(IMPERIAL, PA) This past February, members of the St. Louis SLAM women’s tackle football franchise received a late-Christmas present: a championship ring that represented their 2016 victory within the Women’s Football Alliance’s Tier II Division.
Or in hindsight, was it an early Valentine’s Day gift? After all, claiming a monumental achievement and possessing a commemorative band certainly falls into the category of “love.”
Regardless, someone better alert a jeweler that another bulk order is about to be made.
This comes after the SLAM’s 42-15 triumph over the Tampa Bay Inferno Friday night at the WFA 2017 Tier II finale held at Highmark Stadium in suburban Pittsburgh that results in the Gateway City’s gridiron goddesses’ back-to-back championships. The 27-point win puts the exclamation point on St. Louis’ 10-1 season and third national title overall.
“This feels amazing, especially since we have three, 15-year players retiring after this one.” said SLAM running back Taylor Hay afterwards in an online post-game interview. “With this, we can continue to build because everyone wants to play on a championship team.”
In last year’s WFA Tier II trophy tilt, the SLAM stunned previously unbeaten Tampa Bay, 38-7, and the team’s brain trust, anchored by head coach Quincy Davis, wanted to implement a similar approach in Friday’s re-match.
“(He) told us that many teams don’t repeat and we knew that,” Hay reflected. “We knew they were going to come at us harder but our coaches prepared us in every way they could and we executed.”
The SLAM defensive unit of Tiffany Pugh, Raven Williams, Keyonna Smith, Kaylee Nuetzling, Brooklyn Bastain, Jelani Kelly, Robyn Morrow, Pamela Green, Antoinette Grier, Vicki Nichols and others set the tone early by stifling the Inferno’s opening drive that resulted in St. Louis taking over at the Tampa Bay 42 yard-line three minutes deep.
St. Louis’ offense capitalized on prime positioning for their first points of the title game. Paced by the front line of Caitlin Erickson, Juan Snow, Tammie Moore, Myrt Davis and Antonia Washington, the SLAM churned an eight-play, all-rushing drive. Hay plunged from two yards out to complete the sequence with 7:25 left in the quarter and added the successful kick afterwards that gave St. Louis a 7-0 edge.
Three consecutive turnovers, all fumbles, marked the game’s next three plays. As Tampa Bay possessed the ball at midfield, their ground miscue resulted in the SLAM’s Kelly picking up the pigskin and returning it to the three-yard line. St. Louis rookie Mary Altepeter rumbled in the SLAM’s second touchdown with 6:45 left in the frame and extended the score to 14-0 following Hay’s successful kick.
Stuck in the early hole, the Inferno attempted an aerial attack but that method was quickly thwarted as the SLAM’s Smith intercepted quarterback Kim Shaw’s pass with 3:20 left that resulted in St. Louis starting their next possession near-midfield.
A five-play, 47-yard SLAM scoring drive ensued that silenced the Floridian faithful. With under a minute left in the quarter, St. Louis quarterback Jaime Gaal connected with Neutzling from six yards out for the team’s third strike of the frame. Hay popped a post-score kick that resulted in the SLAM’s 21-0 advantage.
In the second quarter, both teams saw drives struggle but Tampa Bay was able to post their first points deep in the half as running-back Marcelina Chavez’ six-yard sweep with :15 left gave the Inferno a glimmer of hope as they trailed 21-7 at halftime.
“That was bad by us to give them a little momentum going into the half,” said Coach Davis of the SLAM’s late surrender at intermission. “Hopefully, we’ll fix it and be alright.”
The SLAM’s inevitable fix resulted in three straight end zone visits that were launched by Gaal’s 36-yard touchdown pass to Danielle Price at the 9:10 mark of the third quarter. Hay’s successful kick followed and extended the score to 28-7.
Bullied by the SLAM’s defense, the Inferno’s offensive woes continued and surrendered possession. St. Louis, conversely, constructed a methodical drive that yielded yardage while simultaneously chewed the entirety of the third quarter’s clock. Hay added a one-yard touchdown plunge two plays deep into the fourth quarter as the score widened to 35-7 following her fifth extra point kick.
Down the stretch, St. Louis’ defense continued its overwhelming dominance and grabbed possession at the Tampa Bay two-yard line after Patrice Young pounced on an Inferno fumble early in the fourth quarter. Neutzling snared her second touchdown catch of the night, and sixth of the season, from Gaal with 10:30 left that pushed the score to 41-7. Hay kept her PAT streak perfect with a kick that pushed their lead to 35 points.
Tampa Bay narrowed the differential with Sarah Rollins’ touchdown catch with eight minutes remaining but couldn’t close the gap any further. St. Louis’ 14-8 output in the final frame resulted in the 42-15 Tier II trophy triumph.
“We didn’t make a lot of mistakes,” assessed Hay. “The team that makes the least amount of mistakes always wins.”
For the SLAM Friday, fewer blunders resulted in future additional bling for players and, overall, an additional chapter written in the franchise’s 15-year storybook.
To see an archived web stream of the game, GO TO THIS LINK and click on the Tier II game.
For more information on the St. Louis SLAM, go to their official website.