25 May 2014
We had a two-week practice stretch since our opening pre-season game against the Roosters and we were loading up at 9:30AM Sunday for the long drive to Turku. Turku is a coastal town in Southwest Finland, which is home for the Trojans. The Trojans had been recently promoted up to the Maple League for winning the championship of the division last year. The way the football leagues work here in Finland is that if you win the championship of one division, you get to promote to the next higher league. And, if you bottom out, you get to demote to a lower league. Turku had a great season last year and did a great job of recruiting some top players for their run in the Maple League this year. In fact, they secured two key players we had on the roster from last year – Jocques Crawford and Rodney Brown. Jocques was our stellar running back that set many records rushing last year with the Crocodiles and Rodney played both Quarterback for the first half of the season and excelled as a wideout and return specialist.
The trip was long and had a few breaks in between. We stopped shortly outside of Seinäjoki to pick up a couple junior players that would be playing up with us today. We also stopped around noon to grab more of the remote players that live outside of Seinäjoki. During this second stop we had our lunch, which was a buffet style meal at a combo gas/restaurant/market place. After lunch we rolled into the stadium about two hours prior to the 4PM kickoff time.
The stadium was nice. It was artificial turf and lined for American football with real goalposts, which I have learned are not always a guarantee. The only drawback to the facility was that it was lined with a very tall cyclone style fence that could have been further away from the playing field in the endzones. Other than that, it was a nice place to play. We had a modest scoreboard behind our bench that worked, also not always a guarantee. The stands were concrete and looked to hold probably twice the crowd that we could seat in the “Swamp” back home.
As with the last game, we were very thin with the roster again. Many (seven) of our players are on Finland’s national team and they were scheduled to leave at 4AM in the morning for Helsinki. They would have a week’s practice and then embark on some pool play against Germany and Sweden and then hopefully onto a medal game for what are the American Football European Championships. They hold these games here in Europe every few years and this was one of those years. Consequently, three of the four did not play. Two made the trip though and were instrumental on the sideline with coaching. We also were still waiting on some key players to arrive in Finland to help fill out the roster. One new addition to the team for this game was Gerald Gooden. Gerald played ball for Purdue University in the states as a Defensive End. He had arrived here in Seinäjoki just a few days earlier. So we were glad to have him available for the game. All told, we had 25 players suited up. My defense was such that any injury or substitution would cause us to “steal” a body from the offense.
The captains met at mid-field and the Crocs won the coin toss. We elected to defer and the Trojans of course chose to receive. The kick produced a nice surprise with Crocs recovering the ball in Trojan territory on the 40-yard line. We opened with a couple runs that amounted to nothing and then Webster hit Kris Kougia for a 37-yard strike down the right sideline for a score. Villi hit the point-after and we were on the board with seven.
Our kick was taken deep by Rodney Brown who had a nice return across mid-field to our 48-yard line. Three plays later, the Trojans were in the endzone. The score’s big play was a 38-yard run through our defense. The scoring play was an 11-yard pass. The point-after was blocked making it seven to six with 9:19 left in the first quarter.
We took the kickoff and started at our own 36-yard line. With a third and 10 we attempted a shot down the left side and got a defensive pass interference call for the first down. Unfortunately, we stalled out missing on a fourth and two to end the drive. The Trojans over on their own 38-yard line.
Five rushing plays got the Trojans to our 37-yard line. From a first and 10 situation, the Trojan Finnish Quarterback, Berndtsson, connected with Rodney Brown down the right side for a 37-yard touchdown pass. Brown made a fairly athletic catch and brushed off the attempted tackle to make his way into the endzone. The point-after was again a poor kick that slammed into the backs of the offensive line and was no good. So in fairly short order, the score was Trojans 12 and Crocs seven.
We hit a couple short bubble passes and a small gain to end up with a fourth and one situation that we lined up to attempt. Unfortunately, we jumped offsides and then brought in the punt team. Spencer Cutlan, an import player from Wales, got off a booming 45 yard punt. The return was long as well for 30 yards. A block in the back did bring it back some to give the Trojan’s the ball on their own 29-yard line.
The Trojans lined up and methodically destroyed our defense. They produced a run of 23 yards, two passes for 14 apiece, and a capping run of 17 to give them their third touchdown. At this point we had provided little to no defensive resistance in the game. The Trojans opted to fake the point-after with Rodney Brown, the holder, finding a Trojan receiver in the back of the endzone for the conversion. Now the score was Trojans 20 and the Crocs 7. All this with 11:53 to go in the second Quarter.
The Trojans lined up to kick and surprised us with an onside. We easily recovered and had some good field position at our 49-yard line. We attempted a run that netted a single yard. We followed this with a couple passes, which we could not complete. On a fourth and nine, Cutlan boomed out another nice punt for 42 yards that went out of play high at the Trojan 10-yard line.
On the first play of the series, the Trojans coughed up the ball and we recovered. Croc ball on the Trojan 10-yard line. The offense could do nothing with the opportunity. First down resulted in an incomplete pass and then we gave up two sacks in a row. We brought out Villi to attempt a 39-yard field goal that was wide left. We had squandered a golden opportunity here.
The so far unstoppable Trojan offense took over on their 22-yard line with 6:22 remaining in the half. A rush for three yards followed by a completed pass for 14 set them up with a first down on their 39-yard line. They started the next set of downs with a false start penalty to push them back five yards. They completed a 12-yard pass and then broke another big run for 54 yards. However, the play was from an illegal formation and we had an offsetting penalty as well. So the down would not count. It didn’t really matter much as the second and three attempt was a rush for 34 yards that got them down to our own 34-yard line. Still performing like a sieve, we allowed the next four plays to be 12, five, 15, and seven, respectively to give up our fourth score in five series. The point-after failed and the score was now Trojans 26 and the Crocs seven.
With 4:31 still remaining in the half, we took the kick and got an eight yard return to our 33-yard line. We opened this drive with a nice 11-yard run for a first down. This run was followed by an incomplete pass, a run for no gain and a third down incomplete pass. Cutlan took the field again to punt. Cutlan hit a 36-yard punt that was fielded by Brown, who we smothered for a negative one yard return. Trojans take over on their own 19-yard line with 1:27 to go in the first half.
The Trojans connected again with Brown for 38 yards. They followed this with a rush of 19 yards to our 24-yard line. Berndtsson went for the aerial score in the corner on the next play. Our corner, Jussi Koivumaki had great position and went up high for the ball and came down the interception in the endzone. We took over on the touchback on our 20-yard line with 1:54 to go in the half.
Offense could not get going and we netted two incomplete passes and a run for minus five yards. Cutlan took the field for his fourth punt in the half. The punt only netted 31 yards to our 46-yard line. Rodney Brown was dropped for minus eight yards as he attempted to reverse field and lost ground on the return. Trojan ball on their 46-yard line with 1:10 remaining.
The Trojans were hit with an unsportmanlike conduct penatly that resulted in the ejection of a player and then they followed that with a false start penalty to take them back to their 26-yard line. The ended the half with a short completion for five yards and a couple of short runs (thankfully). Finally, the half from Hell was over. Trojans led 26 to seven. We headed to the locker room.
I had the defense in a small room where we were just to ourselves. We had a little “Come to Jesus” session during which we talked about heart, character, emotion and the like. Several players contributed and everything that needed to be said was said in one form or another at various level of volume and intensity. With a couple minutes to go, we got out to the field to battle out the remaining 24 minutes of this game.
Because we had deferred the opening kickoff we received the ball. We took the kick and ended up on our 33-yard line. With a mix of passes and runs, we ended up with a first and 10 on the Trojan 39-yard line. After a short completion and a run for next to nothing, we dropped a critical pass that would have given us a first down. On the fourth down attempt, Webster ended up scrambling and was forced out of bounds short of the sticks. Trojans took over on their 33-yard line.
At this point, I believe the Trojan coaching staff had pretty much emptied the field of their national players and many of their starters. The Trojans put together a 14-play drive that ate up over seven minutes of the third quarter that ultimately stalled out on our six-yard line. We successfully defended a fourth and one situation from our six that gave us the ball. This was only the second stop we had had against their offense. With just 1:06 left in the third quarter we took over.
From deep in our territory, we ended up drawing a defensive pass interference call on the defender for a route intended for Suurkuukka. That got us a 15-yard advance down to our 21-yard line. A short run for four yards followed by an 11-yard completion to Villi Rajamaki sealed a second first down. That ended the quarter. No score change.
With first and 10 we rushed for nothing. Then, Webster hit Kris Kougia for 57 yards up the middle. He was dragged down at the Trojan 11-yard line. Again, we could not push to the endzone. We threw an incomplete pass. Rushed for zero. And, then followed that with a couple more incomplete passes. There was 9:36 remaining to play.
The Trojans rushed the ball for four, four, and two yards, consecutively to capture a first and 10 from their 21-yard line. The next four plays were brutal as they easily moved the ball to our 20-yard line with some mid-length passing and some decent runs. With a first and 10 from our 20-yard line they went for the corner score. The Trojan receiver clearly pushed our defender off to make the catch. The referee crew nailed the call and they were hit with an offensive pass interference call to nullify the score and set them back an additional 15 yards to give them the ball on our 35-yard line. Faced with a first and 25, the Trojans couldn’t manage much and ended up losing possession on downs. We took over on our 32-yard line with 4:52 remaining in the game. The score still 27 to seven Trojans.
On the first play of the series, the Trojan’s committed a personal foul that gave us a 15-yard gain in penalty yardage. From our 47-yard line, we could not manage another first down. We turned the ball over on downs. Trojans took over first and 10 from their 45-yard line with 2:10 left in the game.
On the first play, the Trojans were caught holding and it resulted in a 10-yard penalty, which took them back to their 35-yard line. They dropped a pass and rushed the ball a couple times and were faced with a fourth and six situation from their 49-yard line. They brought in the punt team for the only time during the entire game. The punt was away and we mistakenly attempted to field it too deep near our endzone and it ended up covered up by us on our two yard line with two seconds remaining in the game. The offense took the field and took a knee. It was thankfully over.
The game was pre-season and the score was completely meaningless. The game, however, as with all games, was not meaningless. We learned some good lessons from the game and will take them into the regular season, which kicks off mid-June in Helsinki against the Wolverines in the Velodrome.
We got our stuff together and were pulling out of the facility by around 8PM. The drive back was long with a scheduled stop for dinner pretty much right of Turku. We did run into a traffic situation that caused a bit of a delay on the freeway, which could have been worse. We ended up pulling into the field house a bit before one and Charlie, myself, and many of the players were peddling their bikes back to their apartments. Sleep was hard to come by that night for me.
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