The mettle of this year’s Boston Renegades team was forged during a May trip to St. Louis.
Unbeaten since 2018, the Renegades traveled to face the St. Louis Slam on May 14, but the first half was uncharacteristic. For the first time in 29 games, the reigning Women’s Football Alliance champions found themselves trailing (21-19).
It may have been a rare occurrence, but the Renegades didn’t let it get to them.
“What’s special about our team is that though we were behind, we never thought we would lose that game,” said wide receiver and team captain Stephanie Pascual.
Determined, the Renegades took control in the second half, holding St. Louis scoreless and earning a 49-21 victory.
“We really have to play every down to the whistle,” said fullback Tytti Kuusinen, who scored three second-half touchdowns. “We cannot take anything for granted.”
That comeback spurred the Renegades (8-0) to dominate the rest of the season, earning them a spot in Sunday’s WFA championship game against the Minnesota Vixen in Canton, Ohio. The teams met in last year’s title match, which the Renegades won, 42-26. This time, more eyes will be watching: The game marks the first time the WFA will be on ESPN2.
If the Renegades defeat the Vixen (6-2) again Sunday, it will mark the organization’s fourth consecutive national championship and seventh overall. The team is already the dominating force in elite women’s football, especially with quarterback Allison Cahill at the helm. The Uxbridge native has played 17 seasons of women’s pro football, earned six national titles and 100 wins, and has thrown for more than 315 touchdowns.
Cahill’s experience isn’t the only edge the Renegades have on the Vixen. Much of their offense has returned year after year, and the players have mastered the mental game that comes with longevity in such a demanding sport.
In her fifth season, Pascual has become a key part of the team’s offensive core, but after she tore her PCL and meniscus in the season’s first game, she had to work on her mental game as much as her physical recovery.
“I prepared so hard for this season,” said Pascual. “Then I got injured in the first half of the first game, and played the rest of the game because I didn’t know what it was. Football is as much mental as it is physical at that moment.”
The next day, Pascual had to perform a juggling act familiar to many of her teammates, working a full-time job while seeking out treatment for football injuries. She only missed a game, and racked up 159 receiving yards this season. Having to be more calculated in her play has elevated how she sees and reacts on the field.
“My knowledge of the game is definitely up,” said Pascual. “My mental toughness has been built this season.”
Kuusinen, who joined the Renegades this season after playing 10 years in her native Finland, has been key down the stretch. She rushed for 157 yards and four touchdowns in the 42-24 conference championship victory against the Pittsburgh Passion on June 25.
“Our offensive line has played amazing all season, and now I’m on the same page with them,” said Kuusinen. “That’s why I came here, to play with such talented players.”
The Vixen present a formidable challenge, led by WFA passing leader Erin Kelley and receiving leader Jackie Radford. But the Renegades’ defense has allowed only 85 points this season, thanks to league interceptions leader Shantia Creech.
For the second year in a row, the Renegades boarded the New England Patriots team plane Friday for their trip to Canton. Pieces of familiarity like that will help the Renegades approach Sunday’s title game the way they want.
“You know that saying, ‘Act like you’ve been here before?’ ” said Pascual. “It is like that. Having been in this game three times, we know what it takes to get there and we know what it takes to win.”
Kat Cornetta can be reached at email@example.com.