17 July 2014
Game three of the regular season was against TAFT. I dug up the exact meaning for TAFT in one of last year’s posts but I will repeat it here again. TAFT is from the town of Vantaa and stands for Tikkurila American Football Team with Tikkurila being the Vaanta District. They have no associated mascot name like the Crocs or Indians… it is just TAFT.
Going into this game, we knew that it would be our toughest challenge of the season thus far. TAFT has a solid organization, they are well coached, and have plenty of talent spread around, unlike last week’s opponent the Kuovula Indians.
TAFT features an American quarterback named John Kelly who played at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. They have a talented running back (#36) named Roope Metsä who is Finnish who is very dangerous in the flats. On the defensive side of the ball, they round out their allocated three American imports with Garret Griffith, who hails from Colorado but played ball in the states in Nebraska at Hastings College, and with Max Shubert who played for Salve Regina University in Rhode Island. Shubert and Griffith are both big defensive backs.
The game was slated to kickoff at 4PM in Tikkurila. Tikkurila is very close to the airport in Helsinki and we ended up seeing a lot of big jumbo jets tracking directly over the stadium during the game. Because of the afternoon kick time we had to board the bus and leave around 8AM.
We arrived on schedule around 2PM. The ISS Stadium is a very nice facility. It is interesting to see the football venues in Finland since American Football is not a main sport. For example, ISS Stadium is really set up for soccer. The surface, which is top-notch field turf, is beautiful. However, the lining is all soccer. Because they wanted to use it for American football, they used slightly lighter green colored lines for the American Football markings whereas the soccer linings were bright white. Also, they opted to not bother with hash marks or numbers, which are common landmarks for all football team’s defensive and offensive schemes. Finally, as with most fields in Finland, the goal posts were fabricated by erecting some posts to the sides of some soccer goals, which of course gives you a cross-bar that is about two feet short of regulation. Despite all this, we were excited to play on the nice surface.
The week’s practice prior to the game was not particularly good. We had thin numbers and seemingly skewed priorities. We managed to get through the week and both Charlie and I were not happy about it. We could not afford to go lose this game.
The coin toss was held with the captains at mid-field and we came up with the toss. We elected to receive and to go with the slight wind that was running through the the stadium.
We fielded the kick and began on our 35-yard line. The offense did a great job of burning up clock on a long 13-play drive that eventually stalled just short of the goal line at the three. That set up a second and goal but we had to settle for the field goal. Vili came in and nailed it to put us on the board. Crocs 3 and TAFT 0.
After the kickoff, TAFT took over on their 34-yard line. Their offense put together a 12-play drive that stalled out on downs around our 25-yard line. The series ended on four incomplete passes. The final play was a corner shot at the endzone that sailed long.
We took over on our 27-yard line. We chipped away and moved the ball over the course of 11 plays to get to the TAFT 36-yard line. From a third and seven situation, Webster dropped to pass and was flushed from the pocket. He spotted our receiver just breaking up on a comeback route down the right sideline. However, the pass was off and was caught by TAFT defensive back Wiren. That ended that drive. TAFT took over on their 14-yard line.
The defense took the field and pretty much shut them down. TAFT managed a single first down before they had to punt from their 27-yard line. The punt return was an interesting play and probably qualifies as one of the “5 plays” that define a game. The TAFT punter really had a leg and he boomed this one off 47 yards as measured from the line of scrimmage. Roman Runner, our return specialist, took the kick off the ground while retreating. He was hit by three TAFT players but managed to keep his feet despite being facemasked, which was ignored. Roman hit the sideline and returned the ball all the way to the endzone. Unfortunately, what was deemed as a “hold” was not ignored during the return and the play was called back. The net result was that we took over on our own 43-yard line.
From there, a slew of penalties and frustrations landed us with a fourth and 27 from from our own 26-yard line. Spencer took the field and booted the ball away.
TAFT only managed two plays. On the second one, we had a great fill and hit on the ball by our Middle Linebacker Mika. His hit popped the ball loose and we recovered. Croc ball first and 10 on their 37-yard line.
We were out in four downs not able to collect a single first down and failing on a fourth and two with an incomplete pass. With a minute and 12 seconds remaining in the half, TAFT took over on their 29-yard line. The defense limited them to a single first down which got them to mid-field as the half expired.
Surprisingly, the first half results were much different than we expected. I was very happy with the defense as you can’t really get better than a shutout for the half. We gathered near the endzone and got some rest and discussed adjustments that TAFT would likely make during the second half. We had made just a few defensive mistakes. We had some great individual plays and efforts on the field that first half.
The second half started with TAFT on their 42-yard line. The defense stopped them on downs forcing the punt. The punt was a beauty and rolled into the endzone for the touchback. Webster and the offense took the field and on second down he connected with Runner for a 31-yard pass completion. However, on the next second down opportunity a freakish interception occurred. We had a comeback route down the right sideline and on the throw, the receiver went down and missed the ball. Unfortunately, the ball somehow never touched the ground and ended up resting on the back of the down receiver. Shubert scooped it up off the back logging the second interception. Despite the initial “incomplete” call from the referee, the call was overturned after a short conference on the field. TAFT would start on their own 16-yard line.
Once again, the defense rose to the occasion and forced a punt after three downs. The highlight play here was a 14-yard sack by Gerald Gooden our defensive end from Purdue. The punt was short and sailed out of bounds on the TAFT 46-yard line.
The offense on a short running play got hit with a holding call to push the ball back to the Croc 47-yard line giving them a first down and 17 yard situation. Webster dropped to pass and with decent protection launched a deep pass down the left sideline to Spencer Cutlan. Cutlan made a fantastic catch where he had to content with the defensive back fighting for the ball. Cutlan was in the endzone and we had our second score. With 4:45 remaining in the third quarter, Vili hit the extra point and it was Crocs 10 and TAFT 0.
We kicked off and the kick was very short. Combined with the return, TAFT would start on our 36-yard line. They had a very short field to work with here. They had a nice 13-yard completion followed by some running plays and they were first and goal on our six yard line. Kelly dropped to pass and hit Luiro breaking to the flats. We had a blown coverage and he was in the endzone. Wiren, the kicker who is probably the best kicker in the league, converted on the point after and it was Crocs 10 and TAFT 7.
Wiren boomed the kickoff out of the endzone and we would start on our 20-yard line. All the offense could produce was a short 3-yard gain on a rush and then a couple incomplete passes. Cutlan, again, took the field to punt the ball away. The punt was only 26 yards from the line of scrimmage giving TAFT another short field from our 49-yard line.
TAFT muffed the exchange in the backfield on first down and the ball was on the turf. They recovered but after a loss of eight yards. However, offsetting penalties nullified the play and they again lined up from the 49-yard line with a fresh first down. Kelly hit Griffith for a 14-yard completion on the hitch route to the left logging a first down. Two plays later, TAFT was faced with a third and eight situation from our 28-yard line. Kelly dropped to pass and was flushed to the right out of the pocket. He scrambled nearly out of bounds giving receivers about 8 seconds to turn designed routes into grade-school patterns. Kelly launched it deep into the right back corner of the endzone and our corner, Doc, was up a bit and could not recover. TAFT had struck again. Wiren lined up to attempt the point after and Runner split the inside seam to disrupt the kick. With the third quarter ending, TAFT had taken the lead 13 to 10.
Wiren boomed the kick to the goal line and Runner managed a 30-yard return. All the offense could get was a single first down. Faced with a fourth and 20 after a bad penalty, Cutlan had a nice punt that was intentionally kicked out of bounds giving TAFT the ball on their 20-yard line.
With 8:15 remaining in the game TAFT took to the field. A three-yard run and two incomplete passes later brought the TAFT punt team out onto the field. The big play for us on this stop was the third down pass. We had a great man coverage breakup by Doc our left corner on the slant route.
Starting at our own 43-yard line, Webster connected three times in a row with the third shot to Roman Runner resulting in a 30-yard touchdown completion. The pass was a short route but TAFT missed the open-field tackle and Runner found himself spun back and free. Vili came on and hit the extra point to give the Crocs the lead 17 to 10 with 6:35 remaining in the game.
Cutlan boomed the kick out for a touchback and TAFT would start on their 20-yard line. With a second and four from their own 26-yard line, Kelly found Luiro in the flats to the right. His speed was too much and he got to the edge for a 34-yard completion. Two more rushing plays with a short pass netted them two more first downs to give them the ball on our 13-yard line. TAFT got hit with a false-start penalty and then we came up with a sack. We had them on their heels with a third down and 20 from our 23-yard line. Kelly took the snap and from the pocket launched it deep to the endzone to Griffith. Griffith made a great catch over Arue our right-side corner for the score. It was good coverage… just a great catch. Wiren hit the point after and TAFT was back on top 20 to 17 with 1:41 remaining in the game.
Webster and the offense took the field with little time on our 27-yard line. After a couple incomplete passes, Webster found Runner on the right on a comeback route for 16 yards and the first down. The next play was a quick flat route that netted three yards. With second down and seven to go from our 46-yard line, Webster found Suurkuukka on the swing pass to the right. He had room to run and with a key block from Runner who was downfield, the pass went for 16 yards down to the TAFT 38-yard line. 39 ticks remained in the game. Webster lined up and Cutlan ran the fade down the left sideline. He beat the coverage and the ball dropped into his hands for the go-ahead score. Vili kicked the extra point and a TAFT defender somehow managed a block with a perfectly timed leap from behind the line of scrimmage. Crocs 23 and TAFT 20 with 34 seconds remaining.
Cutlan kicked off and TAFT managed a return out to their 34-yard line. Kelly missed on the first down pass attempt but hit the comeback route on second down for 16 yards and the first down. With a first and 10 from the 50, Kelly went deep for the homerun ball down the right sideline. We had great deep coverage and the ball fell incomplete. With 16 seconds remaining, Kelly dropped again and could find no receivers. He split the rush pocket barely escaping the shoe-string sack and hit open field. We missed a key tackle in space and Kelly ended up with a 27-yard scramble taking the ball down to our 23-yard line with 6 seconds in the game. We traded a timeout with TAFT and they opted to attempt the tying field goal with the sure-footed Wiren. This kick was well within his range and abilities. They kicked from the left hash with a bit of wind pushing to the right. The snap and hold were good and the kick was away. It was wide right by about five feet. The game was over.
For me, the wash of relief was immediate. We had come down and gotten the win despite not playing the best as a team. We still had a ways to go. But, a win is a win. The bus ride home would be good. Next Sunday we would travel again to face the Helsinki 69ers.
Here are some game links: