Home Editor's Picks St. Louis SLAM Advances To WFA Conference Finale With Saturday’s Playoff Win

St. Louis SLAM Advances To WFA Conference Finale With Saturday’s Playoff Win

28-6 Triumph Over Cali War Leads To Home Showdown With MN For Trophy Berth

by Brian Ledford

(ST. LOUIS, MO) If there is one primary characteristic of the St. Louis SLAM tackle football franchise this season, it’s been their ability to keep collective heads cool under hot helmets when facing pressure situations.

Photo Credit: Gerald Affeldt

This was evident during the SLAM’s 28-6 playoff victory over Cali War at Saturday’s Women’s Football Alliance (WFA) Pro Division American Conference semifinal at St. Mary’s High School.

St. Louis – the top seed of the four-team American post-season bracket – possessed an eight-point halftime lead over the spunky, fourth-seeded Angelinos but had to launch the second half on defense.

Feeling the heat, the SLAM went into lockdown mode as they held the War frozen on the scoreboard and left them scoreless for the remainder of the contest en route to a 22-point triumph.

WFA Pro All-American running back Jada Humphrey had three SLAM touchdowns on the night with a pair of short romps and a 43-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter that secured victory.

St. Louis (7-0) next faces second-seeded Minnesota Vixen (5-2) at St. Mary’s High on July 13 for the WFA Pro American Conference championship that leads to entry to the league’s trophy game in Canton, Ohio later in the month.

Photo Credit: Gerald Affeldt

“Every time we play (Minnesota), it’s always a good game,” projected SLAM defensive lineman Maddie Embree of the future battle after Saturday’s win. “It’s always an enjoyable game because they play hard. We hope to come out with a win, but they don’t make it easy.”

Back to Saturday’s shindig. The Cali War has been fixtures of the WFA post-season for the last five cycles and one must fully salute the team’s moxie for distance traveled on their own dime this weekend (1,800 miles, one-way) combined with a shortened roster competing (barely two dozen out of the team’s 50 chartered players.)

“They came out with small numbers and hit us in the mouth a lot,” respectfully said SLAM veteran Danielle Price afterwards. “I really appreciate the fight that they gave us until the last play. They way that they came at us so hard and hitting us hard…we needed that. We want to play these games that feel like a dog fight until the end.”

The War won the coin-flip and deferred opening possession to the SLAM – a gutsy move against the WFA Pro’s second-ranked offense (45.7 PPG).

Photo Credit: Gerald Affeldt

St. Louis capitalized on the handout with a 12-play, 54-yard scoring drive that was completed by quarterback Jaime Gaal’s six-yard touchdown pass to Price at the 8:39 mark. The moment marked the first end-zone connection between the pair since 2022.

“It was like, ‘Do I remember the play?” joked Price, who now primarily plays defense for the squad. “When (Coach Quincy Davis) called that play, I knew that play. Just catch it and score. It was really nice.”

Place kicker Kaylee Neutzling successfully added a PAT that gave the SLAM s 7-0 edge.

On their opening drive, the War’s offense sputtered and turned the ball over after the SLAM’s Embree forced a change of possession in the trenches after a fourth down run attempt failed.

St. Louis had similar issues on their next possession and returned the ball back to Cali after an attempted fourth-down conversion failed with under three minutes left in the quarter.

The War found life – and a little bit of luck – with their next possession that started at their own 24-yard line. Crossing over into the second quarter, Cali finished a six-play, 76-yard drive with running back Brianna Barrett’s 41-yard scamper that broke numerous SLAM tackle attempts.

Photo Credit: Gerald Affeldt

The WFA’s first team All-American claimed her twelfth touchdown run of the season with 12:50 left in the half that cut the SLAM’s lead to 7-6. The War attempted a two-point conversion afterwards but quarterback Tania Yarely Guzman’s pass was incomplete and the game remained a solo-point affair.

At least for two and a half minutes.

The SLAM’s offense went back into its normal fluid operation, propelled by the stellar work of linemates Caitlin Erickson, Tamikka Brents, Antonnia Washington, Pamela Green and Marion Ball. A six-play, 51-yard sequence ensued, topped by Humphrey’s one-yard touchdown at the 10:24 mark.

Neutzling’s clean PAT kick followed as the SLAM pushed their lead to 14-6.

Undaunted, the War responded with their own drive as the second quarter continued and made a deep push within the two-minute warning. The SLAM’s Neutzling, who also patrolled the defensive unit’s secondary, intercepted Guzman’s attempted pass with 1:50 left.

Photo Credit: Gerald Affeldt

St. Louis tried their own redzone push within the half’s final thirty seconds but Gaal’s endzone throw was intercepted by the War’s Barrett and the semifinal remained an eight-point nailbiter at intermission.

By deferring the opening kickoff, the War started the second half with opening possession, which was important as the visitors could potentially tie the game with a successful stretch…or least that was the strategy.

The result did not work out to their favor and what ultimately followed broke the City of Angels’ halo.

“The biggest thing for us coming out in the second half was just shutting any momentum down that they might have had,” assessed the SLAM’s Embree of opening sequence. “It really set the tone for the second half.”

In the process, the SLAM’s D assumed the role of devils as WFA Pro All-Americans Myah LeFlore, Tay Johnson, Alisha Straws and Mary Altepeter rose to the occasion with numerous tackles, both solo and combined.

The War were forced to punt on fourth down five minutes deep into the third quarter but a blooped kick netted SLAM possession at the Cali 43-yard-line.

One snap later, Gaal claimed her league-leading 25th touchdown pass with a quick pump hauled in by Humphrey with 9:37 left in the frame. Neutzling added the PAT kick that pushed the SLAM’s lead to 21-6.

Photo Credit: Gerald Affeldt

Cali’s offense valiantly tried to keep pace as the quarter progressed but Keyonna Smith, Ciara Morgan, Kinnaudy Daniels and Brooklynn Devitt kept making life miserable with key defensive stoppages.

In the fourth quarter, the SLAM finished their offensive output with a four-play, 72-yard finale concluded by Humphrey’s six-yard waltz – her eighth touchdown run of the season – with 13:57 remaining.

Neutzling’s finished her perfect night of PAT kicks (4-4) as the SLAM pushed their lead to 22 points.

St. Louis outscored the War in the second half, 14-0, to claim the 28-6 conference semifinal win and remain undefeated.

Unofficially, Humphrey finished her three-touchdown performance with 148 all-purpose yards (78 run, 70 catch) while Gaal went 16-for-32 in passing for 263 yards.

Despite their setback, Cali War finished the season with a solid 5-2 record and should have the same components returning in 2025 and similar post-season placement is not out of the realm.

St. Louis’ potential road to Canton now continues on home turf two Saturdays from now against their conference arch rival from Minnesota.

Photo Credit: Gerald Affeldt

The SLAM has topped the Vixen – who claimed a 35-13 victory over third-seeded Mile High Blaze in Saturday’s other WFA Pro American semifinal – twice during the regular season, which included a dominant 42-7 home win earlier this month.

St. Louis craves a return to Tom Benson Field in Canton after finishing runner-up in last season’s WFA Pro finale in pursuit of their fifth national championship.

Meanwhile, Minnesota finished second overall in 2022 and would love to hijack the SLAM’s plans with an upset.

“I expect them to throw some new stuff at us, but I also expect us to throw some new things at them,” said Price. “Ever since I’ve been playing against them in 2016, I’ve taken some W’s against them and some L’s.”

“We know it’s going to be a dog fight, but we also know it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

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

Saturday’s SLAM semifinal game can be seen in its entirety on LiveStreamSTL (LINK)

ST. LOUIS SLAM OFFENSIVE STATSITICS (UNOFFICIAL)

PASSING – Gaal 16-32, 263 YDS, 2 TDs, 1 INT

RUSHING – Humphrey 14-74, 2 TDs

RECEIVING – Bloch 4-74. Humphrey 5-71, 1 TD. McMahan 1-48. Price 3-25, 1 TD. Smith 2-17. Richardson 1-18.

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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