Passion one step from championship game

For the Passion, it’s starting to feel like 2007 again. That was the last time the Passion ran the table to an undefeated championship season, then in the National Women’s Football Association.

The Passion is two wins from matching that feat and winning the Independent Women’s Football League, where the team has played since 2008. But before the players can think of the July 26 national championship in Rock Hill, S.C., the Passion has to get through the New York Sharks at 7 p.m. today in the IWFL Eastern Conference championship at Cupples Stadium.

This will be the third time this season the teams have squared off. The Passion won the previous two games by a combined score of 52-12, giving the Sharks their only two losses.

“We have a long history with the New York Sharks,” Passion coach and co-owner Teresa Conn said. “We have a ton of respect for them.”

Tight end and team captain Kate Sullivan said the Sharks are a smart team, led by quarterback Karen Mulligan, who threw for five touchdowns and ran for another in New York’s 60-12 win against the Carolina Phoenix in the first round of the playoffs.

Sullivan said the Sharks defense is spearheaded by aggressive play from the defensive ends.

“Our goal is to not let them settle into anything,” Sullivan said. “We’ll be mixing it up, changing formations. We don’t want them to be overly comfortable.”

The Passion advanced to the semifinals with a 42-12 win against the Keystone Assault, a team based in Harrisburg. In the regular season, the Passion had surrendered only 36 points while scoring 320.

The winner today will have a date in the championship with the winner of the semifinal between the Madison (Wis.) Blaze and the Houston Energy.

The previous time the Passion and the Sharks faced each other, the Passion won, 21-6, with the help of two first-quarter touchdowns that gave them an early 14-0 lead.

“We knew we had to beat them to secure a playoff spot and home-field advantage,” Sullivan said. “Now here we are in playoffs again.”

Two more wins and the Passion can match the 2007 undefeated campaign. Conn and Sullivan have been with the team since its first season in 2002 and were members of the 2007 squad.

Each said every season has a unique feel, but the 2014 Passion is special. And even though the players believe they can win today, there is still some anxiety.

“I think there will be some nerves, but a lot of confidence too,” Sullivan said. “We’ve got to play the game to win.”

Sean Hammond: or 412-263-1466 and Twitter @sean_hammond.

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