Brandi Oliver fought back tears almost as well as she fought off the North Texas Knockouts on Saturday night at Red Bank High School.

At least the Chattanooga Locomotion tailback tried to remain calm after her third-quarter touchdown proved to be the winning points in the Locos' 24-20 victory in the opening round of the Independent Women's Football League playoffs.

But it isn't every day you advance further than the Locomotion has ever advanced before in its decade-old history, a run that now finds it within a single game of the league title game in Round Rock, Texas, on the final weekend of July.

Or maybe Oliver's eyes were watering from recalling how everyone from her parents to the high school football coach at Sevier County who wouldn't let her play the game she's always loved.

"They said they didn't have a separate dressing room for me," the 32-year-old Oliver recalled of her high school days as husband, David, videotaped the celebration. "But I never lost the desire. When my 8-year-old son started playing, I Googled 'women's football' and found out about the Locomotion. I've been playing four years now."

No one has played longer on the current Locomotion roster than 46-year-old offensive lineman Denise Myers, whose husband, Paul, is an assistant coach.

"It's an addiction, you know," said Myers, who is completing her eighth season. "Just the camaraderie. We're almost like high school kids on the field. I wasn't in a sorority in college. This is like my sorority."

Almost every athlete will tell you he or she plays for the love of the game. But the Locomotion practices what it preaches.

Ranging in age from 19 to 50 - yes, Robin Sanders is 50 - each player coughs up $250 for the privilege of risking life and limb without any league health insurance or payday unless the team turns a profit.

With less than 300 fans in Red Bank's stands on Saturday, tickets going for $10 and a full officiating crew for team owner Cheryl Jacobs to pay first, it would be easy to label the Locomotion players just plain Loco for playing.

Just don't tell them that.

"It's real football," said Jacobs, who's owned the team for three years. "It's not flag, it's not lingerie, it's not powder puff. That's what I'm asked about the most - 'Is it lingerie football?'

"No, it's some really athletic women playing a sport they've been told all their lives they can't play. It's hard-hitting women's football."

North Texas running back Emira Ford could tell you about hard hitting. Easily the best player on the field, if not the whole league, the fleet Ford was nevertheless flattened in the backfield on a crucial two-point conversion attempt by the Locomotion's Kalsea Mantooth early in the third quarter. Ray Lewis has never executed a more precise tackle.

Then there's bruising running back Denisha Montgomery, the Brainerd High product who is probably the team's most valuable player and the biggest reason why the Locomotion didn't need to attempt a pass all evening to win its seventh game of the year in nine outings.

"It's just so great to be a part of a team that's struggled and struggled and finally won something big," said the 30-year-old Montgomery, who manages Sir Goony's miniature golf course but admitted, "I can't play golf."

Yet when it comes to the Locomotion's big victory, she said, "This is what we sweat in the sun three times a week for, to be a part of this."

Defensive back Tina Curtis's whole family was a part of this. Her husband, Randall, and son Tyler - a rising senior at Grundy County High who plays fullback, tight end and defensive tackle - worked the chains during the game.

A 40-year-old massage therapist in Monteagle, Tenn., who makes the two-hour round trip to Red Bank's practice field twice a week for Locomotion workouts, Curtis said of her teammates, "We're constantly a family. We get each other up when we're down."

So does she ever need massage therapy after a game, and if she does, can she do it herself?

"I can," she said smiling. "But I'm in pretty good shape. I run three miles a day."

If Montgomery and Oliver can run it as efficiently against New England in the semifinals at Red Bank on July 16 as they did against North Texas, they'll reach their league's Super Bowl.

"Other than the birth of my children," said Myers with a proud smile, "That might be the greatest moment of my life. If we could win it all, I could always say I accomplished some things."

They've accomplished some pretty big things just by playing the game so many people told them they couldn't play.

Or as Montgomery said as she signed autographs, "Maybe winning a game like this will give young girls someone to look up to."