By Larry Snyder
Pittsburgh, Pa. – Coming off their second bye week, the Pittsburgh Passion (6-1) seeks to close the regular season at home against the Cleveland Fusion (1-6). These two long-time Women’s Football Alliance adversaries get together at Joe P. DeMichela Stadium, beginning at 6:30 p.m. The last time the Black and Gold met the Brown, Orange, and White at home was Saturday, April 15, 2017, with the Women of Steel claiming a 36-20 triumph.
Lisa Horton and Ebony Montgomery have both been calling the signals at quarterback this season, and the brilliant duo has put up 10 touchdowns apiece. Montgomery has carried the ball four times into to the end zone while Horton owns one rushing score.
Hauling in all of those touchdown strikes has been Angela Baker with 10, Krystal Cozzo with six, and Sharon Vasquesz with three. Rachel Wojdowski entered the record books during the 21-13 loss to the DC Divas as her two receptions for 55 yards allowed her to become the first player to collect over 3,000 career receiving yards.
Third-year running back Kia Foster and rookie Ariell Smith help to balance the attack with four rushing touchdowns each. Gabrielle O’Neil is another offensive threat with two rushing scores in the latter half of the season. The defense also has to keep an eye on Tara Catone, who can go on a long scoring run at any time.
These five exceptional athletes along the offensive line, Kim Zubovic, Sam Simeone, Dawn Pederson, Lauren Ferragonio, and Veronica Burress are responsible for the Passion offense not to be shutout so far this season. This group cannot be overlooked.
Defensive tackle Kaitlain Niedermeyer in her ninth season with Pittsburgh is the leading tackler with 43 solo stops, six for a loss. Miashawnti Smith and Hannah Daman are next with 27 and 23 respectively from their linebacker positions.
Santana Ramsey and Wojdowski bring three pass deflections each to the score sheet while Devon Conner and Niedermeyer furnished two sacks apiece. Baker leads the crew with four interceptions.
Wide receiver and defensive back Jana Meister in her second season is averaging 28-yards per punt, and rookie placekicker Kirsten Green is 21 of 34 in point-after attempts.
For the 2018 campaign, Cleveland is rebuilding their roster and has dropped from Division One to Two in the WFA. The Fusion got off to a rocky start with forfeitures over the first two weeks to the Passion and Boston Renegades. The Women of the 216 are 1-4 over their remaining five matchups.
Alexis Gunter has emerged as one of the new leaders on the offense with 20 pass completions and three touchdowns to go along with her four rushing scores on just 16 carries. Her favorite target is Katherine Green with 16 receptions and three touchdowns.
AC Chambers helps the ground attack with 314 yards on 89 attempts and contributes to special teams with a 14.2-yard average on her kickoff returns.
Fusion Offensive Coordinator Patrich Ashcroft talked with the WFA staff on the league website about the game, “Football has always been such an important part of my life. It has taught me more life lessons than I can count and it has provided opportunities for me that would not have been possible without it. My hope for women’s football is continued steps forward; better player development, better coaching, and a ton more exposure that these teams and players deserve. I originally got into coaching women’s football as a way to thank my mom for teaching me this sport as a child, but now I stay for so much more. The drive and passion of these women are incredible, and they are truly some of the best athletes I will ever be blessed enough to coach.”
Two key players to watch when the Passion have the ball are linebacker Veronica Rucker and defensive lineman Chelsea Biggers. This formidable duo is the two leading tacklers on the defense.
My Prediction: I spent some time in the front yard, looking through the grass clippings. I think the Black and Gold overpower the Brown, Orange, and White 51-6 to wrap up the regular season.
Other Voices: After checking their calculators and slide rules, the gang at Massey Ratings projects Pittsburgh to pick up their first shutout with a 45-0 triumph over Cleveland. Time for the defense to rumble.
With the regular season wrapping up, Ernst Zermelo in his WFA D-1 Rankings has Pittsburgh in second, behind the undefeated Los Angeles Warriors (8-0). Cleveland is slotted at 15 out of 16 in Zermelo’s WFA D-2 lineup.
Weather: Per the radar observers at weather.com, the prognosis is cloudy skies and scattered thunderstorms. Expect a high of 77 degrees for the coin toss at midfield. Winds out of the east to northeast at three to six mph and a 30 to 75 percent chance of rain.
Next Up: The first week of the WFA D-1 playoffs gets underway Saturday, June 30. It continues with the Final Four slated for Saturday, July 13. The Showdown for the Championship is Saturday, July 28 at Fifth Third Bank Stadium on the campus of Kennesaw State University in Georgia.
From The Clipboard: The Black and Gold honor two groups Saturday evening. UPMC Sports Medicine for their efforts to keep the players healthy and the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh for their contributions to the community. The Passion also plan to recognize all youth athletes and teams in attendence.
Top Photo Courtesy Of Pittsburgh Passion Facebook Page