18 August 2013
It was June 8th the last time we played TAFT. TAFT is from the town of Vantaa and stands for Tikkurila American Football Team with Tikkurila being the Vaanta District. Back then we came out with a 27 to 13 win in “The Swamp.” Since then, TAFT had gone on a tear and had only lost two additional games (Wolverines and Roosters) to derive an identical win loss record as the Crocs at 6 and 3. If you read my last week’s blog on the state of the Maple League you would know that the Roosters have the number one playoff seed wrapped up with a perfect 9 and 0 record while TAFT, the Wolverines, and the Crocs were all sitting at 6 wins and 3 losses. Our win against the Wolverines last week locked us into the playoffs but the seeding for second or third spot was now all riding on this game against TAFT. In a nutshell, if we won this second meeting with TAFT on the road we would be seeded second for the semi-final game and get to host the game. If went to Helsinki and lost to TAFT, we would be seeded third and have to travel to Helsinki to play the number one seed Roosters. So, the game had huge financial and playoff implications for the Crocs. Kickoff was at 6PM on Sunday in Helsinki.
The main concerns for our defense in this game were Kadmiry, Privott, and Tellish. Kadmiry is the only Finnish quarterback in the Maple League and also plays for the Finnish National team. He is an accurate passer with decent running abilities. Privott, is a talented American receiver with speed and an uncanny ability to reel the pass in. Tellish is an American running back whose yards come through a healthy mix of rushes and receptions. During our last game I had focused the defense entirely on stopping Privott from taking over the game. We did a good job of limiting him that game by allowing only three receptions for 45 yards. Since then, Kadmiry had been distributing his passes more evenly among his many receivers. This Sunday, I could not just focus on Privott. We had to focus on the passing game as a whole.
The week prior to this game, TAFT had suffered a blistering loss to the Wolverines with a score of 60 to 20 on national television. It was unknown as to their mental state coming off that game to face us. We had been told by TAFT after our first meeting that this final game between the Crocs and TAFT would be hyped as the big game to try and draw as many spectators as possible. This game was also being streamed live to the Internet and then broadcast delayed through television.
We loaded into the bus and were on the road at 10:45AM on Sunday. The drive was the usual with the exception that my wife, Nancy, would be making the trip with us. She had arrived in Finland the Thursday before for a three-week visit.
The weather was perfect. The sun was out and there were no raindrops in the forecast. We were playing at the ISS Stadium, which turned out to be a fantastic surface. It was field turf and in perfect condition. The only knock on the field were the goalposts. They were “created” out of two soccer goals with four-inch, PVC uprights attached to the ends. We saw this configuration in our first game against the Butchers. The results were goalposts that were too wide and crossbars that were only eight feet high instead of the regulation 10 feet. It would not be that difficult to at least stick some “Tee” joints in the four-inch PVC pipes used for the uprights so that you could create a crossbar at 10 feet.
We were still a bit thin on defense with Ville Järvio out with a knee injury and our left outside linebacker, Li, out with a pulled hamstring. We did have our big Finnish National defensive tackle Janne back for the game, however. Again, these injuries had influenced our decision on which three Americans would play in today’s game. We had decided to go again with Adams the QB, Joc the running back, and Stacey the safety. This meant our defensive tackle BJ Bell from UNLV would be sitting again.
The team captains met at the center of the concrete field and the coin was flipped. We came up a winner and elected to receive. We began our first possession from our 22 yard line after being unable to return a low, skipping kickoff. The very first play from scrimmage resulted in a “slipping” Crawford picking up no gain. Three plays later we were punting.
Kadmiry came out and methodically put together a 63-yard drive into our endzone. TAFT mixed up some runs with some short, effective passes. They were perfect in execution. TAFT was on the board 7 to 0.
On our second possession, we did pick up two quick first downs but then a sacked Adams stalled the drive and we were punting again, this time from our 47 yard line. We downed the ball at the TAFT 24 yard line and Kadmiry and team took the field again.
This time TAFT mounted an 11-play drive to score. Tellish ripped off some decent runs in the teens and Kadmiry hit two different receivers for key receptions before connecting with Privott for the actual scoring strike. The PAT was good to cap off another perfectly executed series of offensive plays. TAFT was playing well and were up 14 to 0 now with just 29 seconds left in the first quarter.
We started our second offensive series on our 43 yard line. Crawford knocked out a run for 10 yards and then Adams connected for some passes to get us to a third and one situation on the TAFT 26 yard line. Adams took the snap from under center and popped a quick bubble pass to the right to a waiting Rodney Brown. Brown took off and threaded the secondary with some deft running to get us into the endzone. Vili hit the PAT and we were on the board – TAFT 14 and Crocs 7.
We kicked off and TAFT began at their 41 yard line. The first play from scrimmage saw Kadmiry from an empty set take the ball up the middle. He was stripped and the ball was loose and we recovered. Croc ball on the TAFT 49 yard line.
After a short pass completion to Makinen for six yards, Crawford rushed for 18, 23, and 2 yards to score. Vili hit the PAT and we were tied with 8:11 left in the half.
We kicked off with a short “hole” kick that is designed to allow us a shot at getting the ball. However, it was fielded by one of the TAFT second-tier players and they had the ball on the 50. Kadmiry opened with two completed passes and then they rushed the ball eight consecutive times to find the endzone. We had come into the game with a pass-minded strategy. So, the fact that TAFT could pick up medium yard runs was no surprise. The PAT was good and TAFT led 21 to 14.
The offense was back on the field after the kickoff and Crawford opened with a rush for two yards. Then, Adams found a deep Rodney Brown and connected for 45 yards to the TAFT six yard line. We failed to make progress, though, with Crawford getting dropped for a six yard loss and ended up lining up for a 26-yard field goal attempt. Vili split the makeshift PVC uprights and it was TAFT 21 and Crocs 17 with 1:30 remaining in the half.
After the kickoff, TAFT began on their own 31 yard line. With all three timeouts available, and a quarterback that could thread the needle, TAFT was able to move the ball to within field goal range. Defensively, we were employing a “loose” system to prevent a big score right before half. After spending their final timeout, TAFT lined up for 48 yard field goal, which they hit with the ball barely clearing the eight-foot crossbar. This irritated me but I had to live with it. Another thing that irritated me during this drive was a “spiked” ball from the shotgun position. I was sure this was a delay of game penalty since both the NFL and National High School Rules dictate that you can only intentionally spike the ball to stop the clock after taking a snap from under center. Later, after I got home I tried in vain to find the exact ruling on that for the NCAA, which is the set of rules the Maple League uses so I can’t definitively say the referees were wrong but I think they might have been. Regardless, the half ended with TAFT leading 24 to 17.
During the break, we gathered in the near corner of the stadium and split up into our respective groups. I waited a bit before addressing the defense. I told them that TAFT was doing nothing differently than what we expected. They were playing the same type of game they played against us back in June. We were either not playing at the same level or they were executing better. I challenged them to up the level of play and I made a few defensive personnel changes for the second half.
We started the second half with a couple attempted kickoffs, the first going out of bounds. TAFT began on their own 37 yard line. The first play from scrimmage was an attempted out route to a receiver who was covered by Rodney in the flats. Rodney made a great positional move to get between the quarterback and the receiver and intercepted the ball. This was turnover number two and we had the ball on the TAFT 41 yard line.
Eight plays later we scored. Adams had made this a passing drive. We hit several nice medium range passes and then Crawford capped the drive with a two yard plunge. Vili hit the PAT and we were tied at 24.
On their next drive, TAFT got the ball to our 37 yard line on a couple passes after some failed runs. Four rushes later they were on our 17 yard line. Two more rushes gave them a first and goal situation from our six. So far, TAFT was predominately running the ball, which was a strategy I purposely chose to ignore today.
From the six yard line, they handed the ball off to Tellish who picked up a single yard. Then, they went to the air three consecutive times and we shut each pass down. It was a great goal line stand and we had the ball on our own five yard line.
The offense took the field and Crawford immediately broke a run for 32 yards to our 37 yard line. With a second down and 10, Crawford ripped another run off this time for 33 yards. The remainder of the drive involved a couple nice catches by Rodney and some short bursts from Crawford. It was a 94 yard, 10-play scoring drive when Crawford punched the ball in from the three yard line. Vili hit the PAT and we had captured the lead at 31 to 24 with 11:42 remaining in the game.
We kicked the ball deep and TAFT brought it out to their 36 yard line. TAFT continued to employ the strategy of spreading us out and then running the ball. Unfortunately, for them, this drive was laced with two separate holding penalties. So they found themselves with a third down and 22 situation on their 48 yard line. Ironically, they were forced to pass. They completed a 12 yard pass and then missed on the fourth down attempt. Another stop for our defense.
We took over on our 40 yard line. Two Crawford rushes netted 28 yards. These were followed by a 14-yard reception by Rodney and a 29-yard scoring run by Crawford. Vili added the PAT between the Home Depot uprights and the Crocs lead moved up to 38 to 24.
We kicked off and TAFT took the ball to their 28 yard line. They moved the ball to the 40 yard line and had a fresh set of downs. At this point the bigger defensive game plan was starting to kick in. We had gotten them into a position where they needed to start passing the ball more. From the 40, two incomplete passes and a quarterback sack forced a fourth down punt from their own 34 yard line.
The punt went out of bounds on our 41 yard line. Adams lined up the offense and handed off to Crawford who went 59 yards for the score. Vili added the PAT and it was Crocs 45 and TAFT 24.
TAFT returned the ensuing kickoff to their 25 yard line. At this point in the game I started to make some substitutions in the defensive linebacker and secondary ranks. TAFT put together a good 11-play scoring drive that ate up most of the remaining game clock. The scoring play was a rollout to the right by Kadmiry that confused a bango strategy on two stacked receivers. As Kadmiry approached the line of scrimmage, he was able to flip the ball forward into the waiting arms of Privott for the score. The snap and hold were bad on the PAT and the “fire” play missed. So the score with 45 seconds to go was Crocs 45 and TAFT 30.
We took the kickoff and kneeled the ball out to end the game. We had done what we said we needed to do four weeks ago – we had “won out” and secured a home playoff game. We would be facing the pissed off and tough Wolverines next Sunday in “The Swamp.”
After some talks with the media and the Finnish National Coach, who was in attendance, we finally got off the field. A while later we were pulling out of the parking lot and starting the four hour trip home. The trip was not too bad and we arrived around 3AM. Nancy and I had not rode our bikes to the field house so we made the short mile walk back to the apartment.
Here are some links on the game:
Game playlist as .MP4 files you can view or download
Article by touchdown.fi
Article from ILKKA.fi
Article from SAJL
Article from Croc site
Game day article from Croc site