Home Editor's Picks St. Louis SLAM Traps Vixen To Finish Regular Season Undefeated

St. Louis SLAM Traps Vixen To Finish Regular Season Undefeated

Saturday's 42-7 Snare Over Minnesota Earns Team Top Seed For Upcoming Playoffs

by Brian Ledford

(ST. LOUIS, MO)  Prior to kickoff Saturday night, the on-field temperature for the St. Louis SLAM’s final regular season game at St. Mary’s High School was a sweaty 95 degrees.

Photo Credit: Gerald Affeldt

The squad’s ensuing output during their Women’s Football Alliance (WFA) showdown with the Minnesota Vixen sizzled up to hotter levels and ended with melting results.

Propelled by a 21-0 first-half surge, the SLAM topped the Vixen 42-7 to finish their regular season undefeated (6-0).

The victory also clinched St. Louis the top seed, and home field advantage, for the upcoming WFA Pro American conference playoffs that launches two weekends from now.

“We didn’t want (the win), we needed it,” said SLAM defensive anchor Tay Johnson after the victory. “Just to solidify that undefeated title going into the playoff season was something that we were hungry for.”

“We are a team that wants to win every single game, so we are going to fight, tooth-and-nail, to win every single game,” added rookie receiver Sydney Bloch, who hauled a pair of touchdown catches on the night.

As revealed by the WFA Sunday, the SLAM hosts fourth-seeded Cali War (5-1) on June 29 in St. Louis. If successful, they would host the winner of #2 Minnesota vs. #3 Mile High Blaze match-up for the Pro American conference title at home July 13.

The WFA Pro Championship game is set for July 27 in Canton, Ohio.

Photo Credit: Gerald Affeldt

But back to Saturday night’s win. Heading into the grapple on Grand Avenue, the regular season re-match between the top two teams in the conference was a coin-flip and with good reason.

The SLAM survived a 41-40 road win against the rival Vixen in early-May and a comparable scuffle was projected with top-seeded honors at stake.  Minnesota – entering Saturday’s game ranked second in WFA Pro offense (50 PPG) and winners of four straight – looked to play spoiler.

Up by two touchdowns at intermission Saturday night, St. Louis quashed any potential drama by holding the Vixen scoreless in the second half, leading to the eye-opening, 35-point duke.

“The defense was just very focused on, ‘Hey, let’s not shoot ourselves in the foot,” said SLAM Head Coach Quincy Davis afterwards when comparing the earlier nailbiter to Saturday’s thumping. “Let’s do what we’ve been doing, let’s execute the gameplan, let’s see what happens. From that perspective, just being able to get those stops, that’s exactly what we wanted.”

Photo Credit: Gerald Affeldt

Minnesota (4-2) initially executed cleanly with their opening possession. Starting at their own 17-yard-line, the Vixen churned a dozen plays within the first ten minutes and pushed the ball deep into St. Louis territory. They attempted a 23-yard field goal on fourth down but kicker Hannah Eckhardt’s launch went low and the game stayed scoreless.

The SLAM was sluggish on their opening possession and punted back to the Vixen at the 4:11 mark, resulting in the visitors having favorable placement at their own 41.

Two plays later, Minnesota quarterback Erin Kelley’s attempted pass was batted and intercepted by SLAM linebacker Mary Altepeter that gave the hosts possession at their own 42.

St. Louis drew first blood following a pair of snaps, highlighted by quarterback Jaime Gaal’s 42-yard touchdown pass to receiver Kerri McMahan with 2:31 left in the first quarter. Kaylee Neutzling added the PAT kick that pushed the SLAM’s lead to 7-0.

“We did have a little bit of a slow start, but I think that re-ignited us,” reflected Bloch of the sequence. “It was like, ‘Hey, go!’ It was time to get stuff done.”

The Vixen couldn’t counter with a response and punted the ball back to St. Louis early in the second quarter.

Photo Credit: Gerald Affeldt

The SLAM offense, paced by solid line work from Antonnia Washington, Pamela Green, Tamikka Brents, Caitlin Erickson and Marion Ball, then produced a ten-play, 80-yard scoring drive. During the process, running back Jada Humphrey carried the ball eight consecutive times and went to the pay window at the 8:16 mark with a 19-yard scamper. Neutzling’s PAT followed as St. Louis extended the score to 14-0.

Minnesota struggled on their next possession and attempted a fourth-down conversion at their own 48 with 5:42 left in the half but failed and relinquished the ball back to the SLAM.

St. Louis then churned a five-play, 52-yard drive, punctuated by Bloch’s 26-yard touchdown reception from Gaal with 2:59 remaining. Neutzling’s PAT kick extended the SLAM’s advantage to 21-0.

Feeling the heat, Minnesota countered with an impressive eight-play drive that spanned 90 yards and broke the shutout. Veteran running back Sarah Rosche’s 51-yard romp – her seventh touchdown of the season – put the Vixen on the scoreboard with 1:11 left in the half. Eckhardt added the PAT kick that narrowed the score to 21-7.

The SLAM attempted a drive late in the half but didn’t have enough seconds to complete it and maintained a 14-point lead at intermission.

However, there would be no immediate worries as St. Louis sported the second-half’s opening possession and promptly produced a six-play, 80-yard scoring drive that was finished by Gaal’s second touchdown pass to McMahan in the game, this time for 53 yards out, that made the score 27-7. Neutzling’s successful PAT with 11:24 left in the third quarter pushed the SLAM’s lead to 21 points, 28-7.

Photo Credit: Gerald Affeldt

As the game progressed in the second half, the SLAM’s defensive unit went into lockdown mode with stellar work by Altepeter, Johnson, Neutzling, Myah LeFlore, Raven Williams, Alisha Straws, Jamie Skinner, Keyonna Smith, Danielle Price, Maddie Embree, Ciara Moore, Kinnaudy Daniels, Brooklyn Devitt and a host of others.

“We kept our cool,” said Johnson of the faction’s overall performance. “We needed to make sure that we kept our composure, maintain our emotions and make sure to let our opponents know that we are undeniably number one.”

This vexed the Vixen and they ultimately struggled. Minnesota turned the ball back over to the SLAM at midfield after another incomplete pass on fourth down with 7:42 left in the third quarter.

St. Louis’ lead widened two minutes later with their four-play, 59-yard scoring push that was finished by Gaal’s fourth touchdown pass of the game, a 36-yard snare claimed by Bloch, with 5:32 remaining. Neutzling’s successful PAT kick made the score 35-7.

Bloch now has seven touchdown receptions in her rookie season and immediately acknowledges the SLAM veterans for her impressive WFA splash.

Photo Credit: Gerald Affeldt

“Oh my gosh, they are a family,” she said. “The veterans have been like the best-ever. I was one of those that never watched football before or know so much about it, but they took me under their wing and taught me so much and have been so patient. They’ve been fantastic.”

“Sydney’s a gem with love,” added Coach Davis. “She knew (going in) that she didn’t know a lot of stuff, be didn’t let that take away from the effort that she was giving. She is full-speed and looks great.”

In the final quarter, SLAM running back Christy Burkett notched her second touchdown score of the season with a six-yard plunge that pushed the score to 42-7 as Neutzling’s completed a perfect night on PAT kicks (6-6).

St. Louis outscored Minnesota 21-0 in the second half to pick up the 35-point win and finish the regular season spotless.

Unofficially, Gaal completed the night passing with 15 completions for 274 yards and four touchdowns. The All-American now has a league-leading 23 touchdown throws heading into the post-season.

Now with home-field advantage during playoffs, the SLAM looks to keep their summer sizzling.

Photo Credit: Gerald Affeldt

“We’re all just planning on locking in,” said Bloch. “We’ve been setting the pace and setting the standards from Day One. So, it’s just continuing with that and making sure that we’re doing what we need to do to train for those next games.”

“Honestly, we need to keep doing what we’re doing,” said Johnson. “That’s the thing that’s going to keep us lined up. We’re ready.”

For more information on the St. Louis SLAM, go to their official website.

ST. LOUIS SLAM INDIVIDUAL OFFENSIVE STATS (UNOFFICIAL)

PASSING: Gaal 15-18, 274 Yards, 4 TDs, 0 INT

RUSHING: Humphrey 16-87, 1 TD. Burkett 7-31, 1 TD. Fitzpatrick 7-25. McMahan 1-3.

RECEIVING: Bloch 6-116, 2 TDs, McMahan 5-128, 2 TDs, Humphrey 2-26, Richardson 2-11, Skinner 1-3.

KICKING: Neutzling  6-6 PATs

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.

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