Women’s football: Chicago Force falls to San Diego Surge in WFA championship
Chicago Force wide receiver Trish Harper (81) catches the ball deep in the end zone during the first quarter of Conference Championship game against the Boston Militia at Evanston Township High School on Saturday, July 21, 2012. The Chicago Force defeate
Updated: September 10, 2012 12:49PM
PITTSBURGH — Wipe away the first and final three minutes of Saturday’s Women’s Football Alliance Championship game and the Chicago Force would have captured the franchise’s first championship by 23 points.
But by allowing the San Diego Surge four long touchdowns drives during that six-minute span — including a 66-yard punt return with 1:49 remaining for the decisive score — the Force fell 40-36 in Pittsburgh.
“The first three minutes we got off to a pretty awful start, but we held it together like we always do,” said Albi Zhubi, of Chicago, who made five receptions for 99 yards and a touchdown. “We fought and we fought and to come up short is difficult.”
Although San Diego managed to quickly turn a 36-27 deficit into a 40-36 lead and pinned the Force on their own 5-yard line with less than two minutes remaining, Chicago quarterback Sami Grisafe guided the Force offense down the field with three long passing plays.
The Evanston resident connected on consecutive plays with Barrington’s Ashley Berggren for 22 yards, Zhubi for 28 and Trish Harper for 30. But Grisafe was intercepted on the fourth play of the drive when she lost her grip on the ball and couldn’t connect with Zhubi on a slant.
In the locker room after the game and during the eight-hour bus ride from Pittsburgh to Chicago, Grisafe and her teammates were left to deal with the disappointment and second-guess what happened in the final three minutes.
“It will be difficult for the rest of our lives,” said Grisafe, who threw for 269 yards and four touchdowns. “This is the second time we’ve had an upset in a championship game, and we still don’t have one (title) for the organization, so it’s not a feeling I enjoy by any means. The second time doesn’t make it easier.
“But it’s good for more people than for less. I wish we were on the other side of it, but I’m glad it wasn’t a blowout; some lopsided, boring game to watch with a bunch of running. I’m glad it was an exciting, edge-of-your-seat type game because it was a good display for women’s football.”
Still, Grisafe and her teammates can take satisfaction in that they participated in the highest-profile women’s football game in WFA history. The game was played in front of 2,307 fans at Heinz Field and broadcast on ESPN3.
For a league trying to build its reputation and fan base, a high-scoring championship that came down to the final play was unquestionably a positive for the WFA.
“To be the first women’s championship game in an NFL stadium, I think it was a great showing,” Grisafe said. “Hopefully ESPN likes it and it will catapult (the league) into some new opportunities.”
On the somber journey home, Grisafe and many of her Force teammates talked about what they could have done differently to change Saturday’s result. But at a certain point, the conversation shifted to next season.
Although some players won’t return to the team — including Zhubi and cornerback Emma Finestone — the loss made many on the Force eager to resume pursuit of the franchise’s first championship next season.
“We’re already talking about that in two weeks from now we’re going to get in the gym and start our offseason training,” Grisafe said. “We want it and we’re not going away.”