Tennessee Trojans 13, Florida Avengers 9 at Fortera Stadium in Clarksville, TN
In a game packed with enough dramatic moments to make a good Netflix series, the Trojans outlasted the Avengers to earn their first victory in the Women’s National Football Conference.
The first-year Trojans came into the game with a 0-2 record. They had been blown out by the Atlanta Phoenix 0-60 in their first game but settled down some, and lost in a 0-6 squeaker to Florida in their second game. The 1-1 Avengers lost 0-40 to the Kansas City Glory in week one, then came back to defeat the Trojans on April 8.
Field position favored Avengers early in the first quarter, and when Florida punter Yanah Floridis boomed a kick to the Trojan’s 11-yard line, it looked like the home team was in danger of giving the ball back to their opponents in good field position. Tennessee had other ideas, and the offense mixed effective running and passing to march all the way to the end zone. Karissa Burnett began the drive with an 11-yard gain for a first down.
Quarterback Tessa Ortiz-Marsh suffered two bad snaps, but recovered to gain 5 and 8 yards for another first down. A facemask penalty on the defense gave the Trojans the ball on the Florida 45, and Ortiz-Marsh hit Erica Mason-Austin for another first down to the 35. A false start moved them back to the 40, but Ortiz-Marsh found Mason-Austin open again, this time for 27 yards to the Florida 13. From there, running back Dmayla Holliday sliced through the middle of the Avenger’s line for the score. Stacey Kremer added the PAT to give the Trojans their first lead of their history, 7-0.
On the ensuing kickoff, Florida returner Brianna Daniel downed the kickoff at her own 4-yard line. Quarterback Molly Richardson attempted to hand off to running back Aurieyall Scott on the first play, but the ball squirted out of her hands and was recovered by the Trojan’s Kandy Boritz on the 4-yard line. An illegal substitution penalty moved the ball to the 2, and the Florida defense stuffed Holliday for no gain, and the quarter ended with Tennessee ahead 7-0. Holliday had better luck on the next play and scored in the other end zone. The Trojans decided to go for 2 and went back to the Holliday well once too often. She was gang-tackled just short of the goal, and the score stood Tennessee 13-0 over Florida.
The Avengers’ Shanysse Emerenciana returned the Trojans’ kickoff 17 yards to her own 36, and the Florida offense began to click. Richardson found Chelsea Parrish open for 18 yards to the Tennessee 45, then Jessica Salazar gained 4 on the ground. Richardson hit Scott for 12, followed by another Salazar run for 15, and Parrish caught another Richardson pass for 7 yards to the 17 yard line. Salazar made that the 10 yard line when she reeled off another 7 yard run. Florida seemed to be rolling downhill, and poised to score, when Salazar fumbled the next handoff. Fita Boyce-Jennings recovered for the Trojans on their own 15, and turnovers halted the first of several deep penetrations by the Avengers.
The Florida defense held though, and forced a Madeline Harrison punt to the Florida 49. The Avengers once again dove deep into Tennessee territory and looked like a lock to begin to cut into the Trojans’ lead. Richardson completed passes of 11 and 8 to Scott, and on 4th down, Tennessee jumped offsides to give Florida the first down. The officials called pass interference on the Trojans on the next play, which put the ball on the Tennessee 22. Ashanti Broxey caught a Richardson pass for 12 yards to the 15 yard line, and the Avengers were in the Humble Bluezone again. The wheels of their drive came off once again, however, when Richardson mishandled the snap, and Sheldon Binz recovered the ball at the 14.
The Trojans returned the favor, and after LoRoyia Bauer and Breana Hanes sacked Ortiz-Marsh on her own 12 yard line. On the next play, Angie Patten pressured Ortiz-Marsh, who fumbled on the 4 yard line, and Hanes recovered the fumble.
After Salazar gained 1 yard to the 3, Trojan linebacker Courtney Mosier stopped her on the next play for a 2 yard loss, Richardson called for an end zone shot to Emerenciana. The Tennessee defender clearly pushed the receiver early, but there was no flag on the play. On 4th and goal from the 5, Richardson tried to find Parrish, but Lydia Qualls Jarrett had her well covered, and the Avengers turned the ball over on downs.
The Trojans took a knee and the first half ended with them leading 13-0.
The Avengers wanted to start the second half fast, and so the coaching staff called an onside kick. The Trojans must have had a feeling though, and they had nine players up. Tennessee returner Melany Frierson fielded the bounding ball and was tackled at her own 40.
Florida gave up a first down, but held. Their punt went to the Florida 34, and the Trojans also held their opponents, and Florida also had to punt on 4th and 13. Then disaster struck for the Trojans when Mason-Austin muffed the ensuing punt and Broxey recovered it, giving the Avengers the ball on Tennessee’s 24 yard line.
Leslie Hubbell gained 7 yards on first down, then defensive linewoman Paige Jones roughed Richardson, and the penalty moved the ball to the 9 yard line. Richardson then passed to Broxey for the touchdown. After she added the extra point, by bouncing it off and through the uprights, Florida had cut the Tennessee lead by more than half.
The Avengers once again tried the onside line drive kick, and the Trojans were once again ready. Frierson grabbed the ball and returned it 18 yards to the Florida 40 yard line. The Tennesseans moved the ball down to the 22 yard line, as the 4th quarter started but on 4th and 3, Ortiz-Marsh’s pass went in and out of Frierson’s hands, and the Avengers took over.
Florida then began their own drive, and Richardson located Emerenciana for 23 yards to her own 45. Things began to go south, though, when Falls Jarrett tackled Scott for a 7 yard loss. On the next play the Trojans’ Kremer intercepted Richardson’s pass attempt to Broxey on the Tennessee 46, and returned it to the Florida 25 yard line.
After a block in the back penalty, the Trojans started at the Florida 47. They moved it to the 42, but on 4th and 5, defensive linewoman Kiana Stafford sacked Ortiz-Marsh. The Tennessee quarterback made it worse when she threw Briana Haines to the ground for a 15 yard unnecessary roughness call. The penalty took the ball down to the Tennessee 34 yard line.
Kremer enjoyed her first interception, so she did it again. She picked off Richardson’s attempt to throw deep on the 21, and returned the pickoff to her own 27.
The Trojans offense could not generate much yardage, and on 4th and 11 from the 27, Margo Smith blocked Madeline Henderson’s punt, and Alexandra Holliday recovered it on the Tennessee 8 yard line.
The Avengers offense had trouble moving the ball, but on 4th and goal, Richardson scrambled outside and found a receiver in the end zone, but offsetting penalties negated the score. On the next play, Carah Johnson batted away the ball, and Tennessee took over on their own seven, with 3:00 minutes left.
Three plays lost a net 5 yards, and faced 4th down from their own 2. Rather than attempting a punt, Ortiz-Marsh scrambled in the back of the end zone, and gave up the safety with 35 seconds left, when she was sacked. That made the score 13-9 in favor of the Trojans.
Broxey fielded the ensuing free kick, and returned it to the Florida 49 yard line. Richardson hit Parrish for a 4 yard gain, but she could not get out of bounds, and the game ended.
Both teams played hard, and both played well, at times. But both also made mistakes that, in the case of Florida, cost them the game. Defensive standout Angie Patten was named the Player of the Game for Florida, and Courtney Mosier earned the award for the victorious Trojans.
The Trojans have another bye next week and will play the 0-3 Philly Phantomz on May 6. The Avengers return home and play the 2-1 Washington Prodigy on April 29.
Russ Crawford is a Professor of History at Ohio Northern University. He graduated from Chadron State College with a BA in History in 1985, and again in 1991 with a BS in Social Studies Education. He taught high school in South Dakota and Iowa. He received his MA in History in 2000, and his Ph.D. in 2004 from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He has published three books: The Use of Sports to Promote the American Way of Life During the Cold War: Cultural Propaganda, 1945-1963 (2008), Le Football: The History of American Football in France (2016), and Women’s American Football: Breaking Barriers On and Off the Field (2022).