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June 15, 2010 > Bandits win first playoff game

Bandits win first playoff game

By Gary van den Heuvel
Photos By William Mancebo

The Bay Area Bandits lived up to their nickname on Saturday, June 12, forcefully taking away any scoring opportunity, hope for victory, and ultimately the dignity of the Modesto Maniax. The Bandits won their Independent Women's Football League Tier II Divisional Playoff game by a 46-0 score that was not even as close as the final tally indicated.

In their first season ever in the women's tackle football league, the Bandits won the Tier II Pacific West Division with a 5-3 record. (The IWFL, which started in 2000 and now has 51 teams spread across North America and over 1,600 women playing, has a two-tier system, separated by roster size and operating budget.)

At first glance, the Bandits' first playoff opponent seemed a rather unlikely one: Modesto finished their season (the second in the Maniax's history) with a 1-7 record which, believe it or not, was good enough for second place in the four-team division. Modesto advanced to the post-season as a result of winning a tiebreaker over the SoCal Breakers and the Tuscon Monsoon, both of whom also sported none-too-flashy 1-7 records.

A feeling of inevitability hung in the air on the hot but breezy afternoon at Tak Fudenna Stadium; the Bandits had battered Modesto 47-8 just three weeks earlier, and the home squad wasted no time in asserting their superiority. Starting their first drive at Modesto's 35-yard line, the Bandits needed just three sweep plays - a 13-yard run by Rachel Darrow, a 10-yarder by Dakura Smith, and a 12-yard score by the speedy Smith - for the early 7-0 lead.

From there, the onslaught only grew worse for the visitors. The Bandits dominated field position, and after a Sandra Hernandez five-yard rollout pass to a wide-open Smith, and another Hernandez roll-out pass, this one connecting with La Star Brown from the one-yard line, they led 21-0 at the end of the first quarter.

By halftime it was 40-0. On a punt return, Esmi Mendoza weaved niftily around would-be tacklers before getting into the open field and following her blockers into the end zone for the Bandits' 28th point. Smith scored again on a one-yard run, and at the end of the half, Latrice Johnson scored on a 17-yard pass from Kara Kimmel, the mobile quarterback sent in to replace Hernandez.

Dakura Smith was the most dominant offensive performer for the Bandits, running for 99 yards on nine carries, and scoring three touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving). Smith's numbers would certainly have been more eye-popping had she not sat the entire second half.

As demoralized as the Maniax were, no one suffered a more punishing day than Modesto quarterback Jennifer Spaulding. When the Maniax fell behind early, they had no choice but to put the ball in the air, and this game plan yielded nothing but under-throws, overthrows and crushing sacks. The game statisticians are very likely still totaling the number of times that Spaulding was buried under the savage pass rush (rumor was that Spaulding hit the turf over a dozen times). In fact, she almost certainly will be having recurring nightmares featuring the vision of linebacker La Star Brown bearing down on her.

This was the type of lopsided contest which cried out for a mercy rule, and with five minutes remaining, mercy was delivered when the refs ordered the timekeeper to wind the clock and let it continuously run for the remainder of the game (with the consent of both coaches).

The Bandits will host the Conference Championship on Saturday, July 10, against the Wisconsin Warriors, who defeated the Memphis Belles. The time of the game is yet to be determined.

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