By Kyle Wescott, Senior Writer for MyWSports.com
Special Contributor for the Women’s Football Alliance
(photos by Kyle Wescott)
Coming into this W Bowl weekend, which featured a championship rematch between the Tampa Bay Inferno and the St. Louis Slam, there were signs that the tides were starting to shift in the Division 2 ranks.
Tampa Bay once again finished the regular season undefeated. They stormed through the Southeast Regionals and upset the top-seeded Montreal Blitz in convincing fashion in the National Conference Championship.
The Slam struggled in the American Conference Championship before finally putting away the Mile High Blaze. The sign was that, maybe it was possible that Tampa Bay was going to get revenge this weekend for the 38-7 loss St. Louis handed to them in last year’s title game.
“We know they’ve gotten better this year and we still have to go out and prove we’re the better team on the field,” said St. Louis Captain Taylor Hay. “This game will come down to whichever team makes the least mistakes.”
As it turned out, the first quarter was a microcosm of Hay’s prediction.
The Slam scored on its first possession. Keeping the ball on the ground and running over Tampa Bay defenders, Hay scored the early touchdown for the Slam. On the Inferno possession, a bad lateral pass bounced and was scooped up by the Slam and taken to the 3-yard line. St. Louis scored right away on a run by Mary Altepeter.
The troubles continued for the Inferno in the first quarter, when the Slam’s Keyonna Smith intercepted a pass. Once again, the Slam capitalized on the turnover with a pass from Jamie Gaal to Kaylee Neutzling to make the score 21-0 at the end of the first quarter.
The Inferno won the second quarter by holding the Slam offense scoreless. Ashleigh Norris and the defense came up big, intercepting a Gaal pass and returning it to the Slam 25-yard line with 1:03 left in the half. The Inferno looked like they were about to stall out when, on 4th-and-5, St. Louis was called for pass interference. Tampa took advantage of the penalty when Marcelina Chavez ran the ball into the end zone for Tampa’s first score of the game and closing the gap for a halftime score of 21-7.
The turnovers continued to burn the Inferno in the second half. After the Tampa defense stopped the Slam short of the goal line and forced a missed field goal, the Inferno lost another fumble to the Slam, which was turned into a 36-yard touchdown pass to Danielle Price.
The Slam started the fourth quarter in their red zone when Hay ran in a touchdown and then kicked her own extra point to move the St. Louis lead to 35-7. Soon after, the Slam forced another turnover from the Inferno and made the most of the situation when Gaal found Neutzling in the end zone for the final score of the night for the Slam.
With eight minutes to go in the game, Tampa made an effort to show that the game wasn’t over, driving the field and scoring on a pass complete to Sarah Rollins. They tacked on the two-point conversion to cut the lead to 42-15. On the next Inferno possession, Quarterback Kim Shaw looked to cut into the lead even more, methodically passing her way down the field. Unfortunately, the Slam’s Smith picked off another pass in the red zone to seal the game for the Slam.
While there was excitement for the Slam after the game, it was the end of an era for three members of their team, Robyn Morrow, Myreta Davis, and Juanita Snow, who are retiring after the championship game.
“I need to stay loose and have fun so the nerves to get the best of me,” said the Slam’s Price of playing for the championship after being tested by the Blaze two weeks ago. “We played in front so much this year, but the Mile High game gave us the perspective that we have to keep fighting.”