John Johnson's Renegades rely on team efforts, not one or two individuals.
John Johnson's Renegades rely on team efforts, not one or two individuals. KEN MCGAGH FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

Team goes for fifth straight Women’s Football Alliance championship Saturday

July 21, 2023
Kat Cornetta, Boston Globe

If the Boston Renegades hope to hoist the Women’s Football Alliance’s national championship trophy for the fifth consecutive year, they’ll need to cast all ego aside. Though it’s never been about individuals with this year’s edition.

“In our circle at the end of the last game, when we broke down what we did in that game, that was actually something we talked about,” said running back Katie Falkowski. “We don’t care who gets the credit, it’s who can get the job done in this particular situation.”

On Saturday, the Renegades’ situation is a title game matchup with the St. Louis Slam in Canton, Ohio. Both teams enter the 1 p.m. matchup, which is being aired on ESPN2, with 8-0 records.

The unselfishness that coach John Johnson has instilled over his seven-year tenure could be the edge the Renegades need. Their roster includes legends and emerging stars, but success is never overly reliant on one player.

Last year’s national title game was an example. With experienced quarterback Allison Cahill out with an Achilles’ injury, wide receiver/cornerback Chanté Bonds took her place and led the Renegades to a 32-12 victory over the Minnesota Vixen.

“It doesn’t matter who gets the credit,” said Falkowski, who had a late touchdown in the 2022 championship game. “I think everybody on our team is ready when their number is called. We understand that our ultimate goal is to win a national championship. It’s not about personal accolades. It’s about stepping up in the role that the team needs you for at that time.”

The Renegades’ offense continues to be the WFA’s best, with Cahill passing for 2,155 yards in her 20th season. Boston boasts three wide receivers in the league’s top six (Bonds, Stephanie Pascual, and KD Ellison) and three of the league’s top 15 rushers (Tytti Kuusinen, Falkowski, and Ruth Matta). That depth has allowed the Renegades to score 128 points in two games this postseason.

Falkowski, who is one of Boston’s 13 first-team selections, has emerged as one of the team’s go-to offensive weapons. The Sandwich native has 353 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. She will be called upon as the Slam target the Renegades’ more well-known offensive stars, such as Matta and Kuusinen.

A former Division 1 hockey player at Holy Cross and a member of Sandwich High’s football coaching staff, Falkowski is modest about what she has contributed in her third season with the Renegades.

“As a running back, if you feel like you have a great game contributing to your team, that feels really good,” said Falkowski. “But my job on the Boston Renegades is to do whatever it is I’m asked to do in that game.”

Johnson, who doubles as the Renegades’ defensive coordinator, continues to use his personnel effectively, which was especially evident in the 58-6 victory over the Alabama Fire in the conference championship.

“[Johnson’s] just a little mad scientist in his lab making up all these crazy things that work, which makes his defense that much better,” said linebacker Darcy Leslie.

The Slam won the WFA title in 2009, but dropped to the league’s second division two seasons later. They were successful, winning the 2016, ‘17, and ‘19 titles. But when the WFA began play again after the COVID-19 pandemic, the Slam did not. Citing the number of healthcare workers on its roster, St. Louis opted out of the 2021 season. But the Slam rejoined the league in 2022, making the jump to the top division.

The Slam advanced to Saturday’s game a 44-27 victory over the Vixen, the team the Renegades defeated in the last two national championship games. Those 27 points were the most St. Louis’s defense has allowed all year. In the regular season, the Slam had five shutouts, boasting the league’s top defense.

“They have a lot of discipline,” said Falkowski. “On the defensive side, they had a monster year. They had not a lot of points scored on them throughout the regular season. So as an offense, that’s going to be a challenge for us.”

The Slam’s defense is led by Jasmine Yandell, who has 61 tackles and two forced fumbles on the season. Alisha Straws is another defensive anchor, with 52 tackles.

Offensively, St. Louis boasts veteran quarterback Jaime Gaal, who completed 61.5 percent of her throws with 15 TDs in the regular season.