20 August 2014
Last Saturday we played in “The Swamp” for the second week in a row. The Helsinki Wolverines came to town. The Wolverines have struggled this year due to the literal dismantling of their 2013 team, which defeated us in a semi-final game by eight points ending our season. This year, however, many of their top players left the team for other teams in the Maple League. To date, the Wolverines have managed only a single win. When we faced them for our regular season opener, we defeated them 79 to 14 on their home field.
This time around was not much different. The Crocs won the game 63 to zero in a controlled fashion. The win put us at six wins and two losses and ranked third. The previous week’s losses to Turku and Poorvo had taken away our shot at the top seed in the Maple League and left our bid for a home semi-final game in a much poorer position.
Despite the exodus experienced by the Wolverines, they still had their elusive Cedric Johnson manning the Quarterback position. He is quick and dangerous in the open field. Their top receiver is Finnish player Sebastian Sagne. Sebastian is Johnson’s “go-to” guy and has consistently performed for them.
Kickoff was scheduled for 4:00PM. The weather was perfect for football. There was no rain, thunder, or lightning. The temperature was much cooler than some of the games we had had so far this season.
We got through warm-ups with a bustling crowd of 20. That number is literal. I actually counted the number of people in the stands. The official count for the game was around 350. Crowds are not big for Maple League games by US football standards even when compared to High School games. I think our top crowd so far this year was over 800 and that was during the away game against top-rated Turku.
The captains met at mid-field and we won the toss and elected to take the kick to start the game. It took a couple tries to get the kick away. Sagne kicked the first one out of bounds and we decided to have them re-kick. This time, Simo Suurkuukka took the kick and managed 19 yards on the return putting the offense on the field on the Wolverine 46-yard line.
After a short opening three-yard rush, we hit three first downs in a row on two passes and a rush. The rushing first down was from Spencer Cutlan who was debuting as our running back due to both VP and Nissinen both being out from broken bones. Cutlan is from Wales and has consistently performed both during games and in practice. He has definitely been a highlight this season and a model import player. And, yes Eddie Cheadle, Spencer did much more than kick the ball during this game.
So the offense had a new set of downs on the Wolverine 12-yard line. We managed another first down through another back debuting – Juhanie Koivumäki. Juhani is a standout defensive player for us and was called upon to help our depleted backfield out. The final play of the drive was Cutlan punching it into the endzone. Spencer then converted on the point after and the Crocs were on the board – Crocs 7 Wolverines 0.
Cutlan kicked off and after the return the Wolverines set up on their 29-yard line. They moved the ball well over the course of 11 plays to get to our 25-yard line and were faced with a third down and 10-yard situation. Johnson threw a beautiful pass over the middle to Sagne who was running a fast seam route. Lucky for us, he dropped the pass. This play was a sure score had Sagne made the catch. Faced with the fourth down, Johnson and the Wolverines could not convert and gave the ball up on downs.
The offense took the field again and quickly picked up a first down out to our 34-yard line. Unfortunately, during the next set of downs we were slapped with a holding penalty that stuck us in a hole. Looking at a second down and 20 Webster went under center. He took the snap and hit the edge on an option. Keeping the ball, Webster had a brilliant rush for 60 yards down to the Wolverine 11-yard line. On the next play from scrimmage, Webster connected up with Kris Kougia for the score with a wide open slant route. Cutlan converted and it was Crocs 14 and Wolverines 0.
Spencer kicked off with 2:37 remaining in the quarter. Sagne got a short return and the Wolverines started on their own 33-yard line. The offense got to the 50-yard line but then suffered a false start penalty that pushed them back into their side of the field. They could not recover and were forced to punt. Wolverine punting was less than stellar that day. This first one netted four yards from the line of scrimmage. We took over on our own 44-yard line.
This next series was rare in that we lost the ball on downs. Cutlan started it nicely with a 10-yard rush for a first down. The next play, however, saw a bad exchange between Webster and Juhanie… the ball was on the ground in the backfield. Juhanie managed to recover it though. A completed short pass to back to Juhani followed by a dropped ball by Cutlan left us with a fourth down and eight from the Wolverine 44-yard line. Cutlan dropped to punt. Spencer got off a beautiful 38-yarder to the Wolverine six-yard line where the ball went out of bounds.
The Wolverine offense managed a single first down and then found themselves lined up to punt once again. I could not have imagined a punt worse than the previous one but this one netted zero yards from the line of scrimmage. I couldn’t really see a reason for it by looking at the film clip. It may have actually hit one of the protectors in the backfield. If not, it was simply the worse shank I have ever seen. Regardless, Tachu scooped up the errant kick and picked up 10 yards before being forced out of bounds. We took over with a first and goal from the Wolverine 10-yard line.
Albeit it took us four plays but we did get the ball in. The capping play was when Webster rolled to the left and found Cutlan just inside the endzone on an out route. The catch was Spencer’s second touchdown. He converted on the extra point and it was Crocs 21 and Wolverines 0.
After the kickoff and another Sagne return, the Wolverines took the field on their own 31-yard line. On their first play they picked up a nice first down on a 14-yard slant route from Johnson to Rantanen. That play was the extent of the drive and they lined up to punt again with a fourth down and nine from their own 46-yard line. They finally got off a normal punt for around 30. Juhanie took it in the air and picked up a good 20-yards on the return.
Two passes and a rush later, we had the ball on the Wolverine 24-yard line with a new set of downs. Webster dropped into the pocket to throw. Cutlan was lined up in the slot and ran a nice hitch-and-go post route. The throw was there and Spencer made the catch for his third score of the day. Again, he it the extra point and it was Crocs 28 and Wolverines zero.
The kickoff from Cutlan was deep and we had good coverage stopping Sagne after only a two-yard return. The Wolverines had the ball on their own 12-yard line with just over a minute remaining in the half. We loosened up our coverage and they banged out a couple pass completions to get the ball to our 34-yard line. We committed the sin of getting beat over the top on one pass that was for 38-yards. The drive turned bad at this point for the Wolverines. Oskar Karlsson flushed Johnson to the left forcing him to scramble. Juhanie closed fast from the near safety position and they combined for a six-yard sack.
The final play of the half was interesting. Johnson dropped to pass deep and Mika Luoma forced him outside the pocket and stripped Johnson of the ball. The ball actually went airborne and landed into the arms of Thomas Malagodi our big nose tackle. Thomas slowly rumbled toward the goal but sadly lacked the speed to get there. He did manage about 10 yards before being dragged down to end the half.
We exited the field with a 28 to zero advantage and found our regular spot behind the bleachers. We spent our 20 minute half resting. I did have some instruction for for defending slant routes and the seam routes, which were the only things that had hurt us during the first half. Other than that it was “good job”.
We lined up and kicked deep and stuck them inside the 20-yard line at the 19 to begin the third quarter of play. In a third down and eight situation, Johnson connected on a seam route that was not dropped this time to Karjala. After the catch, Karjala broke free and we had to chase him down from behind. It was a 40-yard pickup that got them into our side of the field. We followed that up with a defensive pass interference that took them down to our 39-yard line. Unfortunately, for the Wolverines, they were immediately tagged with an offensive pass interference call on the very next play. That play pretty much killed their drive. It was final when Ashley Dewing sacked Johnson for 10 yards on a fourth and 21-yard attempt. Croc offense took over on their own 45-yard line.
Webster and the offense took the field for the first time in the second half. On the first play from scrimmage, Webster handed the ball to Cutlan and their defensive end made a good play down the line to strip him of the ball. The ball bounced loose in the endzone and the Wolverines game up with it giving the offense a fresh start on our 48-yard line.
Johnson missed on a couple of passes and then faced a third and 10-yard situation. He went deep down the right sideline against our corner Doc who unfortunately was hit with a defensive pass interference call. The penalty gave the Wolverines the first down. With a fresh set of downs from our 33-yard line, the Wolverines stalled out and gave up the ball in downs. We took over on our own 29-yard line.
On first down, Webster hit Cutlan for a nice 11-yard completion. The Wolverines followed this with a holding penalty to set the ball at the 50-yard line. From first and 10, Webster dropped to pass and found Cutlan in the seam for a completion. Cutlan cut it up to the middle area of the field and broke free. He was in for his fourth touchdown of the day. Spencer hit the extra point to give the Crocs the lead at 35 to zero.
The following kickoff was both accidental and fortunate. Spencer lined up to kick and did not get much “meat” of the ball. Consequently, the kick was high and short to our right. It landed in a hole bouncing awkwardly near the sideline. Tachu Oreu, who has some speed, was down in a hurry and made a great between-the-legs deflection to keep the ball in bounds. Jussi Koivumäki, who was trailing Tachu a bit dove and covered up the ball. Croc ball on the Wolverine 36-yard line.
Our next drive featured a long-time Maple League player Teemu Ivalo. From the fullback position, Teemu got a nice seven-yard carry and a middle screen completion for 10 yards. Paydirt came from the 19-yard line from Webster to Cutlan again. Cutlan danced into the endzone with his fifth score of the day. He converted on the extra point to make it Crocs 42 and Wolverines zero.
Cutlan kicked off and the return brought the ball out to the Wolverine 24-yard line. The Wolverine offense was non-existent. They managed three incomplete passes and an offsides penalty to add to their issues. They lined up to punt backed up near their own endzone. The snap was mis-handled and the punter found himself scrambling to find the ball. He did manage to fall on it to recover but the damage had already been done. The Croc offense would take over on the Wolverine two-yard line.
Two plays into the series, Webster found Simo Suurkuukka in the endzone for the touchdown completion. Spencer hit the extra point and the Crocs lead stretched to 49 with the Wolverines still at zero.
Again, the Wolverine offense was nowhere to be found. After three plays they were lining up to punt again. And, once again, a terrible punt that netted 10 yards. We took the ball over on their 30-yard line.
The drive consisted of rushes by Cutlan, Webster, and Ivalo to get the ball into the endzone. Spencer hit the extra point and the Crocs led 56 to zero.
The ensuing kickoff went out of bounds and the Wolverines elected to take the ball on their 35-yard line. After rushing for no gain, the Wolverines and Johnson dropped to pass. Sagne ran a short hitch to the left and caught the ball. Kimmo Pasanen closed and stripped him of the ball. Our defensive end JP Hyvönen made the play to get the recovery. Croc ball on the Wolverine 33-yard line.
The offense took the field and cranked out three successive runs. Webster, Cutlan, and Cutlan. The capper was Spencer for an eight-yard touchdown giving him his sixth and final score of the day. He hit the extra point to be a perfect nine for nine and push the score to what was the final – Crocs 63 and Wolverines zero.
We kicked off and the relatively short kick combined with a Wolverine 30-yard return gave their offense one last shot at avoiding the shutout. They started on their own 49-yard line. Johnson hit a nice opening pass to Sagne for an eight-yard gain. Then, on second down he dropped again. This time Toni Makela, our rookie middle tackle, found Johnson in the backfield and dropped him for sack. It was a great way to kill the drive and a good highlight for Toni. The remainder of the drive saw Johnson miss on two consecutive passes to give the ball over on downs.
The offense took the field for the final time with 1:48 remaining in the game. Planning to just run the ball out, Spencer took the ball up the middle and found daylight for a 43-yard gain to the Wolverine nine-yard line. The final play was a kneel-down to end it. Crocs 63 and Wolverines zero as the final.
The win was good because it both snapped our two-game losing streak and it gave us back some needed swagger. We executed well and could use this as a springboard to make the final push through our remaining two regular season games and into at least a semi-final game of the playoffs.
Here are some links for the game.
Croc pre-game article.
croc post-game article.
Mid-week interview with Head Coach Charlie after the win.
Mid-week interview with Spencer Cutlan after the game.
Article from the SAJL website announcing Spencer Cutlan’s performance and declaration of the Maple League’s Player of the Week award.