By Neal Rozendaal
V.P. Communications, D.C. Divas
A lot of playoff action coming up this weekend! On a purely personal note, I have largely shut down my women’s football coverage for the year, as my wife and I are expecting our second child any day now. With that said, here is a very, very brief update of the 2017 playoffs across all three leagues still in action.
WFA Playoff Update
The conference championship games have arrived in all three tiers of play in the Women’s Football Alliance, and there are six very exciting games on the docket this weekend. In the top division, the Chicago Force travel to play the Boston Renegades in the Eastern Conference championship game; this game is a rematch of a regular season meeting that was won by Boston by a single point, so it should be a good one.
The Boston Renegades look to make their first national championship game since the Militia days, and they’ve dodged every bullet this year en route to an undefeated record. Five of their victories this season have been by a touchdown or less, including a conference semifinal win over the two-time defending league champion D.C. Divas. In that game, the Renegades rallied from an 11-point deficit midway through the fourth quarter, scoring two unanswered touchdowns late to notch a 27-24 victory. It was a typical performance for this Renegades team, which has been coming through in the clutch all year long in thrilling fashion.
The Chicago Force have already signaled on multiple occasions that this year is their swan song and that the franchise will be shutting down after this season. That gives the playoffs an extra layer of finality, as their next loss (should it come) would not only signal the end of their season but the end of their franchise. They are determined to go out with a bang, and the only thing standing between them and the national title game is the team that handed them their lone defeat this year. This game should be a very good one.
In the Western Conference, the Dallas Elite host the San Diego Surge for the right to go to the championship game in Pittsburgh. The Dallas Elite rolled through an easy regular season and then blasted the Minnesota Vixen to claim the Midwest Region title and put themselves in the conference title game for the third year in a row. The Elite still, incredibly, have not surrendered a single point all season…I don’t care what your strength of schedule is, seven straight shutouts is an impressive feat. Dallas has had a chip on their shoulder for much of the year, fueled by consecutive national championship game defeats and a regular season schedule that presented no challenges, and they are the clear favorites to advance to the title game for a third straight season.
The San Diego Surge are the team that, frankly, no one expected to be here. Entering the playoffs as the #3 seed in their own region, the Surge needed to engineer consecutive road upsets just to get to this point. But engineer them they did, knocking off the Los Angeles Warriors in the opening round and then stunning the top-seeded and undefeated Central Cal War Angels by a single point in overtime to advance to their fifth conference title game in seven seasons. The Dallas faithful were more than thrilled at San Diego’s upset win, as it flipped the site of the conference title game from Central California to the Lone Star State, and it’s hard to imagine the Surge actually pulling off the victory over the talented Elite…most probably expect that the Surge exhausted all of their magic just upsetting Central Cal. But then, San Diego has been an underdog in their last two playoff victories, so finding themselves in that position for this one will not shake their confidence at all.
In WFA2, the Eastern Conference championship game will be an international affair, with the Tampa Bay Inferno traveling to Canada to face the Montreal Blitz. Of the ten teams that joined the WFA from the IWFL this past offseason, the Blitz are the last one still alive in the postseason. They’ve had a tremendous debut year in the WFA and are strong contenders to make the WFA2 title game in their first WFA season.
To get there, however, they’ll need to get past the undefeated Tampa Bay Inferno. The Inferno are the defending Eastern Conference champions of WFA2, and they already pulled one upset by traveling to Carolina and dispatching the Carolina Phoenix to win the Southeast Region title. It will be a very long trip for the Inferno, but this should be an outstanding contest.
Over in the West, the St. Louis Slam are the only defending champion from the WFA’s three tiers still in contention to repeat as champs. They’ll host the Mile High Blaze for the WFA2 Western Conference title, who are making their first appearance in a conference championship game. Mile High finally surrendered a point in a 28-14 playoff victory over the Sin City Trojans after not allowing anyone to score on them in the regular season, but the win over Sin City was enough to keep their undefeated record intact and give them the Pacific Region championship for the first time in their franchise’s history.
Finally, WFA3 will feature two conference title games this weekend as well. In the East, the Toledo Reign will host the Orlando Anarchy in a matchup of two feel-good stories. The Reign defeated the Maine Mayhem, 22-7, in a conference semifinal game for their first playoff victory in their 14-year history. Now this long-time franchise in the heart of Troopers territory stands just one win away from the first national title game appearance by a Toledo-based team since the Toledo Furies won the NWFL back in 1984.
Their opponent, however, has proven to be Cory Strong all season long. The Orlando Anarchy were uniquely devastated by the Pulse shooting last year, when assistant coach Cory Connell was among those who lost their lives in the tragedy. The Anarchy, who went 0-8 in 2016, came back this season with a renewed vigor, dedicating the year to Connell’s memory. Orlando not only made the playoffs, but they won the Southeast Region championship over the Cincinnati Sizzle to advance to the WFA3 conference title game. No matter how it turns out, the winner of the Orlando-Toledo game will be an inspirational entrant into the WFA3 championship game this year.
In the Western half of WFA3, the Southern Oregon Lady Renegades have qualified for the conference title game for the second straight year. Last season, the Lady Renegades were offered a chance to play in the WFA3 Western Conference championship game, but they were unable to travel to Louisiana for the contest and had to concede the conference title to the Acadiana Zydeco, who went on to win the inaugural WFA3 championship. Southern Oregon is back with a vengeance in 2017 and will host the conference title game against the Arkansas Wildcats for a chance to make the trek to Pittsburgh one year later.
The Arkansas Wildcats will not go quietly, however. The Wildcats have gained notoriety for the fact that injuries and attrition have reduced their numbers to only 12 available players for some games. Yet they have persevered by having all of the remaining players play on both sides of the ball, and they have managed to survive all the way to the Western Conference title game. Traveling halfway across the country will be a difficult challenge, but I certainly would not want to count these dozen or so women out just yet.