3 September 2014
Last Sunday we travelled to Kuovalo to play the Indians in our final regular season game. The game’s outcome was meaningless for both us and the Indians. This particular game happened to be the very last game of the Maple League as the other eight teams had wrapped up their regular seasons on Friday and Saturday. Consequently, the fat lady had sung and the magical conditions that we needed to get that number two playoff seed had not materialized.
As I mentioned last week, the Turku Trojans needed to defeat the Helsinki Roosters in their final game and we would need to beat the Indians in order to get the number two seed. We did our part but the Roosters managed a win over Turku. Thus, Turku and the Crocs ended up with identical records of eight wins and two losses with Turku winning the head-to-head tie breaker over the Crocs. So, the seedings for the short playoff bracket ended up as Roosters at nine and one, Turku at eight and two, Crocs at eight and two, and the Poorvo Butchers at five and five. We really missed out on an opportunity by losing to the Butchers. Had we picked up that home game win we would have finished in the number one seed for the playoffs because we would have won the head-to-head tie breaker against the Roosters.
Back on the Fourth of July, we had our opening home game against the Indians and beat them 42 to 10. During that game, the Indians featured a talented, quick Quarterback Jeremy Dixon. However, Dixon evidently became too frustrated with the team and its lack of success and for reasons only he would know left the organization mid-season. The Indians were able to replace him with Phillip Garcia who is out of Tabor College in Kansas and possessed good passing skills along with a bigger frame. He did not have the scrambling ability of a Dixon but would be hard to bring down at 225 pounds.
Another Indian import player from the USA was Joe Benedetti out of Salisbury College in Maryland. Joe was a strong runner that provided the bulk of the ground game for the Indians.
Rounding out the American imports for the Indians was Kristof Schroeder from Puget Sound College in the state of Washington. Kristof stood at six three and weighed in at 225 pounds. Kristof’s home town was West Linn Oregon and he played both wide receiver and defensive end for the Indians.
Because the outcome of this game would not alter our playoff seeding, we decided to rest some key players. Roman Runner, our Safety and wide receiver, would be taking the afternoon off. Also, Juhani Koivumäki, who is another safety and had been getting some carries at tailback, would also rest. Initially, we were going to rest Gerald Gooden our defensive end, but he insisted that he wanted to play so we let him.
Shortly before 4PM and after the introductions, the captains met at mid-field and the coin toss was made. We won the flip but decided to defer. Predictably, the Indians chose to receive. The offense had not looked good during pre-game so Charlie told me he wanted the defense to take the field first in hopes that they would get some energy going. As it turned out, the defense was flat for the entire first half.
Spencer Cutlan lined up to kick the ball off and it was taken around the 10-yard line. The return was down the right sideline to the 35-yard line where he was forced out of bounds.
The Indian offense opened with a quick bubble pass to the right. Doc, our corner, came up hard and stopped it immediately for a loss. The Indians followed this with a short Quarterback option for a yard and then an incomplete slant pass. With a fourth down and 11-yard situation, their punt unit took the field. A bit of confusion for the Indians resulted in a five-yard illegal participation penalty due to 12 men on the field. The punt got away the next play. Tachu took the punt in the air and managed a short return to set up the Croc offense on their own 44-yard line.
With a first down the Indians still were confused and had 12-men on the field for defense. This penalty set us up with a first down and five-yard situation. We picked up a new first down on the back of Teemu Ivalo our fullback. He managed a four-yard run and then picked up a 10-yard rush on a third and short. Doug Webster hit Cutlan on a swing pass for a gain of seven. On the next play, the Indians flushed Doug from the pocket and he scrambled down the left side and got inside the 20-yard line before being knocked out of bounds. The offense had another new set of downs.
From the 19-yard line, Webster found Cutlan again on the swing pass and he was forced out on the 11-yard line. Teemu picked up a short gain and Doug followed that with a corner pass to Cutlan in the back of the endzone. Cutlan made a brilliant catch for the touchdown. Vili Rajamäki lined up for the point after and made the score Crocs seven and Indians zero.
The kickoff unit took the field and Cutlan’s kick was out of bounds. The Indians opted to take the ball on their own 35-yard line. Benedetti took the handoff and hit the right side for a pick-up of nine yards. After an incomplete pass, Benedetti took the ball again to the left side. We had an outside blitz called that somehow did not get communicated to our blitzing linebacker. This resulted in our Defensive End, Gooden, slanting hard to the inside with no linebacker on the outside. As it happened, the play was right at that point so the lane was open. Benedetti had a clear lane to our 43-yard line giving the Indians a new set of downs. Three incomplete passes later the Indians were punting again. They got off a good punt that rolled to our three-yard line where it was downed.
Deep in our own territory, Doug handed the ball off to Tachu, who was getting some time at tailback. He picked up a nice gain of eight yards. On second down, Doug threw a quick slant over the right side to Kris Kougia, who dropped the pass. The next play was not executed well. There was confusion on the handoff and Doug and Tachu collided in the backfield, which resulted in a six-yard loss. Cutlan took the field to punt from within our own endzone. Spencer managed a 41-yard punt that went out of bounds denying the return.
The Indians took over on our own 46-yard line with 3:46 remaining in the first quarter. After two short gains Garcia hit Heinisalo on a nice 19-yard seam pass down to the Croc 34-yard line. On second down and 10, Garcia dropped to pass and threw to Moore down the right sideline on a comeback route. The refs swallowed the flag on an obvious push-off by Moore against Doc our corner. The Indians picked up a first down on the play. From the 24-yard line on second down, Garcia once again found Moore. This time it was down the left seam. We had no safety in the area and Moore reeled in a nice one-handed catch for a 22-yard touchdown pass. The Indians converted on the point after to tied the score with sevens.
Our kick return unit took the field and fielded the kick in the air on the 10-yard line. Simo Suurkuukka took the ball and broke a tackle to get to the sideline. He got a nice 42-yard return before being forced out at the Indian 48-yard line.
The Croc offense found the endzone in three plays. From third down and six yards to go, Doug dropped and rolled out of the pocket to the right. He found a streaking Kougia down the right side for the 45-yard fade. Vili hit the extra point to give the Crocs a 14 to seven lead barely into the second quarter.
Cutlan kicked off to the Indian 15-yard line. The ball was returned 22 yards out to the 37-yard line. On first down, Benedetti took the handoff and headed left. We missed in space from the safety position and he picked up an 18-yard gain to the Croc 45-yard line. Garcia followed this up with a short six-yard completion and then a run for five yards getting down to the 34-yard line. On second down and nine to go from the 33-yard line, Benedetti lined up to take the snap. He took off around the left side and we played horribly. Our backer lost the edge, our play-side safety overran the play, and our back-side safety didn’t even begin running until it was too late. Benedetti scored on the rush – a 33-yard play. The point after was wide right making the score Crocs 14 and Indians 13. At this point, the defense was uninspiring at best.
The Indians came out and attempted an onside kick. The kick itself was perfect and they recovered the ball. However, they were offsides, which forced them to re-kick. They booted it deep this time to the Croc 22-yard line where it went out of bounds. The net result gave us the ball on our own 40-yard line.
We were immediately hit with a false-start penalty for five yards giving us a first and 15 from our 35-yard line. On second down and 13 to go, Doug threw to Simo down the left side. The Indian cornerback played nice coverage and the ball was overthrown. For some reason, the ref deemed it defensive pass interference. In my opinion, the call was a gift as on film you could see no infraction. Crocs had the ball first and 10 on the Indian 48-yard line.
With a new set of downs, Doug dropped to pass and was flushed from the pocket to the right. He scrambled 10 yards for a first down. On the next play, he found Cutlan on the seam route to the left. Spencer made the catch and caused the safety to miss in space. The play resulted in a 37-yard touchdown completion. We lined up for the point after. The snap appeared good but the hold was botched. Vili missed the kick to give the Crocs a 20 to 13 advantage with 6:45 remaining in the half.
Spencer kicked deep and the return was short giving the Indians the ball on their own 20-yard line. The Indians strung together a 12-play drive that got down to our 18-yard line. During the drive, Garcia hit Heinisalo in the middle for a 19-yard completion. Garcia also connected with Benedetti for 11-yards during which we missed three tackles. Another highlight play was a 33-yard catch by Moore over Doc and Tachu. That play was a good pass and a good catch. It was that play that set the Indians up on our 13-yard line. From there, the Indians stalled out in the air. Crocs took over with a minute and 26 seconds on their own 18-yard line due in part to an Indian penalty on that last set of downs.
With little time, the offense managed to move the ball out to the Croc 34-yard line with a pass to Rajamäki and a nice rush by Ivalo. Time expired in the half with the Crocs on top 20 to 13.
We decided to go back to the locker room, which was close, for halftime. We cleared up some confusion for covering the Indian quad receiver set and then got settled down from a pretty poor defensive performance. I was confident that we would play much better during the second half and assured the unit that we would win this game. We just had to settle down and play defense as we were capable.
The second half started with a short kickoff into a “hole” around the 30-yard line. We fell on the ball and downed it giving us a first down on our 31-yard line.
The offense took the field and was three and out. Two short gains by Ivalo and an incomplete pass that was low forced a punt. Cutlan got off a 36-yarder to the Indian 28-yard line where Doc downed the ball.
The Indians managed to get a third down and 2-yard situation but then missed on a bubble pass to the right that sailed high. Despite being on their own 36-yard line, they lined up to go for the first down. Garcia dropped to pass but found no open receiver. He tried to scramble vertical out the front of the pocket but was dropped short of the first down. Crocs took over on the Indian 28-yard line.
The next offensive series saw the Crocs commit the first turnover of the game. We got hit with Doug throwing the ball after he had crossed the line of scrimmage on first down. Then, from first and 15-yards to go, Doug hit Suurkuukka on a nice screen to the left. Simo picked up 19 on the run to get the first down. Ivalo took the ball up the middle on the next play and it was popped free. The Indians recovered on their own five yard line.
The defense took the field for the second series of the half. Again, we stepped up and forced a punt in three plays. The punt was 45 yards to the Indian 46-yard line and out of bounds.
During the next offensive series, Ivalo churned out consecutive rushes that totaled 15 yards. The Indians were tagged with a defensive holding penalty on the next play that was a pass to Simo Suurkuukka that took the ball down to the Indian 21-yard line. Ivalo hit the ground again this time for 11 yards giving the offense a first and goal from the 10-yard line. Webster missed on the first and goal and then we were hit with a false-start penalty giving us a second and goal from the 15-yard line. Webster dropped again and tried to find Simo in the left corner. The ball was low and uncatchable. From third and goal, Webster found Kris Kougia in the right corner where he made a nice leaping catch over the corner for the score. Vili hit the point after to give the Crocs a 17 to 13 lead.
Cutlan lined up to kick and put it out of bounds again. His kicking was off today due to some foot issues we found out later after the game. The Indians took over on their own 35-yard line. The defense took the field and shut the Indians down again in three plays. We were looking like a much better defensive unit this second half. The ensuing punt was blocked by Gerald Goodena and the ball fell into the arms of Ashley Dewing who advanced it 11 yards. The offense took over on the Indian 31-yard line with 2:20 remaining in the third quarter.
The offense turned up only six yards in three plays and were looking at a fourth down and four from the Indian 25-yard line. Doug dropped back and found a wide open Vili to the right on an out route. He made the catch putting the Crocs on the Indian 10-yard line with a first down. Ivalo took the ball on first down and picked up five as the quarter ended. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Doug rolled right and found Cutlan in the front corner of the endzone for the score on a 5-yard completion. We set up for the point after. With our regular snapper out with a hamstring, the snap came in high. Vili missed on the point after and the score was Crocs 33 and Indians 13.
We turned the kickoff duties over to Vili due to Spencer’s foot issue. Vili kicked to the Indian twenty and Benedetti returned it 14 yards to the Indian 34-yard line. On first down, Garcia dropped to pass and we got some great pressure from both Thomas Malagodi and Ashley Dewing. Thomas dropped Garcia for a nine-yard loss. Garcia missed on the second down but then connected deep to Moore for 35-yards over the middle. The ball was badly underthrown and Moore was the only one that came back on the ball. During the next series, Garcia took the ball up the middle twice to set up a third down and short situation. On third down, he found Benedetti in the flat for a completion that got them the first down on the Croc 29-yard line. With a set of new downs, Garcia dropped to pass once again. He scrambled and under extreme pressure ended up throwing the ball away to the right. On the next and final play of the drive, he looked deep to the endzone and badly underthrew the pass. Our corner, Jussi Koivumäki, came up on the pass and got the pick giving the offense the ball on the Croc seven-yard line.
The offense took over and could not get a first down in three plays. Looking at a fourth and one from the 16-yard line, Charlie decided to take a shot at converting. He later told me he saw the weak point that would get us the first. Doug took the snap after a hard count of three and split the A gap for a sneak. The play popped for 63 yards with Doug being drug down from behind. Crocs had the ball with a new set of downs on the Indian 21-yard line.
With fresh downs, Ivalo took the ball for five yards and then Doug on a third down play found Cutlan once again for the score. Spencer had run a post that flattened out around the 10-yard line and then got the ball into the endzone. The extra point unit put together a good snap, hold, and kick to push the score to Crocs 40 and Indians 13 with 4:54 remaining in the game.
Vili kicked to the Indian 13-yard line and Moore returned it 13 out to the 26. The defense shut down the Indians in three again for what turned out to be their last offensive series. They punted the ball 44 yards and it seemed that the ball would be downed. I recall seeing this from the sideline and it was odd at best. After being kicked, Tachu came up on the ball but could not field it so passed it by as the ball continued to roll. The Indians got lazy and did not keep track of Tachu or immediately down the ball. Tachu basically sneaked up from behind and scooped the ball off the grass and took off. Everyone had given up on the play assuming the ball had been downed. By the time it was over, Tachu had netted himself a 43-yard return to the Indian 30-yard line.
The Croc offense got off three more plays before taking the knee to run the game out on the Indian 17-yard line. Final score was Crocs 40 and Indians 13.
We had started this game out with no inspiration. The situation was that the result of the game had been meaningless. Winning or losing did not change our playoff situation and the Indians had not won a single game all year. This was probably the biggest factor in our lacklustre start. Regardless, the final game of the year was complete and in the books. We had ended with an eight and two record at the number three seed for the playoffs. We would be travelling to Turku to attempt the Trojans for the third time this year not having had any success yet with that team.
Here are some links for the game:
Pictures from touchdown.fi. Credit to photographers from that site for many of the images used here.
Post-game article from Croc site.
Pictures from O-M Matihalti’s Facebook picture collection. Credit to O-M for many of the images in this article.