New York Sharks 27 @ Pittsburgh Passion 10

Wexford, Pennsylvania, June 5, 2010
The game had the atmosphere of a playoff game as this game would determine which team made it into the post-season. The IWFL uses a complicated formula involving a team’s win-loss percentage and their Massey Rating to see who would make it into the playoffs. The Massey Rating is used to help even out any imbalances in a team’s schedule when compared to other teams, think college BCS. But for the New York Sharks (7-1) the answer was quite simple, win and your’re in. For the Pittsburgh Passion it got a whole lot more complex as they would have to win and by an unknown score.

To help the home team out, former Pittsburgh Steeler great Franco Harris was at the game and performed the coin toss. He certainly helped the home team as the Sharks lost the toss, but Pittsburgh chose to defer to the second half. New York chose the ball and it soon seemed to be a bad choice.

On the opening kick-off, disaster struck as the ball short hopped in front of the kick returner and skipped past her. She ran back to recover the ball but could only fall on it at the 2-yard line. With their backs against the wall, the Sharks tried to run the ball out on the legs of Kathy Holloman but the Pittsburgh defense held strong and forced the Sharks to punt after 3 plays.

Things got only worse as the snap to punter Megan Antonucci was low and she could not handle the loose ball. She quickly decided to kick the ball out of the endzone, thinking that the worse it could be was a safety. Instead the Sharks were hit with a penalty for kicking the ball out of bounds. This now gave the Passion the football on the turnover of downs and after the penalty of half the distance to the goal line was assessed, they had the ball at the New York 3-yard line.

Things looked pretty bleak, but the Sharks defense came on to the field with fire in their eyes and stopped the Passion cold. After 3 plays, Pittsburgh had actually lost a yard and chose to settle for a field goal. Kicker Lauren Bracco drilled the football from 19 yards out to give the home team the early lead, 3-0.

It wasn’t a good thing to give up points so quickly in the game, but the bright side was that the defense was poised to show the Passion some more New York hospitality.

On their next possession, the Sharks had better field position but could not do a thing. The Passion stopped the drive early with an interception of quarterback Karen Mulligan at the Pittsburgh 41 yard line.

Again the Sharks defense bailed out the offense by stopping Pittsburgh. The big play of the drive was a sack by Takesha Dye, forcing the Passion to punt the ball.

But again the special teams play went awry as the punt was fumbled with Pittsburgh recovering the ball. It appeared that the returner was hit just as she touched the ball but no penalty was called. Pittsburgh had another golden opportunity with the ball on the New York 18-yard line. But yet again the defense bailed the team out. Pittsburgh quarterback Janice Masters was sacked by Lakisha Grant and Shauntay Stewart to push the Passion back to the 24-yard line. Masters then hit receiver Jenine Suprano at the 13-yard line, but was quickly met by 3 Sharks. Suprano tried to fight for the first down but was stripped of the ball and New York recovered.

The Sharks were able to get a first down on their next possession but that was about it before they were forced to punt. The Passion started this drive from the New York 45-yard line. A facemask penalty against the Sharks moved the ball closer by 15 yards. A couple of short passes by Masters to Suprano and Pittsburgh got into the red zone. But the Sharks defense stiffened and forced the Passion to attempt a 31 yard field goal. The kick was blocked and that kept the score at 3-0 in favor of the Passion.

The Sharks got the ball at their own 21-yard line. On the first play of the drive Mulligan handed the ball off to Holloman for a nice 6 yard gain. It was a decent sign for the struggling offense, but then on the next play there was a big blaring sign that the offense was not struggling any more. From the shotgun formation Mulligan again handed the ball off to Holloman who hit the hole up the middle of the line and broke a tackle at the Sharks 40-yard line. From there the former UCONN track star just rocketed down the middle of the field leaving Pittsburgh defenders in the wake of her red shoes. It was an electrifying 63 yard touchdown run and after Antonucci split the uprights, the Sharks took the lead 7-3 with 12:22 remaining in the second quarter.

Pittsburgh seeing their chances of making the playoffs were starting to slip away and so they started to open up their playbook a bit more. Starting from their own 35-yard line they ran one play which netted them a loss of 3 yards. But on the next play, Masters threw a short pass to Amanda Haeg at the 39-yard line. Haeg caught the low pass and seemed to be bracing herself for a hit from a New York defender. Running back Lyndsi Hughes was trailing the play and just as Haeg was tackled, she pitched the ball back to Hughes who ran the remaining 61 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown. The Passion had run the hook and ladder play to perfection and the home team crowd went wild as they took the lead 10-7 with 9:30 left in the half.

The Sharks offense tried to match the score with a drive that started from their own 31-yard line. After 13 plays, New York was down to the Pittsburgh 9-yard line before it stalled with an interception of Mulligan in the endzone.

Pittsburgh had pulled one trick out of their sleeve and so they tried another from their own 20-yard line. This time it was the flea flicker play with Masters handing the ball off to Hughes who tried to reach her teammate with a pass. The pass fluttered in the air and was picked off by Lauren Pringle who returned the ball to the Passion 14-yard line.

New York did not waste this second chance as Mulligan calmly stood in the pocket as 3 Pittsburgh linesmen came running at her with less than 2 minutes left to go in the half. She threw a strike to Chante Bonds as she got hit by said linesmen. Bonds was tackled at the 3-yard line for a first and goal situation. Mulligan then connected with Pringle for a touchdown. After another Antonucci extra point, the Sharks had regained the lead 14-10 at halftime.

At the start of the third quarter, Pittsburgh was able to move the ball down to the Sharks 38-yard line before the drive stalled. Unlike the start of the first half, the New York offense was up and running. Running with Holloman that is, as she was repeatedly handed the ball and she pounded out yards all the way for another scoring touchdown. The drive took 6 plays with the highlight being a 34 yard run in which she broke 3 tackles before being stopped. Antonucci hit her third consecutive extra point to put New York ahead 21-10.

The Sharks scored one more time and fittingly enough it came from the defense. The Sharks defense for most of the game played hard and hit hard. With victory in sight as well as the playoffs, Pringle intercepted Passion quarterback Sherry Kring at the New York 10-yard line and returned it all the way back for a touchdown. This 90-yard play was the longest interception returned for a touchdown by a Shark since Christina Pagan ran one back 88 yards in 2006. Antonucci’s kick went wide but the visitor’s now had a comfortable 27-10 lead with 8:03 left in the third quarter.

The fourth quarter got a bit sloppy as there were 4 turnovers but they did not result in anymore scoring. At the end it was New York winning the game and earning a trip to the playoffs for the first time in 3 years and the first playoff appearance by rookie head coach Fabian Alessandro. It was also a blow to the Passion who have been to the playoffs every year since they joined the IWFL and it broke their 20 home game consecutive winning streak.

The game was marked with multiple turnovers from both squads but the Sharks defense kept Pittsburgh from capitalizing on New York’s miscues too much. The Sharks offense started off slowly but by the second quarter they hitting on all cylinders led by the running of Holloman.

The New York Sharks will travel north to New England to take on the Boston Militia as it is now playoff time. The Sharks and Militia will be playing for the IWFL Northeast Division title with the winner going to the Easter Conference Championship game. Kick-off will be at 6:00pm (EDT). If you cannot make it to the game, listen to Pat Brown and Dave Maxwell describe all of the action on WFNradio.

1 2 3 4 Final
New York Sharks 0 14 13 0 27
Pittsburgh Passion 3 7 0 0 10

Scoring Summary

First Quarter
PT – (10:53) Bracco 19 yard field goal

Second Quarter
NY – (12:22) Holloman 73 yard run (Antonucci kick)
PT – (09:20) Hughes 63 yard run from Haeg after pass from Masters (Bracco kick)
NY – (01:13) Pringle 4 yard pass from Mulligan (Antonucci kick)

Third Quarter
NY – (09:47) Holloman 6 yard run (Antonucci kick)
NY – (08:03) Pringle 90 yard interception return (Kick failed)

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