The St. Louis SLAM are one win away from reaching the Women’s Football Alliance’s marquee national championship game and they aim to make that dream a reality on home turf Saturday.
The SLAM (7-0) faces the Minnesota Vixen (5-2) in a WFA Pro American conference showdown held at St. Mary’s High School (4701 South Grand, St. Louis). General admission tickets for the 7 p.m. kickoff are $15 while children 10 and under get in free.
After missing the WFA Pro playoffs last season despite their 4-2 record, St. Louis’ 2023 overall objective was to control their own destiny. An undefeated regular season secured the team’s placement in the conference’s post-season bracket and a first round win pushed their narrative further.
Without a doubt, the SLAM is proud to be a part of the championship mix and primed to push their missive toward the league’s final test.
“We’re honored and thrilled to be back in post-season play since our shortcoming last year,” said SLAM center Caitlin Erickson. “It’s even more exciting coming this far in just our second season in the WFA Pro division. There’s something to be said about our team’s drive and work ethic fueled by our excellent coaching staff.”
Saturday’s SLAM/Vixen winner faces the victor of the Boston Renegades (7-0) vs. Alabama Fire (6-0) WFA Pro National conference tilt that is also being held Saturday night in Beantown.
The respective conference winners meet July 22 at the WFA Pro trophy clash held at Tom Benson Field, located at the Pro Football Hall of Fame complex in Canton, Ohio.
Although being in Saturday’s Pro American finale is already a major accomplishment for the SLAM, they crave to schedule one more major road trip in the quest of a fifth national championship.
“Heading into the conference championship, we’re excited, but still focused on the big picture of getting to where we want to be in Canton,” said SLAM defensive back Kelsie Nesbit. “We know there’s still work to be done and we’re not content with just making it this far.”
The SLAM, seeded first in the four-team WFA Pro American playoff bracket, topped fourth-seeded Cali War, 49-14, at the conference semifinal held at St. Mary’s two Saturdays ago.
Although the differential was impressive, the process was anything but easy in the first half. The War successfully posted a pair of rebuttals after SLAM touchdowns and tied the score, 14-14, midway through the second quarter.
Defensively, St. Louis found themselves in unfamiliar territory, as the unit had not surrendered a point from scrimmage throughout the regular season. Technically, that equaled 24 quarters.
Although the semifinal’s pendulum was perpetually swinging early, Nesbit felt that the defense’s mindset never changed.
“Our defense always goes out with the mentality to ‘do what we do,’” she reflected. “When we found ourselves in that position against Cali, we adjusted where we needed to, held each other accountable and that was reflected the rest of the game.”
After a series of defensive stops, the SLAM offense proceeded to put the pedal to the metal and scored a pair of touchdowns in the latter stretches of the first half and held a 28-14 lead at intermission.
“I remember thinking WE NEED this third touchdown,” reflected Erickson of the inevitable game-winning score and ensuing run. “The (touchdowns) were so significant to our momentum for the rest of the game. We were confident, but the level of confidence increased by halftime.”
With opening second-half possession, St. Louis’ Jada Humphrey scored her third touchdown of the contest that extended the locals’ lead to 35-14 following Taylor Hay’s successful PAT kick.
Humphrey went on to collect five end zone trips in the semifinal – four via the run plus a touchdown catch from SLAM quarterback Jaime Gaal – as the offense scored 35-answered points en route to blowing the differential wide open as the second half progressed.
Per custom, the SLAM’s offense was anchored by the stellar work of the offensive line consisting of Erickson, Pamela Green, Ariana Smith, Tamikka Brents and Marion Ball.
“Having an o-line that gels is crucial for any team, no matter the level,” assessed Erickson. “Without our blocking, the running backs don’t get the yards and our quarterback doesn’t have the clean pocket to throw. We take pride in the work we’ve put in to being as sound as we are.”
With that support, Gaal threw three end zone strikes that night to push the veteran’s total to 18 for the season, a pair that landed in the hands of receiver Kerri McMahan, who now has half a dozen catches for points in the rookie’s campaign.
After surrendering the first points from scrimmage for the season during the early Cali scores, the SLAM defense settled back into its normal groove and forced the War to minimal traction in the second half.
“Coach (Quincy Davis) always preaches on adversity,” said Nesbit, “We were able to lift each other up and make the necessary changes to lockdown the rest of the game.”
Alongside the defensive back, the collective consisting of Tay Johnson, Mary Altepeter, Kaylee Neutzling, Keyonna Smith, Mariah West, Jasmine Yandell, Jamie Skinner, Alisha Straws, Stephanie Moore, Veronica Smith, Annamarie Magnani, Jennifer Perkins and a host of others held the highly-physical War, ranked second offensively in WFA Pro at the time, scoreless for the remainder of the game.
The SLAM’s conference finale pits themselves against a very familiar foe. Saturday marks the third time this season the pair will face each other head-to-head.
Minnesota, seeded second in the WFA Pro American playoffs, edged third-seeded Houston Energy, 38-34, to advance to Saturday’s projected donnybrook.
And while the SLAM’s tussle with Cali War contained drama early, the Vixen/Energy game was topsy-turvy throughout and wasn’t decided until Minnesota claimed a triumph-clinching first down within the two-minute warning.
With that heart-stopper out of the way, the Vixen, who reached the WFA Pro national championship game last season, now have another tough task ahead considering the regular season home-and-home results between the American conference rivals.
St. Louis bested the Vixen, 20-0, at April’s season opener at St. Mary’s and then swept the two-game set with a 24-0 victory in St. Paul one month later. Although the differential was wider in the re-match, both sides agreed that the Vixen played much considerably better compared to the earlier meeting.
In the May meeting, Minnesota sported multiple first-and-goal situations at the SLAM one-yard line but failed to punch it in, which would have potentially changed the complexion of the game. Granted, the SLAM defense caused the lockdown, yet it could be argued that the Vixen should have scored when prime opportunity was presented.
But in hindsight, those were “could have, should have” moments for the Vixen. Nesbit feels that the SLAM defensive unit is prepared to not allow the possibility of any red zone appearances Saturday.
“We know the Minnesota team that we see isn’t going to be the same team we’ve faced two times prior this season,” said Nesbit. “We’re fully preparing for them to bring their ’A’ game, just as we will bring ours.”
If touchdowns are found with little frequency, the SLAM’s kicking game has been performing at optimal levels this season. Hay has been near-perfect with conversion kicks (30 of 31) and Neutzling recorded a 27-yard field goal earlier this season against their Midwestern nemesis.
Erickson anticipates the Vixen will present the type of play that propelled the squad to the WFA Pro national championship game last season. Subtracting the two SLAM shutouts, Minnesota offensively has scored 177 points collectively in their other five games this season.
“I expect them to come at us hard,” the center said. “Minnesota is never an easy team to play. They have great players and I expect them to bring everything they have on Saturday, just like we will.”
Vixen quarterback Erin Kelley threw two touchdown passes in the victorious semifinal against Houston, one to longtime receiver Amanda Dvorak and one to Minnesota rookie Sarah Rosche. Their ground game is led by Rosche, who tops the team in rushing yardage, and for endzone plows, 240-pound powerhouse running back Angela Griffin, who claimed a key score in their duke.
Minnesota’s defense, ranked seventh in WFA Pro, is anchored by Samantha Barber, Chelsea Swanson, Britta Clark and a host of others.
If the SLAM’s “third time’s a charm” narrative against the Vixen comes to full fruition Saturday, the team will make their first national championship game appearance since 2019, where they inevitably shut out Detroit 34-0 in the WFA Tier 2 finale and a fourth national football crown.
Regardless of this weekend’s outcome, this will be the SLAM’s last appearance at home this season. The team is hoping to see both familiar and new faces in the crowd to cheer them on in their quest to reach the Canton showcase.
“The fans have continued to show up and show out for us this season,” said Nesbit. “We’ve loved having the opportunity to deliver at our home stands, so having that same support this last home game will be the extra motivation to come out with the ‘W.’”
“We need our fans in the stands this Saturday,” added Erickson. “We need them loud and proud and wearing their orange! Oh, and we need those fundraising dollars!”
Indeed, because the cost of future championship travel is hefty for a crew whose members pay to play.
But it’s an investment that fans can support the squad’s desire for another WFA trophy…and that’s money well spent.
Real-time online coverage will be presented by Live Sports STL. Click on this sentence for coverage.
For more information on the SLAM, go to their official website.
Arch City Media will have a recap of the game posted Sunday.
By trade, he is a six-time, regional Emmy Award-winning news videographer/editor for KTVI/KPLR-TV. By hobby, he is a writer for Arch City Media, dating back to February 2014. Emphasis is on featuring and promoting local women's sports, but will cover anything that is not reported by traditional media outlets. Also a contributor to local concert reviews.