29 July 2014
By far, the game we played against the Helsinki Roosters on 26 July was the biggest game of the schedule. The Roosters are the premiere team in the Maple League. The Roosters have a rich history in the league. They won consecutive championships from 1995 through 2000. Add to that 2002 and 2004 followed by 2012 and 2013. So, they are the current Maple League champions two years running. One other feather in their cap this last year is that they were victorious in IFAF Champions League Tournament that is played with a set of teams across Europe. The winners of the Maple League participate in these games across-Europe games in addition to their regular Maple League schedule. The Roosters defeated the Vukovi Belgrade from Serbia to take home the gold this year.
Last year when we played the Roosters at home in “The Swamp”, it was a disaster. On the opening play of the game, we botched a pitch to our running back and coughed up the ball inside the red zone. Things went downhill and badly from there. We dropped that game in epic fashion 13 to 48.
Coming into this game, the Crocs and the Roosters were the only undefeated teams remaining in the Maple League. The week prior, the Roosters squared off against a tough and then undefeated Turku Trojan team with that game going down to the wire as the Roosters eked out a come-from-behind 48 to 41 win on their home field. However, the game was costly for the Roosters. We learned early in the week that they had lost their long-time premier Quarterback Robert Johnson to a knee injury for the remainder of the season. Even later in the week, we learned that several other Rooster players would be listed on the “will-not-play” list, one of which included Jaycen Taylor (Spears). Spears is a very fast, talented running back that played at Purdue. These and some other injuries changed things dramatically for the Roosters. They would be starting their back-up Finnish Quarterback Eino Matikainen. They would start Jere Jussila at tailback.
Our injury list was significant for us as well. We learned this week that we lost our National Team Defensive End Janne Rautiainen for the rest of the season. Additionally, we were down three inside linebackers for this game. Our defense had taken some serious hits to personnel.
Regardless of all this analysis, a football game comes down to each team placing their best 11 players on the field to match up against each other. And those 22 players on any given play giving it their all. With that in mind… we launched into the game.
The weather for Saturday’s game was hot. You might not think that it would get hot in Finland but during the week we had experienced two practice days that tipped the thermometer at +35 Celsius. For you Fahrenheit people that is 95 degrees. Saturday’s game probably started out around 90 degrees. Kickoff was set for 4PM.
Part of my game flow is to physically record each defensive call on a small notepad during the game. This makes grading the film afterwards much easier for me. This season I have been able to have Jie Li, one of our linebackers, record these calls for me when he is at the game and on the sideline. His efforts have been very helpful. Here is a nice shot of Li before the game.
Playing in “The Swamp” comes with some fan-fare. Player introductions come through the giant, inflatable crocodile in the corner of the endzone. Manufactured fog adds to the effect. Above is a great shot of Juhani Koivumäki (one of three brothers on the team) blasting onto the field with the Croc flag. This is an epic photo. I seriously am considering sending the image out to have a poster made and then hauling it to Belize to hang in our bar.
After the intros, the respective sets of captains met at mid-field for the coin flip. The Roosters won the toss and elected to recieve.
Spencer Cutlan lined up and boomed the ball to the 10-yard line with good hang time. Ville Roitto took the kick and got a good return down the left sideline to the Rooster 40-yard line. This would be the first of many good returns for the Roosters.
Our defense took to the field and a slashing Juhani pierced the offensive line and disrupted the isolation play to the left. The ball popped loose and was on the ground. Thomas Malagodi, our big One-Tech Tackle, recovered the fumble logging take-away number one for the Crocs. The offense took over on the Rooster 43-yard line.
On second down, Doug Webster hit a short completion to Simo Suurkuukka for seven yards. Doug followed that up with a Quarterback sweep to the right to get the first down. Progress stalled during the next few downs due to a sack and an incomplete pass. The offense was looking at a fourth and 12-yard situation from the Rooster 31-yard line. We would not be punting from this field position.
Doug dropped into the pocket and found a streaking Cutlan deep in the left corner of the endzone. He had beat the corner and the pass dropped in perfectly for the first score. Vili hit the extra point and the Crocs made good on the turnover – Crocs 7 Roosters 0.
Cutlan banged out another kick to the Rooster 10-yard line again into the waiting arms of Roitto who streaked upfield this time for 29 yards setting up their offense on their own 35-yard line. Matikainen took to the air and found a receiver on a fade route down the left side for 27 yards taking the ball into Croc territory. The next two plays saw a holding penalty against the Roosters and a 3-yard sack by Gerald Gooden. The Roosters had dug themselves a hole that they could not get out of with the 8-yard completion they hit on third down. They lined up to punt the ball away from the Croc 43-yard line.
The snap was good. Unfortunately for the Roosters, Juhani, who was pressuring the punt, found a seam and got the block. Crocs recovered giving us the ball in great position on the Rooster 36-yard line.
The offense, unfortunately, could not muster a first down. They had a short 5-yard rush but missed on three passing attempts. We lost the ball on downs. Roosters took over on their 31-yard line.
The Roosters strung together three nice plays in a row to move the ball to our 38-yard line. After missing on a first down pass, Matikainen dropped to pass again. The receiver ran a quick out route and one of our safeties, Touchu Orue, was waiting in the “weeds”. He made a great read on the Quarterback and slipped into the passing lane for the flat-pass pick. Touchu was off to the races and 65 yards later was untouched in the endzone. As Tom Parker (my long-time friend and Strat-O-Matic football opponent during the early work years) could tell you, the flat-pass interception has a good probability of ending up in the endzone. Vili hit the extra point making it Crocs 14 Roosters 0.
Cutlan banged out another great kick to the 10-yard line and again to Roitto. This time he went 35-yards down the left sideline. We caught a break with a Rooster penalty on the return, which placed the ball on their 24-yard line.
The Roosters went to work but after a rush for negative yards and a sack by Ashley Dewing our Three-Tech tackle, they were forced to punt. Roman took the punt dead center between the hash marks and picked up a few yards giving the Crocs the ball on our own 38-yard line.
Two strong rushing plays to VP Jaakonsaari netted consecutive first downs that moved the ball into Rooster territory. On second down, Webster hit Jaakonsaari for a 9-yard screen. Then, from the Rooster 25-yard line, Webster found Suurkuukka deep in the left corner near the goal line. Simo made a great catch for the score. Vili hit the extra point to make it Crocs 21 Roosters 0. The score came a couple plays into the second quarter.
Cutlan boomed it to the 5-yard line this time. Roitto took the kick and picked up a 24-yard return to the Rooster 32-yard line.
The defense took the field and on first down Matikainen dropped to pass. Under pressure from a blitzing Kimmo Pasanen, Matikainen’s throw was off. Our corner, Jussi Koivumäki, actually stumbled and fell during his back pedal but had the wherewithal to quickly recover and come up with an interception. This will be a play I will remember. The pick was the third take-away of the game. Crocs took over on the Rooster 38-yard line.
From the shotgun position, Webster short-stopped the snap that bounced twice to him and found Roman Runner open down the right side of the field. The touchdown catch and extra point by Vili put the Crocs squarely in control at 28 to 0.
Cultlan placed the football in the tee and this time boomed it out of the endzone. This turned out to be our best kickoff coverage play of the game.
The defense took the field and stopped a couple of rushing plays setting up a third down situation. The Roosters found a quick fade down the left side on the third down. We had great pressure on the play but Matikainen managed to get the pass on while falling backwards. The catch gave them a first down on the 50-yard line. From the 50, Matikainen dropped to pass again. This time, the front four flushed him out of the pocked and he ended up on a long, slow scramble to the right. Mistakenly, Matikainen decided to throw back across the flow, which is difficult at best. The ball was easily jumped by Jussi for the pick. This was Jussi’s second pick in two defensive series. Take-away number four for the Crocs and pick number three. Croc ball on their own 47-yard line.
The next offensive series contained some issues. Webster picked up a decent eight yard gain on first down. On second down, Mika Nissinen took the handoff and was tackled very close to the first down. So close, that the referee crew called for a measurement. We were short and lined up for what we believed to be a third down play. Unfortunately, through circumstances brought on by a combination of the chain crew, the interrupting measurement, and the referee crew, the situation had magically moved forward to fourth down and short. Charlie was unaware of this and the subsequent “third down” play came up short. Roosters took over after three downs. These types of things happen occasionally. During a playoff game against the Gladstone Gladiators I was coaching in when I was with the Banks Braves, we had a similar snafu. In this case, we were on defense and somehow after stopping the offense on a fourth and short (with measurement), the Gladiators lined up and got a way with a “fifth” down. I had recognized it on the field and was yelling but everyone else seemed to be oblivious. The gaffe did not cost us as they did not score on the drive. However, the actions of everyone made me doubt that I was assessing things correctly at the time. It was not until I was deep into the film review that I confirmed that indeed, the refs had awarded them an extra down.
Roosters took over on their own 42-yard line and managed nothing. They went for it on fourth and two yards and came up short on an incomplete Matikainen pass. Croc ball on our 48-yard line.
Now it was our turn to go three-and-out on offense. We could not get anything going and Cutlan took to the field to punt the ball. The punt was nice for the short field and downed on the Rooster 13-yard line.
The Roosters suffered the wrath of Juhani once again with a rushing play loss of a couple yards. Next, Dewing swatted a Matikainen pass to the ground. A missed third down pass forced another Rooster punt this time from their own 11-yard line. The punt was shanked to the right and sailed out on the Rooster 36-yard line. Crocs took over with some good field position.
Webster immediately hit Spencer Cutlan for a nice 20-yard completion. After that, however, we stalled out putting us in a fourth and 12-yard situation on the Rooster 18-yard line. It was time to bring in the Field Goal Unit. They lined up and all three components were good – snap, hold, and kick. Crocs 31 Roosters 0.
Cutlan dropped the kick to the 5-yard line this time to Clements. Clements hit the left sideline for a 55-yard return. The Rooster offense would start on our 40-yard line.
With some good runs, the Rooster offense moved the ball down to our 20-yard line. However, an offensive holding penalty erased 10 of those yards. This put the Roosters in a second and 11-yard situation on our 30-yard line. Time was starting to tick away in the half and each team burned a timeout. With time remaining for just a couple strikes at the endzone, Matikainen looked deep to the middle of the field. We had great coverage and the ball missed the mark. With time for a single play, Matikainen dropped once again for a last attempt. The route this time was a post-corner to the left side of the endzone. Roman Runner had great deep position and watched the ball all the way into his hands for the fourth Croc interception of the game. He kneed the ball down in the endzone to end the half – Crocs 31 Roosters 0.
We headed over to our usual spot behind the building on the hill on the home sideline. There was a nice area of shade that pretty much accommodated the team for halftime. I had no adjustments to make. We had played a brilliant first half of defensive football. We had five take-aways and were limiting the Roosters both on the ground and in the air. The players had 20 minutes to get some shade and cool down some before going out and trying to wipe from memory a dominating first half so that they could start fresh for the remaining 24 minutes.
The second half began with the Roosters kicking off for their only time during the game. Touchu took the ball on the 15-yard line and pushed it up the sideline to our 30. Doug and the offense took the field.
The offense managed a short 1-yard rush followed by two incomplete passes for a three-and-out. Cutlan punted the ball for a second time. The punt was a beauty carrying 64-yards from the line of scrimmage in the air. Clements fielded the ball in the air at the five and took it 77 yards on the return down to our 18-yard line. This ruined a great punt. Our special teams coverage had been atrocious all day and this capped it off. Roman Runner came flying up from behind and made the touchdown-saving tackle.
On the first play from scrimmage, Matikainen was flushed from the pocket and rolled right. He launched the pass to the right-side corner of the endzone and badly underthrew the ball. Tuomas Leinonen had good position and picked the ball off giving the defense its fifth interception and sixth take-away. The offense would again take the field this time from their own 2-yard line.
Seven plays later after a couple first downs, Cutlan took the field for his third punt in a fourth and seven situation from the Croc 29-yard line. The kick was fielded by Clements on the Rooster 32-yard line and he squirmed his way out to the Rooster 48-yard line for an 18-yard return. Roosters took over mid-field.
From first down, Matikainen handed the ball off to Jussila for a run to the left. Thomas Malagodi beat his defender on the line and was in the backfield. He stripped the ball free from Jussila and it was bouncing on the carpet. Ashley Dewing came up with the ball giving us our seventh take-away. Croc ball on the Rooster 40-yard line.
The offense managed a single first down and then stalled out leaving them with a fourth down and 13 yard situation on the Rooster 20-yard line. The Field Goal unit took the field for the second time. This time, however, the snap was high and it forced the holder Cutlan to pull up out of his position. “Fire” was yelled and the play quickly converted to a pass. Cutlan had to scramble to the right and launch a desperate pass to the endzone. The ball was intercepted by Kokkonen at the Rooster 9-yard line where the offense would take over. The bright side to all this was that we had turned around the field position problem that long punt return had given us.
The defense held with the help of a Gooden sack and a couple Rooster penalties to force them to punt from their own 24-yard line. The kick again was shanked to the right and sailed out of bounds after 17 yards. Croc ball on the Rooster 41-yard line.
On first down, Webster dropped to pass and could find no receivers open. He stepped up into a disintegrating rush pocket and managed a 15-yard scramble sliding out before taking contact. On the next play, Webster handed the ball off to Jaakonsaari and he found a seam and logged a 26-yard touchdown rush. Vili hit the extra point and it was now Crocs 38 Roosters 0.
With only 59 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Cutlan boomed another kick this time to the five. Again, Clements took the ball and wasn’t pulled down until he had reached the Rooster 30-yard line.
The Rooster offense busted a nice run for 10 yards and the first down. They followed this up with two short rushes each for three yards. On third and four from the Croc 43-yard line, the Roosters ran a zone read play up the middle. Gerald Gooden and the stand-out offensive Rooster tackle Kaasalainen evidently got into some sort of altercation that resulted in both of them being ejected from the ball game. From the sideline, we could not tell what had occurred and would have to wait for film. Even now, we can’t really see anything from the film other than aggressive blocking and attempts from Gooden to get off the block. In any case, we had lost our end for the remainder of the game.
After the dust had settled and various penalties marched off, the Roosters were looking at a third and four situation from their own 46-yard line. Matikainen dropped to toss a quick fade down the right side but Tuomas Leinonen, who had great hip-to-hip position on the receiver turned and picked the ball off. The interception was his second and the sixth for the Crocs. Crocs took over on their own 30-yard line with 11:55 remaining in the game.
The offense went three-and-out with Cutlan punting from our own 34-yard line. This time the punt was thankfully downed on the Rooster 31-yard line. Seven rushing plays later, the Roosters had a fourth down and 11-yard situation from the Croc 38-yard line. They hit a short 9-yard completion that came up short. Crocs took over on downs with 4:58 remaining.
On first down, VP (Jaakonsaari) found another running seam and this time it hit for a 62-yard rushing touchdown. Vili converted on the point-after and it was Crocs 45 Roosters 0.
Cutlan teed it up and kicked relatively short to the Rooster 20 into the waiting arms of Roitto who returned it 38 yards to the 50-yard line. Thankfully, that was the last of the kick coverage for the day.
Highlighted by a 25-yard run by Jussila, the Roosters had moved into good position to the Croc 28-yard line setting up a new set of downs. After a couple short burst runs, the Roosters busted one around our left edge and found the endzone. Yellow flags had flown though and they negated the score. This time it was a personal foul on the Roosters. The end-result was a third and 10 situation from the Croc 28-yard line. The next play was a screen that was for good yardage but another penalty brought that one back. This time is was a blatant block in the back. Faced with a fourth down and 11 from the 23-yard line, Matikainen set up to make a last effort throw to the corner. Once again, Crocs were in place and Roman Runner came up with the seventh interception of the game and the ninth take-away. We learned later that the interception set a new Maple League record for the number of interceptions in a single game.
At this point, the clock was such that we could kneel out the remaining time and the game was over with a final score of Crocs 45 and Roosters 0. The score was far different from what we had anticipated back at the beginning of the week.
The win went a long way in securing a home game in the semi-finals in September. As it stood after the win, the Crocodiles remained as the only undefeated team in the Maple League and had yielded a stingy 44 points in five games. Next week’s contest on the road with the Turku Trojans would be a huge game for both clubs. Turku probably still smarting from the close loss to a fully-loaded Rooster squad and the added incentive of playing against the team from which two of their star players came from – Jocques Crawford and Rodney Brown.
Here are some links to various interviews, stats, and articles:
A rare pre-game interview that gave me.
The pre-game interview with the Head Coach Charlie.
Post-game article from Croc site
Pre-game article from Croc site