During the past few weeks in social media posts, members of the St. Louis SLAM women’s tackle football squad have jovially been typing the phrase, “Return to the ‘Ship.”
That directly meant the Tier II national championship game for the Women’s Football Alliance (WFA) and a potential voyage to that specific encounter by the defending queen pins of the turf.
Now successfully reaching that destination, St. Louis looks to hoist the trophy for a second straight year and supplant their status as a legacy team.
The SLAM (9-1) faces the Tampa Bay Inferno (11-0) Friday at Highmark Stadium in Imperial, Pennsylvania. Kickoff is set for 7 PM Eastern (6 PM Central). The game is a rematch of last year’s division finale, which was claimed by the SLAM, 38-7, at that same venue.
After claiming top honors in the WFA Tier II American Conference two weekends ago at home, the locals seek their third national title since their 2003 inception.
“We’re super excited to be heading back to the ‘Ship,” said SLAM defensive specialist Tiffany Pugh. “Our goal dating back to when practice started in January was to make it back to defend our title and repeat as champions. We’ve accomplished the first part of the goal so it definitely makes the countless hours of practice and preparation worth it.”
At home field on July 8, St. Louis topped the Mile High Blaze, 43-21, to claim entry to the title tilt. Tied 14-14 heading into the fourth quarter, the SLAM produced a 22-0 rally en route to the 22-point duke.
“(That) was definitely clutch,” said Pugh of the gut check. ”Mile High wasn’t backing down and our offense made some big plays to help secure the victory. I think the Mile High Game definitely helps us going into the championship. It showed us how important it is to get out to a strong start on both sides of the ball.”
Also key to the shutdown of the previously unbeaten Blaze was the SLAM’s stubborn defense, paced by Pugh, Jelani Kelly, Raven Williams, Keyonna Smith, Kaylee Nuetzling, Brooklyn Bastain, Robyn Morrow, Pamela Green, Antoinette Grier, Vicki Nichols and others.
“The starting defense is all vets, so we’ve played together for years,” Pugh said. “We’re not only comfortable playing together, but confident in each other’s abilities. The familiarity makes it easier because we know each other’s tendencies. We really vibe off of each other and use that to get the momentum rolling in our favor.”
In their ten games this season, St. Louis has only surrendered 122 points for an opposition average than barely eclipses double-digits.
“The defense as a whole is very prideful,” Pugh stated. “We don’t like giving up points. We take it personally when we’re scored on, so having that mindset contributes to our success.”
Offensively, the rushing “one-two punch” of veteran Taylor Hay and rookie Mary Altepeter pace a ground attack anchored by the frontline of Caitlin Erickson, Juan Snow, Tammie Moore, Myrt Davis and Antonia Washington while quarterback Jaime Gaal will look for numerous receiving targets.
Running back Denasha Mondy has had a breakthrough season with 19 touchdown romps and also poses a threat as a receiver, a fixture of the defensive unit and a force on special teams. Returnee Candi Thompson compliments the backfield while quarterback Kim Yvette Shaw calls the cadence. The Inferno has outscored their opponents, 358-96, this season.
Much like the SLAM, Tampa Bay are propelled by their defense, which has held opponents to a 10-point per game average. Alongside Mondy, Rosalee Hammonds, Sandra Purvis, Ashleigh Norris and a host of others look to smother St. Louis.
The SLAM’s Pugh is fully aware that Tampa Bay seeks revenge and finish the season with a goose egg in the loss column.
“They’re undefeated going into the championship as they were last year,” she said. “They don’t want us to ruin their perfect season again, so we’ll definitely get their best game of the season.”
Friday night, St. Louis gets sixty minutes of clock to claim back-to-back trophies. A winning end result pushes the collective to newfound status and completes a year-long missive.
“(It) would be the ultimate accomplishment,” said Pugh. “We accomplished the goal that we set back in January. It would also hopefully show that there is still football in St. Louis and we’re legit!”
For more information on SLAM Football, go to their official website.
Arch City Sports will have a recap of the SLAM’s title game posted late-Friday night.