22 July 2014
While the 12 July game against the tough TAFT team was emotionally draining, it now remains firmly in the past. Last Sunday saw our fourth regular season game of 10 for the Seinäjoki Crocodiles against the Helsinki 69ers.
The 69ers were owners of a 2 and 1 record before falling to the Crocs in the Velodrome. The field of teams in this years Maple league has rolled into two fairly separate groups. Four teams are fairly established as playoff bound – Crocodiles, Roosters, Trojans, and TAFT. Here is a graphic of the current standings. Although TAFT appears low in the standings, of the four games they have played, three have been against top-tier opponents (Crocs, Roosters, and Trojans). On the other hand, the Crocs have yet to face either the Roosters or the Trojans. So I suspect that further definition will emerge over the course of the next couple of weeks.
So last Sunday found us on the road again very early (7AM departure) for Helsinki and the Velodrome. We arrived around 12:30 with a couple hours to prepare for the 2:30 kick. The was a bit iffy as about a mile off there were some serious lightning strikes. I stood outside the locker room and tried to count the seconds between the strikes and the thunder and eventually determined the storm was moving away. So I didn’t think we were going to have any delays due to lightning.
We had a really good week of practice that included spirited and energetic sessions. We had everyone on board and some players from the Junior teams as well. We felt confident going into the match. Above all, though, we did not want to overlook an opponent.
The 69ers are led by Quarterback Marques Ivory who played at Jacksonville State in the US. Ivory is a big quarterback at six feet one inch and 235 pounds in college. At linebacker, the 69ers featured American Robert Bell who played at the University of Toledo in Ohio. Bell was a standout player at all levels at six feet and 225 pounds. The final American for the 69ers was R. J. Long playing wideout and in the defensive backfield. Long played at McMurry University out of Texas. We considered Long to be their most dangerous receiving threat.
At 2:30 after the introductions, the flag waving, and the pomp, the captains met at mid-field and the coin decided who would start on offense and on defense. We won the toss and elected to defer the kick to the second half. The defense would get first crack after the kick.
Spencer Cutlan boomed the kick and our coverage was good setting the 69ers on their own 17-yard line. The opening play set the tone as Ashley Dewing slammed through the offensive line and logged a nine-yard sack on Ivory. On a third down and 14 to go, our American Defensive End Gerald Gooden got to Ivory for a five-yard sack. That play set up the first of many 69er punts to come.
The punt was from the back of the endzone with Roman Runner fielding it and logging a 45-yard return down to the 69er three-yard line. A pass for no yardage followed by a Nissinen burst into the endzone had the Crocs on the board quickly. Unfortunately, Vili ended his streak of successive extra points and the score was Crocs 6 and 69ers 0.
The kickoff went to R. J. Long and he had a nice return to the 69er 47-yard line. The drive ended without a first down after three running plays and a 69er false start penalty. The punt was taken again by Runner this time at the 11-yard line. He managed a 32-yard return but a clipping penalty wiped out much of that. Crocs would take over on their own 30-yard line.
The offense put together an 11-play scoring drive that did not rely on any big plays. The longest play of the drive was a 17-yard completion from Webster to Runner. Webster scored the TD on a short one-yard run. Vili hit the extra point this time giving the Crocs a 13 to 0 early advantage. Just 1:17 remained in the first quarter.
The 69ers began from their 22-yard line and again were three-and-out. They took the line of scrimmage with a fourth and three situation on their own 29-yard line. We had a bit of confusion here as the 69ers did not line up in a traditional punting formation. It appeared as though they were going to go for it. However, the snap was taken by Ivory who dropped a few steps and booted the ball away. With the benefit of no return man in place, the ball took a good 69er bounce and crossed out of bounds on our 35-yard line.
The offense was back on the field. They put together a virtually identical, efficient drive down to the 69 11-yard line where they stalled out with a fourth and 11-yard situation after Nissinen was dropped for loss of seven on a running play. We brought in Vili to attempt the field goal. The kick had the distance but was wide left. 69ers took over on their 11-yard line.
Despite spotting them five yards on an offsides penalty, the 69ers were three and out again. They had a short run and missed on two pass attempts. Again, they line up as if to run a play. And, again, Ivory took the snap and booted the punt. It was weak and short and was downed on the 69er 40-yard line giving the offense a very short field with which to work.
After a seven-yard completion to Cutlan and then a missed pass, Nissinen took the ball off the right sight for routine isolation play and was stripped of the ball. The 69ers came up with it and had the first take-away. 69 ball on their 28-yard line.
The 69ers gained little yardage using a couple running plays. With a third down, we committed another offsides penalty and gave them their first first down of the night. From that point on for this drive things fell apart for them. They turned right around and committed their own false start to put them in a first and 15-yard situation. On the next snap, Gooden made a good outside move to free himself of the protecting Offensive Tackle and logged another sack on Ivory. This time he dropped him for six yards. Faced with a third and 21-yard play, Ivory dropped again to pass. This time is was Oskar Karlsson, from Sweden, who had great penetration and stripped the ball loose from Ivory’s grasp. The 69ers managed to recover the ball and they were now looking at fourth and 31 yards from their 19-yard line. With no tricks from the offense, the punt team lined up to kick away. The ball sailed out of bounds giving the offense a first and 10 from the 69er 48-yard line. Forty three seconds remained in the half.
The offense moved the ball to the 19-yard line and had a first down when Webster dropped and stepped up in the pocket to throw the seam. The 69er safety, Bell, played it perfectly and got the interception. He returned the ball to their 40-yard line. However, flags were everywhere. I counted three on the field. It turned out that there were clipping and holding penalties all against the 69er. The hold evidently was before the interception so we retained the ball. With a first and goal from the 10-yard line we had time for one shot at the endzone. We missed on the pass and the clock expired with Crocs at 13 and 69ers 0.
For halftime we decided to go back into the locker room. We had our own defensive area where I went in and sat with the players for a while. We didn’t have everyone in there so I chose not to say anything for a while. I think they got uncomfortable after a while and finally asked me directly if there were any adjustments we needed to make. Of course I had none. We had played a nearly flawless first half of defensive football allowing a single first down due to a penalty. There was not much to be said. So, after encouraging everyone to put the first half away and focus on a new 24 minutes I got out of there.
The second half started with Roman taking the kick and returning it 32 yards out to the fifty. Eight plays later we were in the endzone with our third score. Again, the drive was not punctuated with any great long gains. The offense had put together a consistent series of runs and passes to get the score on a 9-yard run by Velipekka Jaakonsaari, who we call “VP” for obvious reasons. Vili hit the extra point to make it Crocs 20 and 69ers 0.
Spencer kicked off and Long returned the ball to the 69er 22-yard line. On the first play from scrimmage, Ivory threw a swing pass to the right flaring back. The pass was reacted on instantly by our cover corner Tuomas who put the hit on the receiver. The ball was actually never caught and Gooden from the Defensive End spot recognized it as a backwards pass and scooped it up off the cement and trotted into the endzone for a defensive score. We decided to try and make up the missed extra point from earlier and handed the ball off to Nissinen for the two-point conversion. It was good. Crocs 28 and 69ers 0.
Spencer lined up to kick again and sailed it deep. The return took it to the 69er 31-yard line. After a couple short runs, Oskar got to Ivory again for a sack. Unfortunately, we were flagged as lining up offsides out on the corner. So, with a third and 3-yard situation Ivory dropped to pass and missed. Rather than punt once again, the 69ers decided to try the fourth down. Ivory took the shotgun snap and looked to throw. The pocket was soon collapsing on him and his scramble resulted in a 3-yard sack from both Gooden and Malagodi. Malagodi is our one-tech guy (nose tackle) from the UK and has been playing great.
We took over in great position on the 69er 35-yard line. The drive was disastrous, though, as we got hit for two penalties and then a sack that forced the ball out with the 69ers recovering.
The defense took to the field. The 69ers executed a zone read play and our Middle Linebacker read and filled with speed. He broke the entire thing up and forced Ivory out to the left with the ball where he ran into Gooden protecting the end. Gooden stripped the ball and Joni Virtanen, an outside linebacker, scooped it up for the turnover. Croc ball again.
The offense took over on our own 44-yard line. We managed a lengthy drive that was highlighted by a third-down conversion for 16 yards. We were faced with a third and 14 situation and Webster connected to VP down to the 69er 11-yard line. Unfortunately, we could not cash in on a touchdown and had to settle for a 26-yard field goal by Vili. Crocs 31 and 69ers 0.
Cutlan kicked off and the defense took the field and shut the 69ers down in three plays. The 69ers helped out with a bad snap over Ivory’s head that resulted in a 21-yard sack by Gooden. Faced with a fourth down and 32 yards, the 69ers surprisingly attempted the fourth down play from their own 40-yard line. They missed on the completion. Croc ball at their 28-yard line.
After completing a pass for 12-yards to Cutlan, the Crocs coughed up the ball a second time on a fumble. This time it was Runner who lost the handle. The 69ers took over on their own 20-yard line with 11:11 left in the game.
This drive was the most productive for the 69ers. They managed two first downs over the course of 11 plays. The final play of the drive came on a fourth and two situation where Oskar got to Ivory for another sack. This time it was for minus six yards.
The offense took over barely in 69er territory on the 49-yard line. They were unable to convert on a fourth and six situation from the 33-yard line. The 69ers would have one final shot at accumulating some yardage.
Unfortunately for the 69ers, a penalty and a third down sack by Malagodi stuck them in a fourth and 23-yard situation where they decided to simply punt the ball away. Runner fielded the kick and returned it 29 yards to the Croc 45-yard line. A minute and 59 seconds remained.
At this point, the offense ran a few running plays and then kneeled out to end the game. Final score remained Crocs 31 and 69ers 0.
For me personally, it was nice to get a shutout. I have been coaching a long time and there have not been many shutouts. The thing about this particular game that made it quite defensively notable was that the total offensive production for the 69ers was a minus 19 yards. Not only had we not allowed a point, but we had not allowed a yard of total offense. I was looking forward to breaking down the game film on Monday.
The trip home seemed long to me given the win. We did eventually reach the clubhouse around 11:30PM, which was relatively early for a road game. As usual, we peddled home in the light.
Here are some links for the game: