By JoAnne Klimovich Harrop
Sunday, July 8, 2007
The Pittsburgh Passion women's football team earned a trip to Nashville, Tenn., to play for the franchise's first championship. And it defeated its biggest rival to get there.
Pittsburgh knocked off the Cleveland Fusion, 49-15, before an estimated crowd of 4,000 people Saturday night at Cupples Stadium in a National Women's Football Association semifinal game. The Passion claimed the Northern Conference title.
Pittsburgh meets the winner of Columbus Comets/Oklahoma City Lightning at 7 p.m. on July 21 at Whites Creek High School in Nashville.
"This is the best birthday present in the world," said Passion running back Torina Henley, who scored two touchdowns on her 36th birthday. "And it will be one to remember. This is such a special group of women."
While she was talking, Henley, who is playing her final football season, wore a cowboy hat while "Rocky Top" was playing behind her.
The Passion defeated Cleveland for the third time this season. Prior to this year, Pittsburgh had never beaten the Fusion.
The Passion (11-0) advance to the title game in its first playoff appearance in its five-year history.
"This means the world to us," said quarterback Lisa Horton, who completed 9 of 12 passes for three touchdowns and 179 yards. "It has been an amazing five years. And every step of the struggle to get to the title game has been worth it."
It wasn't easy last night, either.
Cleveland took the opening kickoff and nine plays later scored on a 2-yard run by Erica Ware. The Passion tied the score on an 11-yard run by Henley and took a 15-7 lead on a 5-yard run by Lyndsi Hughes. After a Cleveland penalty on the extra-point attempt, the Passion scored a two-point conversion on a run by Horton at the 1:05 mark of the first quarter.
Pittsburgh added two second-quarter touchdowns after Horton completed a 48-yard pass to wide receiver Wilma Walton and a 53-yarder to wide receiver Lori Johnson.
The Passion had 29-7 halftime advantage.
Pittsburgh opened the second half with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Horton to Walton.
In the fourth, Henley ran in from 12 yards for her second touchdown with 14:01 to play. Passion running back Jenine Suprano capped the scoring with a 27-yard run. The extra-point attempt was blocked.
Cleveland got a late fourth-quarter score on a 6-yard pass from Mary Dietrick to Shauna Nevel, but the Passion dominated Cleveland in the second and third quarters.
"Our defense has been solid all year," said lineman Melissa Yeck, who led the Passion with 12 tackles, two unassisted. "We were a little nervous to start, but we regained our composure. This defense might bend, but it doesn't break."
Passion coach Ron Coder said this team has everything a coach would want.
"We have said the word 'championship' all season at the end of every practice," Coder said. "This season is one I will always remember. I know some of the women. This is their last year, so we want them to go out with a championship because they have been here since day one."