(ST. LOUIS, MO) The St. Louis SLAM knew that they were going to have their hands full heading into the Women’s Football Alliance (WFA) post-season.
Winners of the Tier II championship in 2016 and 2017, the locals surmised that they had to perform at optimum levels following a year’s hiatus if they wanted to reach the governing body’s mid-July trophy finale.
Saturday’s American Conference semifinal at St. Mary’s High School saw the SLAM edge the Minnesota Vixen 16-8 to remain undefeated (9-0) and achieve Final Four status.
The victory, however, was anything but easy. For starters, the Vixen (7-2) learned from their mistakes in the duo’s prior meeting held Memorial Day weekend and made the game a nail biter throughout.
“(Minnesota) is a hell of a team,” assessed SLAM head coach Rodney Lacy afterwards. “They did a great job. This was a gut check and there are some lessons to be learned in this game.”
The finishing differential and the methodology of scoring were surprising as well. Keep in mind that the SLAM’s traditionally explosive offense, who heading into the match-up averaged 38 points per game, claimed ten of their 16 points Saturday night via the kicking game.
“We’re used to being up, but not so close and so tight in score,” said SLAM center Caitlin Erickson.”It was basically a focus. A focus on blocking, on tackling and taking care of the ball. And that’s what our coaches told us to do.”
St. Louis advanced to the American Conference Championship held at St. Mary’s Saturday, June 29 and faces Mile High Blaze (8-1), who defeated the Houston Energy 30-22 in Saturday’s other American semifinal held in Denver, Colorado.
The team’s plan is to use the two week gap to fine tune the orange and black machine.
“I think we just need to play disciplined football,” said Erickson. “On the defensive end, we need to remember our assignments and our coverage. On offense, we need to keep hitting hard and hitting our runs, our pass protection and hitting on-point. I think this is the time we need to get together and gel better as a unit.”
The first quarter of the contest saw the SLAM’s defensive corps, paced by Tiffany Pugh,Torii Davis, Chelsea Vinson, Raven Williams, Brooklyn Devitt, Kamilah Russell, Pamela Green, Keyonna Smith and a host of others, push the Vixen to negative yardage and subsequent punts on their first two possessions.
Between the pair of stoppages, the SLAM claimed first blood with Kaylee Neutzling’s 26 yard field goal at the 9:28 mark that made the score 3-0.
As the quarter progressed, Minnesota began to churn positive results on the cleats of powerful running back Jeanette Nelson. Beginning on their own two –yard-line, the Vixen cobbled a 20-play offensive drive that pushed them to the SLAM’s eight in the opening stages of the second quarter.
On fourth down at the eight-yard line with 10:40 left in the half, Minnesota attempted a field goal but the snap was botched and the spotter was tackled by Smith, resulting in a change of possession.
With four minutes remaining in the half, the Vixen started a drive on their 34 and reached the red zone with under a minute left. Possessing a first-and-goal situation from the SLAM’s eight, Minnesota failed to put the ball in the end zone and St. Louis maintained their three-point lead at intermission.
Sticking with their traditional strategy of deferring the opening kickoff and receiving first possession of the second half, the SLAM claimed their first touchdown of the night with an eight-play , 59-yard drive that was topped by Danielle Price’s 22-yard end zone romp. Kicker Danielle Thompson added the successful PAT afterwards that pushed St. Louis’ lead to 10-0 with 10:50 left.
The SLAM’s defensive unit thwarted another Vixen drive, highlighted by a tandem tackle by Vinson and Devitt on fourth down at the SLAM’s 18, and maintained their double-digit lead at the five-minute mark.
St. Louis cobbled a twelve-play, 79-yard drive on the ensuing possession and pushed the score to 13-0 following Neutzling’s 35-yard field goal posted with forty seconds left.
In the fourth quarter, the Vixen charged hard again and pushed the ball to the St. Louis’ 14-yard line. On a fourth-and-inches situation, the SLAM held Nelson at bay and forced a turnover.
“Our defense is stellar,” said Lacy. “That’s a very core group and they’re veteran-laden defense. The defense carries us. They’re the heart and soul of this team.”
St. Louis utilized the momentum gained for a ten-play, 86-yard scoring drive. Double-digit carries by Candice Watkins pushed the ball into Vixen territory. The SLAM finished the drive with Neutzling’s third field goal of the evening, a 28-yarder with 2:57 left, that made the score 16-0.
The Vixen’s late-game push broke their goose egg as a four-play, 53-yard drive was concluded by Emily Evans’ 30-yard touchdown pass to Janeesa White with 1:19 left. A two-point conversion pass to Grace Cooper sliced the score to 16-8.
Minnesota attempted an onsides kick on the ensuing play but the pigskin was cleanly handled by the SLAM’s Chelsea Clay. The SLAM proceeded to kill the clock en route to the 16-8 playoff win.
If the SLAM notches the home victory on June 29 over the Blaze, they’ll make their third championship game appearance in the last four WFA seasons and their fifth overall.
“We have the right pieces,” said coach Lacy. “We just need to make sure that we’re fine tuning them.”
For more information on the SLAM, go to their official website.
SLAM INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS
PASSING: Gaal 7-18, 65 YDS
RUSHING: Hay 14-66, Price 4-51 1 TD, Watkins 5-33, Vinson 5-31, Altepeter 1-1
RECEIVING: Neutzling 7-65
KICKING: Neutzling 3 FG (26, 35, 28), Thompson 1 PAT