Spring Gamble and Darcy Leslie of the Boston Renegades tackle Kelli Smith of the Alabama Fire.
Linebackers Spring Gamble and Darcy Leslie of the Boston Renegades tackle Running Back Kelli Smith of the Alabama Fire. © Mitzi Velez Lorenzana

Boston Renegades trample Alabama Fire to earn berth in Women’s Football Alliance championship game

July 8, 2023
Greg Levinsky, Boston Globe

REVERE — Moments after the Boston Renegades finished shaking hands with the Alabama Fire, a familiar chant began to reverberate across Harry Della Russo Stadium.

“‘Ship, ‘ship, ‘ship.”

The Renegades earned the right to compete for their fifth consecutive Women’s Football Alliance championship after blitzing the previously unbeaten Fire, 58-6, in the WFA National Conference championship on a misty Saturday night.

“That’s the motivation,” said Renegades linebacker Spring Gamble. “But we also came to the realization that we still need to finish the job.”

Winners of the last four titles — there was no season in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic — the Renegades (8-0) will play the winner of St. Louis Slam and Minnesota Vixen in the WFA championship game July 22 at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2 at 1 p.m.

“We live by the one-day-at-a-time motto,” said Renegades coach John Johnson. “We don’t think about what happened yesterday. We think about right now and just try to be the best version of ourselves.”

Two weeks after cruising past the D.C. Divas in the conference semifinals, 63-6, the Renegades continued the momentum, extinguishing the previously undefeated Fire (7-1), who played in the WFA’s top division for the first time after a four-year absence. Facing a stingy Fire defense that boasted of the league’s top four sack leaders, the Renegades established the run game early on before unveiling its potent aerial assault led by veteran quarterback Allison Cahill, 42, the five-time MVP of the league.

Running backs Tytti Kuusinen (12 carries, 132 yards, 2 touchdowns) and Ruth Matta (9 carries, 104 yards, 1 touchdown) led the ground attack as the dynamic duo put the visitors on their heels with Kuusinen bringing down the thunder and Matta the lightning.

Tytti Kuusinen of the Boston Renegades rushes into the open field against the Alabama Fire.
Boston Renegades Running Back Tytti Kuusinen punished Alabama Fire defenders with bruising rushes from between the tackles. When she wasn’t bashing would-be tacklers she made big gains in the open field. ©Mitzi Velez Lorenzana

Kuusinen accounted for 59 of the 69 yards the Renegades gained on their opening scoring drive, which she capped with bullish 12-yard touchdown run. After Megan McFadden deflected a punt on the Fire’s ensuing possession, Matta’s 44-yard burst put the Renegades in scoring position. Cahill, who completed 14 of 20 passes for 175 yards and 5 touchdowns, found receiver Stephanie Pascual (6 receptions, 31 yards, 2 touchdowns) on a 3-yard shovel pass for a 14-0 lead.

Cahill then lobbed a bubble screen to wide receiver Chanté Bonds, who turned and burned the Fire’s secondary, outrunning everyone on a 46-yard TD. Bonds (2 catches, 67 yards, 2 TDs) made it 21-0. In recognition of that fact, and that she’s listed as No. 21 on the Renegades’ roster, Bonds had a musical request that went fulfilled when lyrics from Drake and 21 Savage’s “Rich Flex” blared from the stadium’s loudspeaker after she scored: “21, can you do something for me?”

“From the outside, it looks like there’d be a lot that goes through your mind during these plays, but in my mind things move slowly because of the preparation,” Bonds said. “And I love that song. It’s all about entertainment, and we’re having fun.”

Matta added a score and Kuusinen found the end zone again to build an insurmountable 35-0 halftime lead that grew in the second half.

Defensively, McFadden, Gamble and defensive end Whitney Zelee led a standout all-around effort. The Renegades limited Fire running back Kelli Smith (17 carries, 47 yards) well below her league-leading average of nearly 10 yards per carry.

Depth also proved a factor as the Renegades fielded 52 players, compared to 32 for Alabama. The majority of the Fire’s impact players play two-ways. Very few Renegades do.

Having outscored the opposition by a whopping margin, 435-57, the Renegades will ride a 39-game winning streak into the WFA championship game.

“This is a special group,” Cahill said, “but we’ve got one more to go.”