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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
July 7, 2006

Fusion has their first playoff win; on to Oklahoma

Cleveland--The first two years of their existence, the Cleveland Fusion went to the playoffs in the National Women�s Football Association. One year they made it to the second game before losing, then injuries and changes in personnel and the coaching staff derailed them, briefly. Last year, the team narrowly missed being a wild-card selection.

This year, the fifth for the team, the veterans came back with new determination, fueled by enthusiastic rookies and a pair of new coaching assistants.

After a 7-1 regular season, the team was not about to lose the first game of the playoffs, especially at home. And so it proved to be, in a 52-13 win over the Philadelphia Phoenix on July 1 at Bearcat Stadium in suburban Bedford.

It was a hard-fought battle, closer than the score might indicate, with both offense and defense refusing to give in. At stake was the second-level playoff game (of four levels), to be played July 8 at the Oklahoma City Lightning, who competed in last year�s championship game, losing to Detroit.

The Fusion scored first, with 5:54 left in the first quarter, when leading rusher Martina Latessa took it in on a 51 yard run. A 2-point conversion attempt failed. Two minutes later, Fusion defender Sheila Majni recovered a fumble by her teammate Shannon Anderson on a Philadelphia punt, which eventually resulted in a touchdown by Anderson, shortly after the beginning of the second quarter.

With just over five minutes gone in the second quarter, the first penalty of the game was called, opening the dam to a flood of them by each team. This one was holding against the Fusion, but fortunately, it didn�t restrict their forward motion, as Anderson again scored, this time on a 44-yard pass from quarterback Casey Stinson.

Phoenix quarterback Zeffi Angelikas scrambled for her team�s first touchdown with 3:40 on the clock in the second quarter, and Cynthia Corisdeo�s kick was good, bringing the score to 18-7. With 35 seconds showing on the clock, Latessa increased the margin on a 4-yard run. Jennifer Sheldon�s kick was successful, and the half ended with the score of 26-7.

Midway through the third quarter on a seemingly innocuous play, Philadelphia tackle Tracy Weand went down with a severe leg injury. Her leg was stabilized on the field, before she could be removed on a stretcher and taken to a nearby hospital. It was a touching moment to see her teammates form a corridor for her to pass through, as they reached out to touch her and wish her well. No report on her condition is currently available.

When play resumed, Stinson embarked on a 25-yard run to the end zone, greatly reminiscent of the famed Elroy �Crazylegs� Hirsch of NFL fame, noted for such back-and-forth and sideways efforts. Two minutes later, Fusion wide receiver Shauna Nevel scored on a 71-yard pass from Stinson. Sheldon�s kicks were both good. However, in an excess of energy surrounding the last play, the Phoenix incurred simultaneous penalties�unsportsmanlike conduct and a personal foul, which resulted in a player being ejected and the Fusion kickoff moved to the 35 yard line. The third quarter ended with the score at 397.

With 5:46 left on the clock in the final quarter, Philadelphia scored again on a four-yard pass from Angelikas to Melissa DiCicco. When they then attempted a two-point pass conversion, it was intercepted by Cleveland�s Peru Barber, who ran it the entire length of the field to her own end zone, only to have it ruled a dead ball, and no touchdown.

At 4:20 remaining, Latessa scored again on a 53 yard run, and not quite three minutes later, Barber intercepted again, and this time ran it back 55 yards for a touchdown that counted. Sheldon�s kick bounced off the crossbar but was ruled a good one, and the final score was 52-13.

Overall, Stinson had 8 completions in 11 attempts for 195 yards and three TDs, plus 54 yards rushing and one TD scored. Latessa had 222 yards on 18 carries and three TDs, while Anderson totaled 88 yards on four catches with two TDs. Nevel had one TD on a 71 yard pass play.

Defensively, in addition to her two interceptions and one TD, Barber also had four solo tackles, five assists and deflected a pass. Stefanie Russo accounted for a sack, a pass deflection and a total of 11 tackles, eight of them solos. Stephanie Balochko deflected two passes, with one sack, three solo tackles and two assists. Elizabeth Wozniak had five solo tackles.

And now? Off to Oklahoma City for a match with the Lightning. For info and tickets, see or call the team office at 440-8161457.


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