Jamila Gordon #37 of the Boston Renegades
Jamila Gordon of the Boston Renegades celebrates the team's fifth straight WFA Pro title. ©Mitzi Velez Lorenzana

Renegades grind out win for 5th straight WFA Pro National Title

July 22, 2023
Kevin J. Stone, New England Football Journal

CANTON, OH – 40 consecutive wins and five straight championships, eight for Boston women’s professional football overall.

The Boston Renegades continued to add to their legacy on Saturday afternoon at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, winning another Women’s Football Alliance Pro Division National Championship with a 35-7 win over a good St. Louis Slam team on national television.

The Slam made life difficult for Boston early, but in the end, championship teams find ways to win and that’s exactly what the Renegades did. Boston has won 40 straight since 2018, and now, with eight championships overall including the five in a row, it’s time to start recognizing them as the next great dynasty in New England sports.

Defensive linemen Whitney Zelee (6 tackles, 2 TFL’s) was named the MVP, but the entire line on both sides of the ball could have easily been given the award. Boston was dominant up front all day long when it mattered most.

“Honestly, we practice against the best offense in football twice a week, so we felt fully prepared,” Zelee told ESPN in a postgame interview. The network embarrassingly did not show any of the postgame presentations, so it wasn’t known that Zelee won MVP until about a half hour later. “We’ve been in tough challenges before every day at practice, so we just kept battling, rallied as a team and we got the job done.

“This is a very special one for me. The last time I was playing in a championship we lost in 2017, we lost. This means the world to me and to do it with such amazing women who have been working their butts off, this is everything.”

Boston won the toss, took the ball and immediately started at the St. Louis 46 thanks to a nice return from Ruth Matta. Chante Bonds hauled in the first pass of the game from Cahill on 3rd & 7 to extend the drive. But, in a rare lapse in execution, the Renegades were stuffed on 4th-&-2 at the Slam 23, turning the ball over on downs.

The defense quickly forced a punt and Shani Dummott set the offense up at the Slam 19 after a great return. Unfortunately, the Renegades soon faced another 4th-&-3 at the 12 but took a delay of game. Cahill was picked off in the end zone on the next snap as Boston seemed out of sorts early on offense.

Boston quickly earned a three-and-out, but were called for pass interference to extend St. Louis’ second drive. A deep post on another third down for the Slam moved them into Boston territory with less than four minutes left in the first, but eventually they had to punt again. Shani came up with another fantastic return, taking it to the Boston 43, but stunningly, Cahill and the offense almost immediately had to punt again. The Renegades pinned the Slam deep inside the 10 and the teams went to the 2nd knotted at 0-0. After a couple first downs the Slam punted again and the offense had another crack at getting on track from the Boston 46, but once again a punt was the result as both defenses continued to clamp down.

St. Louis broke through first though, capping a 5-play, 80-yard drive with 8:41 left when Jada Humphrey broke off a 51-yard touchdown run, giving the Slam a 7-0 lead. Dummott continued to give the Renegades excellent field position, bringing the ensuing kickoff back to the Boston 48. Tytti Kuusinen came up with a huge 4th-&-1 pickup to keep things moving and both she and Ruth Matta continued churning hard-nosed yards out on the ground. Finally, with 3:41 left before the break, Stephanie Pascual took a quick slant from Cahill then rumbled 25 yards, stiff arming and dragging defenders on her way to the end zone. Vanessa Baer’s PAT tied the game at 7-7.

Momentum completely shifted as St. Louis was flagged for a face mask on the TD with the call enforced on the kick off. St. Louis took over at its own 21 and just one play later, Darcy Leslie came up with an interception and return to the 11. Two snaps after that, Cahill hit Bonds for a 10 yard TD on a slant and Baer made it 14-7 with 2:20 to go.

Boston forced a punt and got the ball back with 52 seconds left at the St. Louis 44 but couldn’t take advantage, turning it over on downs. St. Louis worked its way into field goal range and missed a 48-yarder, but got to retry after a running-into-the-kicker call, but still missed. The Renegades crawled to the locker room with the slim 14-7 lead, but couldn’t feel good about their overall performance.

St. Louis worked its way downfield during the first drive of the second half, going heavy with the wide receiver screen game and reaching the Boston 35 before turning it over on downs. One snap later, Bonds broke a big run down to the Slam 45. Having 4th-&-2, Head Coach John Johnson went wildcat and had Heather Marini hand it off to Kuusinen and she rumbled forward to keep the drive going at the St. Louis 25. Moments later, Kuusinen plunged in from four yards out, putting the Renegades up 21-0 with 5:43 to go in the third.

The defense came up with an immediate three-and-out and the offense was back out at the St. Louis 36. The Renegades found themselves in a 3rd-&-24 situation after a holding call moments later. But, Matta came up with a huge catch on a wheel down the left sideline, then on fourth down, she scampered around the edge and into the end zone from six yards out to make it 28-7 in the final 30 seconds of the third.

The teams traded multiple turnovers on downs in the fourth quarter until the Renegades put together one final clock-killing drive in the final four minutes. Latoya Saulters added the icing to the cake with a late nine-yard TD run before the defense closed things out and Coach Johnson received an ice cold Gatorade bucket shower.