Burn tries to keep sizzling against Belles

After turnaround to 7-1, local team opens playoffs vs. defending champions

Women's Football

July 05, 2002|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

A hard-hitting, big-play defense and a run-oriented offense that moves the chains.

Sound familiar?

No, it's not your Super Bowl-champion Ravens of two years ago. It's the Baltimore Burn, which completed its second season in the National Women's Football League with a 7-1 mark - winning the Mid-Atlantic Division of the 22-team league - and is aiming for a championship of its own.

The march begins at 7 p.m. tomorrow when the Burn plays host to the Northern Division's Philadelphia Liberty Belles (6-2) in its first playoff game at CCBC-Dundalk.

The Burn, which didn't win a game in its inaugural season, revamped itself with new ownership, a new coaching staff and an influx of talent that has helped produce an entirely new attitude.

And while the Liberty Belles come to town as defending NWFL champs, having twice beaten the Burn last year (the teams didn't meet this regular season), you would have never guessed it in talking with Burn players.

"They are whipping into a frenzy, they're so excited," said first-year coach Adrian Mobley, a personal trainer who has coached high school players and a semipro men's team in the Washington area.

"A lot of last year's players know what Philly did to them, so this can be a measure of their improvement. We welcome the challenge because our goal is to be the best team in the league and, if you want to claim to be the best, you have to beat the best."

The Burn's 0-7 initial season didn't diminish interest as 90-plus players tried out this spring. The roster was trimmed to 50 - consisting of a wide array of players, including teachers, military women, office workers, stay-at-home moms and a police officer - all dedicating themselves to twice-weekly practices while saving their Saturdays for games.

"I think what's really been most amazing is how different we all are, but how well we all get along," said running back Susan Davis, 34, of Columbia, a physical therapist. "We come from every walk of life and we get along great. We all love football and having a great time."

Mobley has stressed discipline and fundamentals from the start, only slightly modifying his system to accommodate women who weren't as familiar with the intricacies of the game. He said he goes into a game with 18 to 25 plays on offense - mostly relying on the running game - "but if the first four are working, that may be all you'll see."

As with the Ravens, however, defense is what Mobley says makes the team.

The Burn's defense, known as "Darkside D," features 270-pound Cheryl Sheckells, a dominating linebacker in Sabrina "Tex" Thomas and very stingy numbers. It surrendered only 15 points and yielded just 402 yards in its eight games. It had five shutouts.

"Our defense is very aggressive. We're coming to get you and that's all there is to it - no matter what it takes," said Sheckells, 39, of Glen Burnie, who sports No. 98 on the line and is one of four co-owners.

The Burn has been attracting around 300 to 400 fans for home games, but expects a bigger crowd tomorrow. Tickets will be $12 for adults and $5 for children. Should the Burn advance, it would play at home again next week in a bid to play in the NWFL Super Bowl set for July 27 in Pittsburgh.

"We just want to represent the city of Baltimore and show everyone we can play some pretty good football," Mobley said.

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