8 June 2013
Four hours of sleep is all I managed Friday Night. I had heaped a lot of pressure on myself and the team to not allow a repeat of the 51-point scoring avalanche put up against our defense two weeks ago. I spent my morning going over tendency reports for the 69’ers and watching more film clips from my little bench in the apartment. Pre-game meal was planned for Noon with Charlie at Wilson’s Pub, which is near my old apartment.
At Wilson’s I enjoyed one of the larger burgers at 17.5 Euros that came with some fries. It was a very good hamburger. I washed it down with a pint of Karjala, a local lager. We needed to be at the field house at 1:45 for individual team pictures, taping, and other preparations. While sitting at the table, we saw a large charter bus roll down the main road toward the stadium. I suspected that would be the 69’ers who featured Charlie McCrea, a talented and fast running back that could also throw the ball. McCrea had played many years for the Crocodile organization and I had listened all week to advice from players and coaches about his dangerous running abilities.
At the field house, the weather was beautiful with the sun out and a few clouds around. We got through tapings ankles, pictures, and player preparations. Our schedule for group arrivals onto the field were posted on the whiteboard and it was nearing the time when the first wave of skilled players would take the field for specialized warm-ups. That is when the weather turned.
The skies had slowly been darkening and some rain was beginning to spit down. Nothing too bad but it seemed to be getting progressively worse as the time clicked by. When the first group took the field it was beginning to be a steady rain. Not heavy at this point, but the droplets were big.
Forty five minutes before kickoff we were all on the field and the team was going through its team warm-ups when the rain started in earnest. It was now pretty much a downpour. At this point, the few fans that were in attendance were scrambling for umbrellas and ponchos. Flashes of lightning and sounds of thunder graced the skies. So far, nothing seemed close.
When I took the defensive backs for individual warm-ups, the rain had turned torrential. Just as I started with the group there was a bright flash and instantaneous boom as a healthy streak split the sky and banged into a grove of trees about 200 meters from the end of the feild. You could feel the power of this strike. Officials immediately emptied the field. The Crocs and 69’ers took refuge as the game was delayed. I, and everyone else, were drenched as I scrambled to get a spot in the scoring booth elevated above the field. It was jammed with as many bodies as could fit and we stood there steaming like cattle waiting out the storm. The rain had morphed into medium-sized hail that pelted the artificial surface and had begun to accumulate. Soon it was white.
Finally, the storm subsided and we got out of what was turning into a mini sauna and retook the field. There were hopeful patches of blue in the sky and the rain had dimished to just a trace.
This was our first home game and Charlie and I were not really aware of the protocol here at the home stadium that preceded the kickoff. So it was a bit of a cluster for us as we were routed and rerouted to take various spots on the field to accommodate player introductions and pre-game steps. The final bit of pompt was the coin flip, which we won and with that chose to receive the ball.
We got the ball on our own 42 yard line and immediately hit a pass for a first down into 69’er territory. But two runs for losses forced a three-and-out with a punt. The 69’ers did not fare much better. McCrea did manage to break a run for 18 during that first defensive series but on the very next play we forced a fumble in the backfield and recovered. That was turnover number 1 toward our team goal of two per game.
At the 4:50 mark in the first quarter we were in the endzone for six. The drive was highlighted with a Brown-to-Makinen completion inside the 10 that was a jump ball situation. Both Makinen and the defensive back had grabbed the pass and came down fighting for possession. The fight for the ball continued with neither player yeilding and after unraveling it all the referees signalled Croc possession.
The Croc defense forced another three-and-out punt and we had the ball again. Two failed pass attempts and a sack forced our own punt that we downed deep in 69’er territory on the 8 yard line.
The 69’ers took control. They managed a first down and then, under pressure, threw up an off-balance, desparation pass on a rollout. Our Safety Stacey Thomas was waiting like a centerfielder for the ball to come down and his interception gave us turnover number two – turnover goal achieved.
It was Croc ball at the 50-yard line. The very next play saw Jocques Crawford, our powerful running back break a run down the sideline for six at the 1:15 minute mark in the quarter. Another failed conversion attempt (a kick this time) and it was Crocs 12 and 69’ers zero. When the quarter ended the 69’ers were lining up for another punt.
Our initial second quarter possession resulted in a turnover when we fumbled and lost the ball. The 69’ers capitalized with a 50 yard McCrea scamper into the endzone. His run reminding me of his legendary status in Seinajoki. As much as he had been built up to us during the preceeding week of practice both Charlie and I were convinced there must be some street named after him in some corner of the town. The 69’ers convert and it is 12 to 7 with with 10:36 remaining in the half. Life had been injected into the club on the opposite side of the field.
We took the kick and started at the 20 yard line. A rush for 14 yards and a Brown completion for 30 set up a 36 yard rush by Crawford to capture our third score at the 9:43 minute mark in the half. A 2-point conversion try again fails. We are leaving points off the board badly with our PAT and conversion attempts.
The defense took the field after the kick and we forced another three-and-out punt. The stand was highlighted by an excellent play in the flats that dropped a swing receiver for a 5-yard loss. Our ensuing drive ended with a punt at the 4:04 minute mark.
The Remainder of the half resulted in good play by the defence forcing another punt and a stop as the time ran out. Our only possession also resulted in a punt. So at the break, the Crocs led 18 to 7.
The field house was too far away to get back to for the break. Plus, the referees had shortened the halftime down to 15 minutes to try and get the game a bit back on schedule from the delayed start. Traditionally, the team gathered behind the home’s sideline bleachers down on the access road. The team split into various groups and we addressed each side of the ball separately. No adjustments needed for defense. We defended the 69’ers for eight separate drives: four punts, two take-aways, a touchdown, and time expiring. We had held the 69’ers to 110 total yards of offense.
The second half we kicked off the ball. The defense held them on downs when the 69’ers elected to go for a 4th and 3 on the 50. We had good pressure on the quarterback as he had desperately flung out a swing pass that sailed over the head of the emerging back. Crocs ball.
A completed pass, a few short runs, and then a power run by Crawford for 16 yards at the 7:06 minute mark pushed the score to Crocs 24 and 69’ers 7.
Apparently, the 69’ers had not rolled over just yet. After the kickoff, they put together an 11-play drive primarily using what I call their “Nasty” formation. For those of you familiar with the older Oregon high school COWAPA league in which both Charlie and I coached for years, the Nasty formation is identical to what Coach Ware from Rainier ran (and probably still does). They overload one side of the center so they have four down linemen and stack the four backs (quarterback included) into the backfield. The only difference between what we were seeing from the 69’ers and what we used to see with Rainier was that the 69’ers put the quarterback under center (usually) whereas Rainier went from a shotgun set. This is a tough set to defend as they would throw a lot of bodies at you to the strong side and you have to match force with force. Add to that the fact that occasionally a coach would counter out of it or go to the weak side. It is a good offense with which to grind out 4 to 6 yards a play.
The 69’er drive was capped with a 14-yard pass play over one of our corners for the touchdown. They lined up for the PAT and botched the snap. However, the holder had gotten the edge on the scramble and converted the try for two points. The holder had evidently barely been able to stretch the ball over the goal line breaking the plane. At the 3:16 mark in the 3rd Quarter it was Crocs 25 and 69’ers 15.
We took the kickoff and a 28-yard Crawford rush and 25-yard Brown-to-Makinen pass found us in the endzone quickly. The PAT failed at the 2:40 minute mark and the Crocs lead grew to 16 points at 31 to 15.
The third quarter ended with the Croc defense forcing another punt. The 69’er drive, however, was electrified momentarily with a 16-yard McCrea run.
Our offense began the fourth quarter deep in the swamp on the 5-yard line. We picked up a rushing first down and then the 69’ers got hit for an unsportmanlike penalty that gave us another boost out to our 30 yard line. We found ourselves with a daunting 3rd and 23 situation when Brown hit Pulkkinen for a 50 yard completion that got us to the 69’er 31-yard line. A short pass and then a 23-yard scramble on a pass play by Brown got us the score. We converted on the PAT with 9 minutes to go in the game. The Crocs were at 39 and the 69’ers were at 15.
The kick return found the 69’ers on their 35-yard line. The 69’ers put together an 11-play McCrea-led drive. It was McCrea both running and passing the ball. He had taken control of the offense at the quarterback position. They worked their way down to our 13-yard line and had a 1st and 10 situation.
Four incomplete passes later we had the ball with 5:20 remaining in the game.
From our own 13-yard line, we mounted a final 8-play drive capped by a 17-yard Crawford touchdown run with only 1:30 remaining. This was Crawford’s fourth visit to the endzone. The PAT was good and that was the end of the scoring with a final Croc 46 and 69’er 15 result.
It was a good win and a step in the right direction.
One final highlight for the defense was a second interception by our corner “Doc” to snuff the final drive by the 69’ers. We played out a couple runs to kill the clock and the game was over. The sun was fully out and weather was beautiful.
For those interested, you can find statistics here and a couple post-game interviews from the local media here with Charlie and I. You can find an article written in Suomi (Finnish) here. More pictures here.
We were now faced with a three-week bye before we take the home field again on 29 June against TAFT.