Boston Renegades capture 4th straight Women’s Football Alliance Pro Division title, Blaze, Lady Force also winners

The Women’s Football Alliance, WFA, held their 2022 Championships at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium on July 9 and 10 and in a rematch of the 2021 Pro Division championship game, the Boston Renegades proved why they are the premier franchise in the league winning their fourth consecutive title after beating the Minnesota Vixen 32-12.

It was a full weekend of football with the Division 2 and Division 3 title games also taking place.

One of the questions heading into the weekend was whether the Renegades could win their fourth straight championship, in a rematch with the Minnesota Vixen, without the services of star quarterback Allison Cahill. The Division 2 title was also up for grabs and another key question was whether the Derby City Dynamite could win their second consecutive championship, this time in Division 2 against the Mile High Blaze, and which new team – the Oklahoma City Lady Force or the Capital City Savages – would win Division 3.

This was the second year that the championships were held in the stadium that also hosts the annual NFL Hall of Fame Game each summer. Aside from the absence of Cahill, the big news for the WFA in the Pro Division championship game was the fact that for the first time, ESPN2 carried the game live on national television

Pro Division

Boston Renegades 32 – Minnesota Vixen 12

Photo: Kim Jamison Photography

The 6-2 Vixen was trying for a different outcome against the dominant 8-0 Renegades, who had won the last three championships. Some of the star power of the previous game was missing. Renegades’ superstar quarterback Cahill was injured defeating the D.C. Divas in the playoffs, and the Vixens’ likewise superstar running back Grace Cooper was limited by a regular season injury but would play.

The Vixens might have felt some optimism not having to face Cahill, but her replacement was, unfortunately for them, Chante Bonds. The backup had started out as a defensive back, where she was named the WFA Defensive Player of the Year in 2017. After she moved to offense, she played so well that the league named her the National Championship Game MVP in 2018, she had also replaced an injured Cahill at quarterback in 2016 and took the team to the conference finals. So any relief the Vixens felt did not last long.

Photo: Kim Jamison Photography

The Renegades opened their attack on the ground, alternating handoffs to international players Ruth Matta (Great Britain), and Tytti Kuusinen (Finland). Kuusinen capped the drive by running for a six yard score, and Sarah Tulley added the extra point. Bonds was up next, and she scored on a 39 yard run with 9:48 left in the second quarter. Motta scored next, on a two yard run, after she had run 30 yards to that point on the play before. Minnesota couldn’t sustain any drives in the first half. Cooper ran well, on the few occasions she was in the game, and Jessica Haas also ran well at times. The Minnesota passing game, which was a strong point behind quarterback Erin Kelley and wide receiver Kaiya Sygulla. The third PAT attempt failed, so the score at halftime was 20-0 Renegades.

At halftime, Lois Cook interviewed Callie Brownson, who is an assistant coach with the Cleveland Browns, and who is also the head coach for Team USA at the International Federation of American Football’s Women’s World Championship. The championship is set to take place in Vantaa, Finland starting on July 30.

Photo: Kim Jamison Photography

Neither team scored in the third quarter. Nearly half of the fourth quarter passed before Kate Falkowski ran the ball in from the 10 yard line. Allie Guimaraes extra point missed, so the Renegades’ lead was 26-0 with 8:37 left. Bonds crossed the end zone again with 6:17 left, to make the score 32-0. The combination of Kelley and Sygulla finally clicked when the Offensive Rookie of the Year receiver took a pass and ran 14 yards for the score. The Vixen woes continued though, and the extra point failed. The Minnesotans added one final late score when Kelley found Jackie Radford from 6 yards out with 3:01 left. The two point conversion failed, so the score was 32-12 Boston. Kristen Stone recovered the Vixen onside kick for the Renegades, and they ran out the clock on their fourth consecutive championship. Bonds was named Game MVP for the National Conference, and wide receiver Sam Barber won the award for the American Conference.

Division 2 Championship

Mile High Blaze 21 – Derby City Dynamite 20

Photo: Kim Jamison Photography

The defending Division 3 champion Derby City Dynamite from Louisville took on the Mile High Blaze from Denver for the Division 2 title. After winning the title last year, the WFA moved Derby City up a division. They Dynamite struggled at times, finishing with a 4-4 record, but made it to the finals again. The Crush finished 6-1 and were appearing in the finals for the first time. As she had last year, twelve-year veteran running back and linebacker Nicolle Lockett told me that the Dynamite’s motto was “Trust the process. It wasn’t easy for us in Division 3 to win a championship, and it wasn’t easy for us this year, but we just trusted the process, and here we are.” One of her opponents, offensive tackle Tamara Taylor was thinking beyond just another game. Taylor correctly predicted that the game would be a barn-burner.

“We’re the Mile High Blaze, and it’s going to be excellent! It’s going to be one for the books! We’re trying to put women’s football on the map!”

Photo: Kim Jamison Photography

The game turned out to be the closest of the championship. The Dynamite struck on their first drive. After two short rushes, quarterback Olivia Wang hit wide receiver Essence Buckner for a 58 yard touchdown. Wang took a 2 step drop, and Buckner made a fingertip catch, then outran the defense for the score. The 2 point conversion failed, but Derby City jumped out to a 6-0 lead.

The Crush had a shaky start as the center snap went over quarterback Kimberly Santistevan’s head twice, leaving the team with a fourth down and 36 yards. Buckner returned the punt to the Blaze 34 yard line. After gaining one first down, Angie Embry fumbled the ball, and Valerie Garcia of the Blaze recovered on their own 19. Mile High drove down to the Dynamite’s 5 yard line, when Santistevan passed to Ty Lowery-Jones for the score. The conversion failed, but the score was tied again at 6-6.

Derby City responded quickly, and with 11:23 left in the second quarter, on third and goal, Buckner scored from one yard line. Running back Alicia Meyer took a pitch on the two point conversion and threw the half back pass to Kaycee Harris to make the score 14-6 in favor of Derby City. With 3:20 left, the Blaze replied when Santistevan connected with Lowery-Jones once again for a 26 yard score. After a half-the-distance penalty for face masking, Santistevan hit Lowery-Jones for the 2-point conversion to tie the game at 14-14.

The Coloradans were not done for the half though, and with 12 seconds left, Santistevan passed eight yards to Stephanie Skinner to take the lead. Darien Simpson added the PAT to give the Blaze the 21-14 lead going into half time.

Photo: Kim Jamison Photography

The third quarter ended with the same score, but with on the strength of runs by Buckner and Pep Furman, the Dynamite drove down the field. Furman capped the drive by running it in from the three. But after a 5 yard penalty for a false start, the 2-point conversion attempt from the 8 yard line failed. The Blaze drove to the 18, but on fourth and 12, Harris knocked away the ball from the Blaze receiver. With 6:48 left, the Dynamite began driving from the Blaze 18. They made it to the 48, but their rushing attack burned the clock. On fourth and four, with 30 seconds left, Wang’s pass fell incomplete, and the Blaze took over to run out the clock, preserving their 21-20 victory.

Division 3 Championship

Oklahoma City Lady Force 25 – Capital City Savages 0

Photo: Kim Jamison Photography

The weekend’s first game was between the 6-2 Capital City Savages from Lansing, Michigan, and the 8-0 Oklahoma City Lady Force. This was the first championship appearance by the Savages, while the Lady Force had won five championships in the Women’s Extreme Football League before moving over to the WFA in 2021. The Savages had grown out of the breakup of a team in Flint and also joined the league in 2021.

Randee Brown, a defensive tackle for the Savages was confident before the game. “They (Lady Force) seem pretty tough. It’s going to be a really good dog fight. I think we’re going to hit them harder. That’s the plan and the goal.” Oklahoma City defensive tackle Shawnee Tate countered that “My sisters and I are a force to reckoned with.” Offensive tackle Diane McNee added “We may be a small team, but we get the job done!”

The first half was a defensive struggle, as both teams refused to bend. This lasted until 6:20 in the second quarter when the Savages’ returner Jessica Weeks muffed a punt and DeMarris Guerra recovered it at the Capital City 15 yard line. After an incomplete pass and a running play that lost yardage, Desiree Jeffries hit Justine McSwain with a 14 yard scoring pass. Chelsea Taylor added the PAT to give the Lady Force the 7-0 lead with 5:13 remaining in the half. Despite the Savages having the ball on the Lady Force 33 after Jasmine Lenoir sacked Jeffries at her own 1-yard line, and the subsequent punt, the Lady Force stepped up and got the job done. Weeks got some redemption when she intercepted Jeffries pass on her own 48 and returned it to the OKC 30. Once again, however, the Lady Force stopped the Savages when Guerra came up with another turnover, this time an interception of Kyla Wilson that Guerra returned to the 47.

Photo: Kim Jamison Photography

During halftime, Donna Sperling of the Women’s Gridiron Foundation gave their Woman of the Year award to outside linebacker Tanoy Jones of the D.C. Divas. The Foundation’s Game Changer award went to Mitchi Collette who played for the Toledo Troopers, and who coached the Toledo Reign.

OKC found their rhythm in the second half, although the Savages did not give in easily. After a squibbed 3 yard punt, Capital City held the Lady Force on 4th down and averted another score. The 7-0 score held through the third quarter, but after McSwain recovered another Weeks muffed punt, Jeffries carried the ball in from the four. The PAT failed.

With the Savages deep in their own territory, Taylor intercepted Wilson and returned the ball 24 yards for a touchdown. The 2-point conversion attempt failed, and the score was 19-0 OKC.

The defense continued to drive the Lady Force, and Taylor added another pick 6 with 7:43 left in the game. The OKC defense took away seven turnovers in all during the game including three interceptions for touchdowns. The final pick 6 came with 6:14 remaining. Jeffries, who played both ways and also made several tackles on special teams, batted Wilson’s pass into Shabria Irby’s hands, and she returned it 53 yards to make the final score 25-0.

Upcoming IFAF Women’s World Championships

The WFA is starting to bring more notice for women’s American football. Holding the championship at the Hall of Fame makes it a nice destination event. Now that the league’s finale was broadcast on national television, it will be interesting to see what effect that might have.

Next up: it will also be interesting to see if Team USA will continue its dominance on the international stage.

Russ Crawford is Professor of History at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio. His latest book, Women’s American Football: Breaking Barriers On and Off the Field will be published by the University of Nebraska Press in November of 2022. Along with several chapters on sport history, he has also published two earlier books. Le Football: The History of American Football in France was published by the University of Nebraska Press in 2016. His first book, The Use of Sport to Promote the American Way of Life During the Cold War: Cultural Propaganda, 1946-1963, was published by the Edwin Mellen Press in 2008.

Russ Crawford is an Associate Professor of History at Ohio Northern University in Ada, OH. He has published three books: Women’s American Football: Breaking Barriers On and Off the Field (2022), Le Football: The History of American Football in