By Larry Snyder
Imperial, PA – Fans of the Pittsburgh Passion witnessed the Black and Gold overcome a late surge by the Cleveland Fusion Saturday, April 6 to claim a 26-20 victory in their season and home opener at Joe P. DeMichela Stadium, part of West Allegheny High School.
This matchup between turnpike antagonists in the Women’s Football Alliance came down to who would be the last to put points on the scoreboard. Head Coach Teresa Conn’s defense forced a punt in the final quarter, giving the offense the opportunity to deliver a scoring drive from the Cleveland 18-year line. Third-year running back Kia Foster crossed the goal line on a two-year run to give the Black and Gold a 26-20 lead at 6:45 in the fourth.
Earlier Cleveland’s defense, led by linebacker Veronica Rucker and defensive linemen Chelsea Biggers and Janell Jackson, had forced a safety. Fusion rookie wide receiver Daziah Green tied the contest at 20-20 when she returned the free kick 72-yards for a touchdown at 12:15 in the fourth. The first-year starter from Canton, Ohio, empowered the Brown, Orange, and White’s attack with an 81-yard scoring run at 9:27 in the first and another trip to the end zone at 10:23 in the second.
Passion starting quarterback and 2018 WFA First Team National Conference All-American Angela Baker hit the scoresheet with a six-yard scoring run at 7:07 in the first. The Olean, New York native had the Women of Steel up 14-12 at halftime with a one-yard touchdown plunge at 4:06 in the second.
Baker was not finished as she added a three-yard passing touchdown to veteran wide receiver Krystal Cozzo at 2:13 in the third. Baker wrapped up the evening with 240 yards passing and 37 yards rushing. Cozzo had 118 yards on six receptions while Foster added 26 rushing yards. Among the offensive linemen helping to win the battle along the line of scrimmage are Lauren Ferragonio, Samantha Simeone, and Kim Zubovic.
Leading the Pittsburgh defense in turning the Cleveland offense away throughout the game was defensive back Diamond Rodriguez with nine tackles and a sack. Defensive tackle Kaitlain Niedermeyer tallied eight tackles and a fumble recovery. Zubovic from her defensive end position chipped in seven tackles and a fumble recovery. Free safety Rebecca Ehrgood also supplied seven tackles. This unit ranked eighth in the league in 2018, permitting just 15.9 points per game.
When it was time for special teams to provide support, it was Franki Kilmer who converted two of four extra point attempts. Jana Meister pinned the Fusion deep in their territory with a trio of successful punts.
Inside The Press Box: Chris Shovlin, voice of the Pittsburgh Passion, pointed out to me one of the changes this season, “There are so many new members of the team with 19 rookies out of the 38 players in uniform.”
Familiar Faces, New Roles: Former franchise quarterback Lisa Horton was on the sideline but in her new role as offensive coordinator. The 2018 WFA First Team National Conference All-American acquired another appropriate honor this week with her induction into the Heinz History Center Women’s Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Two more 2018 WFA First Team National Conference All-Americans are helping to guide the Black and Gold this season. The first is Niedermeyer as an assistant coach. Second is long-time safety and wide receiver stalwart Sharon Vasquez as the new Defensive Backs Coach.
NEXT UP: Pittsburgh journeys to the nation’s capital Saturday, April 13, to clash with the D.C. Divas. Kickoff between the enduring adversaries at the St. James Sports Complex in Springfield, Virginia, is 6:00 p.m. This meeting is the season and home opener for the Burgundy, Gold, and White. These two combatants last met on the gridiron Saturday, May 26, 2018, in Maryland and the Women of the District collected a 21-13 triumph.
Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Passion