Women’s Football Alliance crowns three National Champions

The Boston Renegades rode the New England Patriots’ plane to a date with a three-peat, the Nevada Storm was able to win back-to-back championships, with a pandemic interruption while the Derby City Dynamite proved that their top defense could help them win a championship.

Those were just the highlights of a football-packed weekend at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio. There was also the league’s All-American game for all-star players and an awards ceremony for barrier breakers and a tribute to the Toledo Troopers. Just across the street from the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the WFA, with help from their sponsors and the HoF, put on a show that would satisfy those who wanted to see some hard-hitting games.

Division 1 – Boston Renegades (6-0) 42 – Minnesota Vixen (8-0) 26

After longtime quarterback Sami Grisafe sang the National Anthem, the defending two-time champion Boston Renegades kicked off to the Minnesota Vixen from Minneapolis. The Vixen, playing their first championship game in D1, showed their nerves at the start when Errin McIsaac fumbled the first snap. They settled down however and moved the ball down the field. McIsaac completed passes to Kate Murphy Samantha Barber and also ran for a first down. Leading Vixen rusher, and Conference Offensive MVP, Grace Cooper also gained yardage. The drive stalled however when McIsaac was unable to connect on a 4th and 15 pass.

The Renegades then took the ball and ran a continual hurry-up offense. League MVP Allison Cahill started by giving the ball to their leading rusher Chante Bonds, who gained ground, but two of Cahill’s first three passes were off target, and she was sacked for an 8-yard loss to end the drive. After a 35-yard punt Ashley Beckham, the Vixens tried to move the ball but were unable to.

The 1st quarter ended with no score, and at the start of the 2nd, McIsaac executed a quick kick that pinned the Renegades on their own 14. The Vixen satisfaction with the result of the throwback play was short-lived, as the Bostonians took the ball 86 yards for the first score of the game. Cahill began to click with her passes, hitting Adrienne Smith for 15 yards, then again for another 12. She found Emily Beinecke for 5, and finally found Smith for a 24 yard touchdown. Vanessa Aukshunas added the PAT and the Renegades led 7-0 with 7:48 left in the half.

The Renegades were surprised when Patriot’s owner Robert Kraft offered to fly the team to Canton on the Patriot’s plane. The Boston team also brought their version of the colonial soldiers who fired off a volley whenever the Renegades scored, which added some fun to the game.

The Vixen answered quickly when Cooper ran 63 yards for the quick score only 22 seconds later. The PAT failed, and so Boston retained the lead.

The Renegades took a little longer, but they answered Minnesota’s score. On this drive, Boston brought in Ruth Matta, their import from the Birmingham Lions, and the British National Team. Matta ran for 32 yards on 5 carries, and caught 2 passes for 23 yards, including a 3-yard reception for the touchdown. Aukshunas once again added the PAT to make it 14-6 Boston with 2:22 left in the half.

Minnesota couldn’t gain any traction, but neither could the Renegades. After the Vixens punted, Jamie Karshbaum intercepted Cahill. The Minnesota celebration did not last long, and Nicole Gordon recovered a Vixen fumble on the next play. With 47 seconds left, Cahill found Stephanie Pascual for 17, Kathryn Tylander for 4, and Bonds for 3. Facing a 4th and 3 from the Minnesota 23, Beinecke pulled in a Cahill pass for 23 yards and the touchdown. Aukshunas added the point, and the Renegades went into halftime with a 21-6 lead.

The Vixen kicked off to start the second half and stopped the Renegades on a 4th and 1 from the Renegade’s 43. Minnesota made them pay for not punting when Cooper covered 40 yards for her second score, then took the wildcat snap for the conversion, and the score was 21-14 Boston with 12:14 in the 3rd quarter.

The defending champions only took 2:21 to cover 59 yards after the challenger’s kickoff. Cahill ran it herself from 2 yards out to make the score 28-14. On that drive, the Minnesota defense, which was ranked number 2 in the division, behind Boston, began to show cracks. With increasing frequency, play had to be stopped to help Vixen defenders limp off the field.

The ensuing Vixen drive stalled, and McIsaac quick-kicked again. This time, Shantia Creech was waiting, however, and returned it to the Minnesota 43. Matta had a run for 13 and a reception for 10 called back for penalties, and then Cynthia Bryant intercepted a Cahill screen pass at the Boston 45. Once again, the Vixen’s immediately returned the favor when Barber fumbled after catching a McIsaac pass that gained 12 yards. The Renegades could not take advantage, however, and had to punt.

When the Boston defense held the Vixen on 4th and 9, they quickly made the score 35-14 when Matta scored her second touchdown of the night from 4 yards out. Aukshunas once again converted the PAT.

The Vixen offense still had life and brought the score within 15 at 35-20 Cooper scored her third touchdown of the game from 4 yards out. The Minnesota star was unable to make the conversion though. On the ensuing onside kick Bonds covered the kick at the Boston 39. After converting a 4th and 5 from the Minnesota 39, Cahill called her own number and ran a quarterback draw all the way to the end zone from 31 yards away, When Aukshunas added the point, and the score was 42-20 Boston with 2:32 remaining.

The Vixens scored the final touchdown of the game when Cooper added her fourth from 33 yards. A conversion pass from McIsaac fell incomplete and the scoring was over for the night. Katherine Falkowski recovered the Vixen’s onside kick for Boston with 47 seconds left, and Cahill took a knee to end the game.

The league named Cahill, the league MVP for 2021, the Renegades’ game MVP. The WFA also announced on Facebook that Cahill’s game jersey, along with a ball signed by the Renegades would be on display in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Cooper was named the Vixen’s MVP. Runners up received a $2,000 donation from Zenith, and the winners got a $3,000 award.

After the game, outside linebacker Tori Noda, who has been with the Renegades for the last two of their three-peat said that this year was “All about family and completing the mission; all about excellence.” Originally from the West Coast, she came to Boston for work and “found a job, and found a family.” She said that the team had dedicated the season to those New England women’s teams who had won previous championships and to set an example for the girls who would come after them. When asked how riding to the game on AirKraft was, Nodi replied, with what was probably a little understatement, that “It was a pretty sweet ride.”

Division 2 – Nevada Storm (8-0) 42 – Detroit Dark Angels (5-3) 18

Dethroning the defending champion Storm was a tall order, but the Dark Angels were set to try. They took the opening kickoff down to the Nevada 15, but, when they faced a 4th and 12, Sarah Monte kicked a 32 yard field goal to put the Dark Angels on top 3-0. Monte delivered a popup onside kick that Detroit recovered in Nevada territory, but their drive stalled when they failed to convert a fake punt.

The first series showed that Detroit planned to leave no trick untried, but the Storm were not defending champs for nothing. Storm leading rusher Jasmine Plummer broke for 38 on their first play from scrimmage, and Sarah Colangelo scored from the 1. She then added the conversion to put Nevada up 8-3 with 5:45 in the first quarter. The Dark Angels made it to the Nevada 26, before the drive ended on a failed 4th and 9. The Reno team then drove 76 yards for a second score. From the wildcat formation, RB Jesse Felker took the ball in from 1 yard out and added the 2-point conversion to make it 16-3 Nevada with 6:00 left in the first half. The Storm closed out the half by scoring another touchdown with 34 seconds left. Allison Adams took the direct snap from the 4, and after the conversion failed, the score was 22-3 at the end of the half.

At the start of the second half, the defending champs made it four scores on four possessions. Felker, in the wildcat again, scored from 7 yards out, but the conversion failed. Still, the Storm opened their lead to 28-3.

The Dark Angels came back when QB Mikayla Hilton hit Jessikah McKenzie for a 15-yard touchdown. Monte added the PAT, and Detroit cut the Nevada lead to 18 with 2:49 left in the 3rd quarter.

Monte again tried an onside kick, but this time it went out of bounds, and the Storm started from the Detroit 46. The Storm took the ball down the short field and scored again just as the quarter ended. This time, Plummer ran the ball in from the 9-yard line. The conversion failed, but the lead was back to 24.

The Angels weren’t through though, and after a 75-yard drive, Hilton took the ball in from the 1, She then added the 2-point conversion to make it 34-18 Nevada. Detroit continued to try the onside kick, but Nevada had adjusted, and recovered the high kick.

The final score of the game came with 6:13 left in the 4th quarter when QB Michelle Oetjen called her own number and ran it in from 22 yards out. Andi Jackson added the conversion, and that made the score 42-18 Nevada, and that was where the score ended up.

The Storm completed their back-to-back titles, and Sarah Colangelo was awarded the MVP for the game. In addition to the trophy that was handed out by WFA Commissioner Lisa King and Director of Operations Wyndy Dominy, the runner-up received a $1,000 donation from Xenith, the helmet manufacturer, and the champion received $2,000.

Christina Bradshaw, a defensive tackle for the Storm, said “The key to the game was basically to just to hold our ground, have fun, and just to enjoy the moment. We wouldn’t be here together as a team if it wasn’t the team and the coaches working together.” Defensive back Ashley Osborne said that winning back-to-back titles “Pretty amazing. Being able to come back out here this year with a lot of rookies on the team, and really having a new experience with them has been really rewarding.”

Division 3 – Derby City Dynamite (7-1) 30 – AZ OutKast (7-1) 20

The D3 game pitted the Dynamite, with the division’s best defense, against the OutKast who had the division’s top offense. After the first two drives ended with failed fourth-down attempts, the Dynamite scored first when Nicole Lockett scored from the 2-yard line. The conversion failed, so the score was 6-0 for Derby City. Dynamite QB LaEssence Houston Buckner, who supplied most of the offense for the team in 2021, had to leave the field because of injury a few plays earlier, but Kiersten Holman, Angela A Embry, Jr., and Angelita Furman picked up the slack and drove the ball in.

After the teams traded fumbles, Jazmyne Reining finally punched the ball in for the OutKast when QB Kara Scholl hit the running back on a short slant that Reining took 87 yards for the touchdown. After their conversion failed, the score was 6-6 with 8:44 left in the half, and neither team could convert on fourth down for the remainder of the half.

Reining opened the scoring at 11:20 in the second half by taking an off-tackle handoff and breaking several tackles while zipping 62 yards for the TD. She then added the 2-point conversion. The Dynamite’s Kiersten Holman answered quickly with her own 30-yard jaunt, and when she added the conversion, the score was again tied at 14-14. Buckner reentered the game, and after a long drive that featured hard running by Crystal White and Furman, the QB ran in for the score from the 2. Furman added the conversion to put the Louisvillians on top for good at 22-14.

The Dynamite then tried two onside kicks in a row. After a penalty on the first, they tried again from their 30, and recovered this one at their own 49. Furman gained most of the yards down to the 6-yard line, and then finished with the touchdown and the 2-point conversion to put the Dynamite in the lead by 16.

The OutKast, who play in Phoenix, challenged late, and with 4:30 left in the game, Reining scored from the 5-yard line. After the AZ onside kick failed to travel 10 yards, the Dynamite converted a 4th down, and then took a knee as time ran out.

The final score was Derby City 30 and AZ 20. Furman, who only rushed for 21 yards during the regular season, was named the MVP for the game.

After the game, Lockett, who played RB and DB and who scored the Dynamite’s first touchdown, said the key to the game was trusting the process. Her team nickname is “Killer Cole,” and she said “We just trust the process and we always play like a family. Coach always tells us to trust the process, trust in ourselves, and believe in ourselves, and that’s what we did.”

The WFA Championship weekend was successful at having relatively close fought games, and in drawing attention from some high places. Derby City broke through as a champion. The Storm successfully repeated. The Renegades three-peated. As the Boston Militia, some of the current players visited the Obama White House. Perhaps the current team will receive a similar honor.

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