New York 24 – Austin 4

Ashland, Oregon, July 6, 2002

Against a picturesque mountain background, the inaugural IWFL Championship game was played in Ashland, Oregon. It was a bright, warm day with the game time temperature around 90. Humidity was low to make the conditions bearable, but it still was tough to play football in the heat.

The Eastern Division Winner, New York Sharks was considered the visiting team while the Western Division Winner, Austin Outlaws was considered the home team. This meant that the Sharks would have the opportunity to make the call for the coin toss. Team captain, Val Halesworth called tails but the coin turned up heads. In a surprising move, the Outlaws elected to kick-off. Taken aback, the referee asked the Outlaws if he heard correctly and they said he had. It was a golden opportunity for New York and they made Austin pay for it…twice.

The game started with the Shark’s Lori DeVivio catching the ball on the New York 35-yard line and returning the ball to the 50-yard line. The Shark’s immediately went to the game plan that got them to the championship game, give the ball to their running backs. On the first play from scrimmage, Courtney Eaton picked up 15 yards. Eaton got the ball again for a 5-yard pick-up. New York turned to Eaton a third time but was held to a 3-yard gain. On the third down play, the ball was fumbled at the snap but was recovered by the Sharks for a loss, this made it a crucial fourth down and 5 yards to go on the Outlaw’s 30-yard line. The Sharks went for it and it looked like Austin was going to stop New York. Quarterback Halesworth scrambled to her right with five Outlaws on her tail. She turned to make a pass down field and started to slip. As she was falling to the ground she tossed the ball to Eaton who was able to move the ball down to the 12-yard line.

With a first down deep in Austin’s territory, the Sharks went back to the ground game. After 3 handoffs, the Sharks had a fourth down situation with only inches to go on the 3-yard line. The Shark’s offensive line usually come through big on close yardage situations and this time was no different. Calling her own number, Halesworth not only got the few inches, but the three yards to score a touchdown. New York converted the 2-point conversion on a toss pass to Virginia “Cha Chi” Leon who ran to her left. With less than 5 minutes into the game, the Sharks drew first blood to take an 8-0 lead.

After the kick-off, the Outlaws had decent field position with the ball on their own 43-yard line. Trying to take advantage of their very good offensive line, they started the game by trying to move the ball on the ground. They had a third down and 1 yard situation when the Outlaws fumbled the ball and it was recovered by New York at the 50-yard line. The Shark’s knack of getting turnovers was showing already.

But it wasn’t only New York that has the ability to create turnovers, with Halesworth overthrowing Val “Peanut” Monaco, Austin was able to able to get the ball back by intercepting the pass. It was only the second interception she had thrown all year.

Austin did not want to let this opportunity slip away. Again they stayed on the ground and this time they were greeted with success. Continually going to running back Margaret Pace, Austin moved the ball all the way to the New York 9-yard line and a first down. It was a golden opportunity for the Outlaws to show the Sharks that they were not given the western division title but earned it. The Sharks on the other hand had other ideas and wanted to show everyone why they had only given up 12 points all season.

New York’s smothering defense only gave up 3 yards on the next 3 plays. So on fourth down and goal to go on the Shark’s 6-yard line, Austin decided to by-pass the field goal and go for the touchdown. The Sharks came up big and stopped another Austin running play after a 1-yard pick-up.

New York’s defense had stopped Austin from scoring but it was short-lived. The Outlaw defense was able to stifle the Shark’s possesion and New York was forced to punt deep from their own endzone. Not wanting to risk a miscue and possibly give the Outlaws a touchdown or the ball in great field position, Shark’s coach Nick Giannatasio ordered quarterback Halesworth to run to the back of the endzone to take a safety. This made the score 8-2 in favor of New York.

Late in the second quarter, the Sharks had a great opportunity to increase their lead. New York got the ball deep in Austin territory after the Outlaws chose not to punt the ball but to try for the first down on a fourth down and 11-yards to go situation. The draw play picked up only 1 yard and the Sharks took over with the ball on the 35-yard line of Austin. Keeping the ball on the ground, the Sharks moved all the way down to the 2-yard line, but this time Austin stopped New York at the door.

During halftime, Shark’s coach Giannatasio talked to the team. He reminded the team that this was it, they should give it their all as there was no tomorrow. He said, “there’s 30 minutes left in your season, don’t leave anything in the tank here”. The talk seemed to work.

By winning the coin toss at the beginning of the game, Austin was given the choice on what to do on the opening kick-off and they decided to kick the ball. This meant that the Sharks had the choice for the second-half kick-off and they chose to receive the ball.

Starting off from their own 45-yard line, the Sharks used the same strategy they opened the game with. They kept the ball on the ground, giving the ball to Leon and Eaton to move the yard markers. To keep the Outlaws on their toes, New York did mix in one pass play, a big 30-yard gainer from Halesworth to Monaco. The scoring play was a 7-yard run by Leon. The Sharks converted the 2-point play on a Halesworth pass to Lori DeVivio. It took a little more than 4 minutes and 9 plays for New York to stretch their lead to 16-2.

Austin had to start feeling the pressure of the championship starting to slip away. No one had scored more than 6 points in a game against the Sharks and Austin had to score 14 in less than half of a game. On the ensuing kick-off Monica Gauck tried to get the Outlaws back into the game. She had a great return, getting all the way to the New York 45-yard line. Only one problem, she fumbled the ball away.

The Sharks have feasted all season on turnovers, and the Sharks were feasting again. Going to the air, Halesworth hit Monaco for a 25-yard pass and then hit her again from the 19-yard line for New York’s third and final touchdown of the game. The Sharks made the 2-point conversion on a pass from Halesworth to Monica Marsh to make the score 24-2 with 8:35 remaining in the third quarter.

Normally there was still plenty of time left in the game, but Austin had yet to solve the Shark’s defense. The Outlaws were able to move the ball somewhat, but when they came close to the red zone, the Sharks were able to shut them down. Austin tried to pass abit more in the second half but they could not withstand the constant pressure from Chrissy “Killer” Hilla and Missy Marmorale.

The Outlaws did get on the board one more time after the Sharks created another turnover. Halesworth playing safety, picked off an Austin pass on the Shark’s 20-yard line. New York could not move the ball this time and when Austin was able to sack the quarterback, the Sharks were facing a fourth down from their own 12-yard line. On the punt play, the ball was snapped over the punter’s head and through the end zone for another safety. It made the score 24-4 which was the final score.

With less than 2 minutes left, the Sharks ceremoniously dumped a bucket of water on coaches Giannatasio and Joe Mento. After the game, IWFL Eastern Conference Director, Deborah DelToro presented the IWFL Championship trophy to Shark’s owner Andra Douglas. Bottles of champagne were then opened and poured on the players and coaches. The game balls were given to Marmorale and to Hilla. The players went back to the hotel to prepare for the evening celebrations.

It had been a long season but the Sharks had a perfect 9-0 season and the IWFL Championship. To make it even sweeter, the Sharks had vowed since the cold days of February that they were going to win the championship for team mate Sharon Pascale.

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