4 July 2014
This game against the Kouvula Indians had been hyped for a while. The last time we took the field was three weeks ago in the Velodrome against the Wolverines where we had trouble keeping the score down. The Indians would be a much better team I felt even though they had just logged a loss to the Wolverines. The dangerous man on the field for the Indians was Jeremy Dixon who attended Averett University in the United States. Dixon was fast, could make you miss, and was hard to contain. He would be our main threat today.
Kickoff was set at 6:30PM in “The Swamp” and the weather was great. It was about 70 degrees Fahrenheit, which is about 20 Centigrade. No rain to be seen. This was a far cry from our opening home game in 2013 during which we had a thunderstorm complete with lightning strikes about 50 yards off the corner of the field and then enough of a hailstorm to blanket the field completely in white. We had a bit of a delay during that one.
The organization has this giant, inflatable crocodile through which the teams are introduced. This inflatable is in addition to another giant inflatable crocodile that functions as a kiddie slide and lives in a different corner of the field, which, I might add, my lovely wife in Belize would truly enjoy.
With smoke, music, and public address boomings, both teams were announced through the “tunnel with teeth”. We had secured a team flag, which was proudly carried through to the field. Speaking of flags, both Charlie and I were surprised see the American flag flying alongside the Finnish flag on the opposite sideline. I asked about it and found out that Jari had specially ordered one to fly on this game as it was the Fourth of July holiday in the states. I thought that was pretty cool and wished I had brought my camera along to get a photo of it.
With introductions over, the required captain’s meeting was held mid-field. This was another televised game for us so the cameraman could be seen in the midst of it all as the coin was tossed and the call made. The Indians won the toss and elected to receive.
Tobias lined up and booted the opening kick. Dixon took it on the bounce and got it out to around the 35-yard line. The defense took the field.
The scout tapes we had on the Indians had shown Dixon playing receiver for much of each game. In those films we had seen him only at the Quarterback position during the last quarter or so of each contest. However, for this game, after the starting lineups had been published, we learned Dixon would be starting at the Quarterback position.
As the Defensive Coordinator, my main concern was to contain Dixon’s scrambling and running ability. This would be the biggest threat to our defense. The Indians ran a spread style offense that centered around Dixon’s ability to run and scramble. Their “bread-and-butter” running play we had determined from the scout tapes was a “zone read.” When you run a zone read, the Quarterback receives the ball in the “shotgun” position. He then sticks the ball in the belly of the running back and “rides” him towards the line in one direction. While “riding” the running back, the Quarterback then makes a “read” and decides whether to let the running back keep the ball or whether to pull the ball out and run it himself in the opposite direction.
The Indians opened with a zone read that netted them nothing. The next couple plays found the Indians with a fourth and one from their own 44-yard line. They decided to go for it. They went with the zone read again but Dixon kept the ball heading left. He was hit early but managed to worm his way over the line of scrimmage for three yards and the first down.
With a fresh set of downs, Dixon opted to keep the ball again picking up four yards. They followed this with an incomplete swing pass and then the big play for us, which was a sack. It came on a third and six situation from the Indian 39-yard line. Both our defensive tackles (we were in a 3-man front look) had great penetration and got Dixon scrambling. Both Gooden and Janne were in on the sack. The loss forced the punt, which was kicked away and downed on our 41-yard line.
Doug Webster, one of our Americans, was calling the signals. During the series, two big pass completions to Roman Runner, another American, got the ball to the Indian five yard line with first down. The first pass was an amazing athletic catch down the right sideline over good man coverage. The second one was a nice out route to the right. The first score came on a little speed option to the left where Webster made a nice read and pitch out to Nissinen who danced into the endzone. Vili hit the extra point, continuing his perfect percentage for the season. Crocs 7 and Indians 0.
After the kickoff, the Indians took over on their 35-yard line again. This series is where we got a taste of the basic flow of the Indian offense, which would be solely centered around Jeremy Dixon. Dixon interlaced several runs with the zone read where he kept the ball. Throw in there some standard passes that, more often than not, ended up being a Dixon scramble. During this series, they managed a couple first downs to get them into a third and 10 situation on our 38-yard line. On this play, our right side “dog” (Juhani Koivumaki) was on a blitz that was executed perfectly between him and Janne our defensive tackle. The outside lane opened up and Juhani ran a scrambling Dixon down for an 11-yard sack. This forced another punt, which was downed on our 24-yard line.
The offense couldn’t get things going and were lined up to punt in a fourth and three situation. We were bailed out with a roughing the kicker penalty against the Indians to give us the first down. On the next play, Webster was flushed from the pocket but found Suurkuukka in the left sideline for a completion. Suurkuukka took a hard shot to the helmet on the catch but no flag was thrown. After a short screen pass, Webster again found Runner down the right sideline. This pass was literally completed by inches. The Indian safety closed fast with an outstretched arm and barely missed disrupting the ball’s flight. Roman gathered it in on the full sprint and found the endzone. Vili hit the extra point making it Crocs 14 and Indians 0.
The kickoff was out of bounds giving the Indians the ball for the third time on their own 35-yard line. Dixon dropped to pass and was flushed from the pocket. During the scramble, which was long, the ball came loose and the Crocs recovered. First turnover of the game.
From first and 10 on the Indian 45-yard line, Webster hit Suurkuukka again but this time for 44 yards. Doug had scrambled left from the pocket and found Suurkuukka waiting in the seam. It was a near score as the ball was ruled down on the one yard line. A quick hitting off tackle play to the left to Nissinen got us into the endzone for the third time. Vili hit the extra point to make it Crocs 21 and Indians 0 with 36 seconds left to play in the first quarter.
The kick and return put the Indians on their 39-yard line to start the series. Again, Dixon either threw, scrambled, or kept the ball himself. Over the course of several plays, the Indians managed two first downs to get the ball out to our 43-yard line – this despite a false start and intentional grounding penalties against them. Faced with a long third and 27 situation, Dixon lined up to take the snap. Unfortunately for them, the snap sailed a few feet over the head of Dixon and it was a race for the ball. Gooden disrupted Dixon’s attempt to recover the fumble, which allowed Rautiainen to make the recovery. Great field position at the Indian 28-yard line to start our fourth offensive series.
We found the endzone from a fourth and seven situation. Again, it was Webster to Runner. This time it was a 20-yard corner route to the back of the endzone. Vili nailed the extra point and Crocs had a 28 to 0 lead early in the second quarter.
Tobias kicked and the Dixon return got the ball started on the Indian 28-yard line. After a first down through a Croc penalty, Dixon connected big with Benedetti, their running back down the right sideline for a 29-yard completion. Many of the Indian completions were late throws from a Scrambling Dixon where coverage tends to break down over time. A couple rushing plays and another pass completion for 12 yards got the Indians to their deepest point thus far on our side of the field at the 10-yard line giving them a first and goal. Dixon kept the ball on a zone read and was tacked for a loss by Runner flying up the alley from the safety position. The Indians had no luck throwing the ball the next two downs. They lined up for a 27-yard field goal. They hit the field goal and were on the board – Crocs 28 and Indians 3.
We took the kick and started the series from our own 20. On the ensuing play-action pass, the Indian left end beat our tackle and dropped Webster for a 12-yard sack. From this hole we couldn’t recover. Spencer took the field to punt. The punt sailed to mid-field and the return got the Indians with pretty good field position on our 35-yard line.
Their offense sputtered and were faced with a fourth down and 10 situation from our 35-yard line. Dixon set up to pass and scrambled left out of the pocket. He threw the seam route but Roman Runner read the throw and picked the ball off around the five yard line. He ran the ball back out to our 27-yard line. Croc ball.
With 1:55 left in the half the offense took the field. Two quick completions for 10 and 14 yard to Suurkuukka and Saarinen, respectively got us in Indian territory to the 49-yard line. After that success, two incomplete passes and an 11-yard sack crushed the hope for a late score. Spencer was again called on to punt the ball away. He shanked the kick to the right for only 15 yards before it sailed out of bounds.
The Indians wrapped up the half with a couple incomplete passes and a short run by Dixon. We headed to our little area on the bank behind the home bleachers.
Defensively, we did not need to make any adjustments for the second half. We simply needed to remind ourselves that the only threat here was Dixon on the run. So I emphasized good, patient positioning and solid open-field tackling. All we really needed to do was limit Dixon’s runs and scrambles to small to medium gains – simply stop the big plays.
We took the field after the 20-minute break and readied ourselves for the second half kickoff, which we would receive. The kick was short and Suurkuukka returned it out just past our 40-yard line. After six plays from the line of scrimmage, we were deep into Indian territory on their 12-yard line. A defensive pass interference call helped to get us there. Then, on a first and 10 from the 12, Nissinen coughed up the ball on a zone read play. The Indians recovered.
The Indians would be starting from their 7-yard line. The drive they put together from here was a 93-yard scoring drive. The adjustment they made at half was to go with an empty formation (mainly), which would allow Dixon to use his feet to either scramble for yardage or find an eventually open receiver after pass coverages had broken down. That strategy held true for the drive and with the extra point made, the score was Crocs 28 and Indians 10.
We took the kick and returned it to our own 38-yard line. From first down, Webster hit big to Spencer Cutlan for 34 yards. After that, we stalled out leaving us with a fourth and 10 situation from the Indian 28-yard line. We elected to go for it but failed on the pass. The Indians took over.
Only 1:55 remained in the third. The long drive by the Indians had eaten up a lot of clock. They took the field and resumed the same strategy that netted them their only touchdown. After six plays, they were into our territory on the 41-yard line. I didn’t really care if they “chunked” away at us. What we did not want to happen was a series of big plays that could quickly turn a game around. So, “patience” was the word for the moment.
From a fourth and five yard situation on our 36-yard line, patience paid off. Dixon took the snap and made a rare throw while still in the pocket over the middle. Roman Runner, the safety, had it marked and picked up his second interception of the game. He had a nice weaving return for 34 yards giving us the ball on our 44-yard line.
The clock had ticked over into the fourth quarter now as Doug and the offense took to the field. A quick hitting seam pass down the left side to Vili Rajamaki resulted in the 56-yard touchdown completion. Vili hit the extra point and the score was now Crocs 35 and the Indians 10.
Tobias kicked the ball and Dixon scooped it from the ground for the return. Unfortunately for the Indians, the ball was fumbled and the Crocs picked it up. Great field position for us on the Indian 18-yard line. After an incomplete pass, Webster broke from the pocket on a pass play and was able to rush for the score. Vili hit the extra point making it Crocs 42 and Indians 10.
We kicked off and the Indians would start with their “empty” formation from their own 33-yard line. For those that don’t know, in an “empty” formation you only have the Quarterback in the backfield. The remaining five eligible receivers are spread out across the formation, which allows for a lot of pass routes.
The Indians picked up a couple quick first downs to get into our territory on the 41-yard line. We helped them out on with by committing a face-masking penalty. However, from there, they jumped offsides and were unable to recover. They had to punt the ball away and it sailed into the endzone for a touchback.
We took over on the 20-yard line and with a second and 12 yard situation from the 18, due to a holding penalty, committed our second turnover of the game. Webster hit Cutlan for a nice 27-yard completion but the run after catch was stripped. We lost the ball and the Indians would have it on our 47-yard line with 7:24 remaining in the game.
Despite getting hit with a holding penalty, the Indians managed a first down to our 37-yard line. From there, they stalled out and were looking at a fourth and three yard situation from our 30-yard line. Dixon took the snap and dropped to pass. The right-side receiver from the trips side took a fade route somewhat inside the sideline. Tuomas Leinonen, our veteran corner, played the underthrown pass and picked the ball. He returned it 27 yards out to our 32-yard line.
The offense took to the field and Nissinen was tackled for a loss of two yards. We could not recover and since we were in no danger of losing the game would not take any risks. Spencer Cutlan took the field to punt the ball away. He punted the ball 32 yard, which Dixon returned for 19 giving the Indians the ball on our 49-yard line. 2:40 remained on the game clock.
The big play of the drive for the Indians was a 22-yard completion to Kauhanen, which gave them a first down on our 27-yard line. However, on the very next play, Gooden beat the right offensive tackle on the edge and sacked Dixon for 11 yards. The Indians could not recover and ended up attempting a 29-yard field goal. The kick was nearly good as it caromed off the crossbar and was smartly caught in the air by Orue, who is an import player from Spain. That kick pretty much ended the game. Our offense did take the field and kneeled out as the clock ticked off to zero. Final score was Crocs 42 and Indians 10.
We had survived Dixon and had successfully defended our home field “The Swamp” in the league opener. Next week we would travel to Vantaa to play TAFT in the ISS Stadium on 12 July at 3PM.
Here are some links for the game:
Article from the Gridiron site.