. However, until this season, they were unable to get by the two-time defending champs, winning all three matchups, including a 27-24 victory in the regional finals.
“We know they’re in a little bit of a rebuild this year, but they’re always a tough team to beat,” Renegade Quarterback Allison Cahill said. “All of our games are tough, whether home or on the road. We have been battle tested all year.”
Boston’s demanding regular-season schedule, has highlighted the team’s multi-threat attack. Led by the passing game of Cahill, Boston has many wide receiver options and, with Whitney Zelee and Stacey Tiamfook, a solid ground game.
Even though the Boston Renegades defeated the Chicago Force, 25-24, in May, Boston certainly cannot underestimate Chicago.
The Chicago Force has one of the top offenses this year, helped by Quarterback Sami Grisafe who came out of retirement and connected for 66 percent of her passes and threw for 21 touchdowns. On the other side of the ball, the team’s defense overpowered the Pittsburgh Passion, 45-0, in the regional finals. And redemption always adds a little incentive: the Force fell in the 2016 playoffs to the Boston Renegades and a win would be twice as sweet.
A drawback for the Force, however, is that the team is stacked with so much talent that several of its players made either the Team USA, Team Canada, or Team Australia National Football Teams. Those players were pulled from team practices in order to participate in last month’s Women’s World Championships. Three of Boston’s players participated.
San Diego Surge (7-3) at Dallas Elite (7-0)
The San Diego Surge has been a top team in the WFA since its inception, making three Championship game appearances and winning the 2012 WFA championship. Now, after taking a year off in 2016, the Surge are back and hoping to reclaim the championship pedigree they once had.
The Surge played a very challenging schedule facing the Central Cal War Angels and the Pacific Warriors twice during the regular season, then beating both to make the July 8th Conference Championship.
“A lot of people thought we were just going to lose to Central Cal again,” said Running Back Jazzmon Stovall. “But we knew we could beat a top tier team like them.”
Though the Surge lost to the War Angels twice during the regular season, the 35-34 win in the regionals was the boost the team needed to continue their season and face Dallas, a perennial favorite.
“We know Dallas has a great defense, we’ve tried some stuff on offense and now we have to execute, it all comes down to that,” about the team’s preparation.
Dallas has been in the championship game the previous two years and looked as strong as ever in the regional finals, defeating the Minnesota Vixen 53-0. Led by Running Back Odessa Jenkins, who ran this season for 666 yards and 16 touchdowns on 54 carries, Dallas once again dominated play in Texas, averaging 66 points per game over their regular season opponents.
Division 2 Conference Championships
Unlike Division 1, Division 2 could give fans a W Bowl weekend rematch. Last year the St. Louis Slam defeated the Tampa Bay Inferno 38-7 and both teams are back in 2017 fighting for their conference championships.
“It would be nice to play against St. Louis again, in a rivalry game,” said Tampa Bay Inferno Running Back Denasha Mondy.
However, one of the new teams to the WFA this year, the Montreal Blitz, could thwart Tampa’s repeat bid and a 2016 Division 2 rematch.
Mile High Blaze (9-0) at St. Louis Slam (8-1)
The American Conference Championship will see the undefeated Mile High Blaze take on the defending Division 2 champion, St Louis Slam. The Mile High Blaze are a tricky team to gauge due to their schedule, which was comprised of all Division 3 opponents. Even so, the Blaze went undefeated and allowed zero points in the regular season. In the playoffs, the Blaze knocked off the Sin City Trojans 28-14 to be in the Conference Finals. Mile High averaged 53.5 points per game in the regular season and will bring that high powered offense to St. Louis.
The St. Louis Slam had a great season, finishing 7-1 with their only loss to the Chicago Force. St. Louis dominated their season series with in-state rival, the Kansas City Titans, 34-6 and 42-8.
Although they won both games easily, St. Louis Running Back Taylor Hay said that even with a lot of new faces, games against Kansas City always rekindle a good rivalry and have the potential for excitement.
St. Louis has a dynamic offense and can beat any team through the air and on the ground and this led to an all-consuming defeat of the Madison Blaze 69-8 in the regional championships.
Jaime Gaal is an outstanding quarterback who connects on 59% of her passes and has her two favorite targets in Danielle Price and Kaylee Neutzling, both with 30 receptions in the regular season. Hay carries the load for the Slam, with 105 carries for 614 yards.
Beating the Blaze and returning to the Championship game is important for the Slam’s fan base and league standing.
“It would be proof that we are a strong team and that the WFA has a lot of great teams,” said St. Louis Running Back, Taylor Hay. “It’s ours to lose. We have to be the team that makes the least amount of mistakes.”
Tampa Bay Inferno (10-0) at Montreal Blitz (7-1)
The Tampa Bay Inferno hasn’t lost since the 2016 Championship loss to the Slam, but will have to take down the top seed in Division 2, the Montreal Blitz, to return to the Championship game.
Tampa Bay defeated the Carolina Phoenix, 35-26, in the regional finals and has rolled through the Southeast Division again in 2017 defeating their opponents by an average of 44 to 12. The Inferno shocked teams during their 2016 playoff run and certainly have the talent to shock the Blitz as well. The Inferno are led by the running attack of Mondy (794 yards and 19 touchdowns on 53 carries) and Candi Thompson (422 yards and 4 touchdowns on 76 carries).
“(Offensively) we need to use what the coach puts in the plan and execute,” Mondy said. “Defensively we need to shut down the receivers and get to the quarterback.”
But that may not prove to be so easy.
The Montreal Blitz is in their first year in the WFA and the team’s sole loss was to the Boston Renegades. The Blitz defeated rival New York Sharks 49-27 to reach the conference finals and have a dynamite passing attack, led by the arm of Maude Lacasse who completed 71 passes for 1232 yards in the regular season.
The Inferno will have to stop Lacasse’s favorite target in Laurence Pontbriand Malo, who has frustrated defenses, catching 33 passes for 591 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. Montreal’s offensive attack can score in bunches, averaging 46.7 points in their 6 wins.
Division 3 Conference Championships
With four new teams in the Division 3 conference championship games, the division will have a new champion this year. Last year’s champion, the Acadiana Zydeco, had a rough season, ending the year with an 0-8 record. Of the 32 teams in the wild Division 3 rankings, the top seeded teams in each region remain.
Arkansas Wildcats (7-2) at Southern Oregon Lady Renegades (3-6)
The American Conference Championship is a very interesting matchup, with the Arkansas Wildcats heading west to play the Southern Oregon Lady Renegades. The Wildcats had an impressive 6-2 regular season record in 2017, including two wins over the 2016 Division 3 Champion, Acadiana. The team defeated the Austin Outlaws 36-6 in the Regional Finals and are led by a strong running game in the combination of Kiara Vinson (526 yards on 33 carries) and Raquel Williams (221 yards on 35 carries).
Southern Oregon Quarterback Brittney Rice she was eager to see how her team matched up with other Division 3 teams.
“We played Seattle (Majestics) and held them to nine points and 18 points the second game,” Rice said. “We played Portland (Fighting Shockwave) twice and they’re a really tough team, we’re excited to play teams in our division.”
The Renegades have won three of their last four games, including a 46-6 win over the Rocky Mountain Thunderkatz to reach the conference championships. The Renegades are led by Rice, a two-way Quarterback who has completed 118 passes for 1386 yards and ran 38 times for 169 yards.
Rice said that the read option has been successful for them all year, as well as their passing game, which Arkansas hasn’t had a lot of experience defending this year.
Whichever way Rice and the Renegades decide to play it, Southern Oregon may be the team to beat in Division 3.
Orlando Anarchy (7-2) at Toledo Reign (6-3)
The National Conference matchup has the No. 4 ranked Orlando Anarchy heading north to take on the top seed Toledo Reign. The Orlando Anarchy went from 0-8 in 2016 to 6-2 in the 2017 regular season. Orlando rattled-off six wins to start the season and then lost the last two games by large margins to Division 2 playoff teams, the Miami Fury and the Tampa Bay Inferno.
Orlando defeated the Cincinnati Sizzle 57-6 to be in the regional game and, because of losses the team had to overcome, had been an emotional favorite, season-long. One of their coaches, Cory Connell, was killed in the Pulse nightclub shooting last June and then teammate Jahqui Sevilla passed away following a car crash just before the team’s final regular season game.
The Anarchy used these tragedies to rally around each other, even for those who didn’t play under Connell in 2016, like rookie Whitney Dunlap.
“The Pulse tragedy opened my eyes and a few other new players to play for the Anarchy,” Dunlap said, adding that the mission started this year was “Cory Strong.” Recently, after the loss of Sevilla, the chant transformed to: “Who are we? Anarchy! What are we? Cory Strong! What are we? Jahqui Strong!”
In Orlando’s wins, their defense has been the difference and it will have to be, once again, against the strong Toledo team. The Anarchy defense is led by Kaycie Morgan (4 sacks and 19 tackles in 5 games) and Dunlap (3 interceptions and 18 tackles in 5 games).
“Toledo has a great run game and we know we have to stop the run,” Dulap said.
The Toledo Reign come in as the top seed with a regular season record of 5-3. The Reign’s three losses were to Division 1 teams, the Chicago Force and the Cleveland Fusion, as well as to the Division 2 Columbus Comets.
Against Division 3 teams, Toledo has taken care of business, including a 22-7 win over Maine Mayhem in the regionals. Look for Toledo will use the run game to take down the Anarchy defense. In its seven regular season games, the Reign have run the ball 275 times for 1316 yards. Brianna Patman has led the way in that running attack with 555 yards on 96 carries.
Enjoy this weekend’s games and check back soon for viewing information!