June 13 2014
At last the regular season was going to begin. We had been in a 3-week practice period since our final pre-season game against Turku. Today, we travelled to the Velodrome and opened against the Helsinki Wolverines.
Kickoff was scheduled for 6:30PM. The weather was coolish and raining. I covered the surface fairly closely during my last blog. Needless to say, the rain and the surface did not make for a good footing combination. Also worth noting is that I had woke up this morning with a major head and chest cold. My sinus cavities no longer existed. I felt pretty much like a cement truck had dumped its load into my forehead.
We managed the long 5-hour bus ride with the standard stops to gather up various out-of-town players and to eat our meal. We pulled in around 4:30PM. Once inside the locker room, the most immediate difference this year as compared to last year was the absence of the human mountains that made up much of the 2013 Wolverine defensive line. Last year I clearly remembered walking through the common area in the dressing room and literally being dwarfed by several Wolverine linemen. This year, the Wolverines had lost much of their previous roster to various teams across Finland. They did, however, still have the elusive Cedric Johnson manning the Quarterback position.
The Wolverines won the toss and elected to receive. We summarily kicked the ball out of bounds resulting in a re-kick from our 30 yard line. We came out defensively and did our job forcing a punt after three downs. The big play was a 6-yard sack by Gerald Gooden on third down. On fourth down, the punt snap was botched and the Wolverines were forced to scramble to Gooden’s side. He did a great job of running it down as a tackle-for-loss giving us the ball on the Wolverine 24-yard line.
On the first play of the drive, Webster hit Rajamaki for the score. We hit the point-after and were up early 7 to 0.
Our second defensive series was again a three-and-out. The Wolverines punting the ball away after gaining only six yards on the ground. The offense took over on the Wolverine 44-yard line and after getting hit with a clipping penalty were faced with a fourth down and 4-yard situation. They managed only a yard and lost the ball to downs.
The Wolverines took over but again could muster nothing better than a three-and-out. This time, Cedric Johnson succumbed to the poor footing of the soggy field. He was heading around the end on a second and two and ran into a closing Gooden. Johnson put the brakes on but the feet went right out from under him for a 7-yard loss. That brought up the punt, which was away and out of bounds.
The Croc offense took over on their own 21-yard line and methodically moved the ball down the field. The capping play was a Webster to Runner connection for five yards and the score. The point after was good making the count Crocs 14 and Wolverines 0.
After the kickoff, the Wolverines took over on their own 30-yard line. They were hit with two penalties this drive basically killing any hopes of a first down. With a fourth and 27 from their own 13-yard line, they lined up to punt the ball away for the fourth consecutive possession. Juhani applied pressure and got a piece of the ball. The resulting punt trickled out to the Wolverine 29-yard line where it was downed. Croc ball.
Two rushing plays and two passing plays later, we were in the endzone again. This time is was Webster to Runner on a 13-yard completed pass. The point after was good making it Crocs 21 and Wolverines 0 with just a minute and 43 seconds remaining in the quarter.
We kicked off the ball and the Wolverines went to work. They managed a couple first downs this drive as the clock moved into the second quarter. Then, faced with a third down and 10-yard situation, Johnson dropped to pass and missed seeing our right-side backer Joni Virtanen who was sitting in the passing lane and made the interception to kill that drive.
Crocs offense took over on their 37-yard line. After a couple strong running plays and passing plays, Webster his Rajamaki for a 19-yard strike. Rajamaki hit the point after making the score Crocs 28 and Wolverines 0.
The defense took the field after the kickoff and stopped three consecutive pass attempts by Johnson. The Wolverines lined up to punt again. The punt was short and Jussi Koivumaki picked up an unexpected return opportunity from it by fielding it in the air. Jussi posted a 39-yard return giving the Crocs the ball on the Wolverine nine-yard line. On a third-and-goal from the seven-yard line, Nissinen banged it in. The point after was good making it Crocs 35 and Wolverines 0.
The kickoff and return placed the Wolverines on their 22-yard line. By this point, the game was well established. The Wolverines were not making any progress on the offensive side of the ball and the Crocs were able to move and score pretty much at will. This series was no different. The punt from the Wolverines would be their sixth. Runner managed a 28-yard return. That was followed by a Webster to Suurkuukka connection for a 30-yard touchdown. Put the extra point up and we now had Crocs 42 and Wolverines 0.
The kickoff was deep and the return took the Wolverines back out to their 26-yard line. Johnson completed a string of nice passes to put together a couple first downs. With the ball at mid-field Johnson hit another short pass and followed that by an 8-yard run to log the third first down of the drive. Two incomplete passes and a penalty set up a third down and 15 situation. Johnson set up to pass looking for the wideout but Leinonen stepped underneath on the throw and picked the ball.
Crocs took over on their own 23-yard line with 1:27 remaining in the half. Seven plays later the clock expired with a Webster to Saarinen completion where Saarinen was forced out on the five nearly scoring. The
score at half was Crocs 42 and Wolverines 0.
We headed into halftime with things well under control. All I had to do was make sure we knew who was playing and what kinds of rotations we would use for the remaining two quarters. The weather had tapered off so that it was not raining any longer. That was a bonus. While the weather was making little difference in the overall outcome, it was nice to not have to stand in the rain. We emerged from the underground entrance ready to get this thing over with.
We took the second half kickoff and were forced to punt. The Wolverines turned right around and threw a pick to Juhani Koivumaki. The pick had no return but gave us the ball on the Wolverine 28-yard line. Two plays later we were again in the endzone. This time it was an 8-yard rush by Jaakonsaari. The point after was good and the score was Crocs 49 and Wolverines 0.
Maki nailed the kick deep and it was muffed putting the ball on the Wolverine 5-yard line. What happened next was a little weird. The Wolverines attempted some double-back reverse type pass that failed. The result was a safety for the Crocs with the tackle-for-loss on the wideout that was doubling back and trying to get set up to attempt a pass. This set the Crocs up to 51 and they would be receiving the kickoff from the Wolverine 20-yard line.
The offense took the ball from their own 24-yard line and ended up having to punt it away. The punt was downed on the Wolverine 33-yard line. The Wolverines managed a first down and got the ball out to mid-field. With a third-and-four from the 50, Johnson was picked again by the Crocs. This time it was Roman Runner from the safety position. Not only did he get the pick, but he returned the ball 40 yards to the Wolverine 30-yard line. The Croc offense made short work of the remaining field and pushed the score to 58 to 0 on a Webster run and Villi point after.
We kicked off and the Wolverines took over on their own 27-yard line. Two consecutive completions to their talented receiver Sagne resulted in a quick score. The scoring play was a 56-yard completion. They attempted a 2-point conversion that failed. Crocs 58 and Wolverines 6.
The kick and return started the Croc offense at their 37-yard line. Once snap with a 63-yard off-tackle run found us in the endzone again. Villi connected with the point after and it was Crocs 65 Wolverines 6. Twenty three painful seconds still remained in the third quarter.
The fourth quarter opened with a blocked punt by the Crocs. Juhanie got his hands on the ball and we recovered giving us a first and goal on the Wolverine 10-yard line. The hand-off went to Nissinen who pushed it in for the score from the ten. Villi hit the point after and the score was now Crocs 72 Wolverines 6.
The kickoff set the Wolverines up at their 35-yard line to start the drive. Johnson immediately ran for 22 yards on a scramble getting the ball to mid-field. Then, on a second and 11-yard situation from the Croc 44-yard line, we got hit with a 15-yard facemask penalty. After a couple small gains, Johnson hit Sagne for a 31-yard touchdown pass. Again, the Wolverines attempted the 2-point conversion. This time they connected on a short corner pass. The score was now Crocs 72 Wolverines 14.
The Croc offense took over on their 40-yard line and petered out after a single first down. The ball would transfer to the Wolverines on their 42-yard line. With 4:32 remaining in the game and a second-and-10 situation from their own 42-yard line, Johnson looked to hit the flats. Juhani Koivumaki stepped in and made the classic flat-pass pick that would have been for six had Johnson not made the effort to angle tackle him after about 29 yards. Crocs had the ball on the Wolverine 16-yard line.
Two rushing plays secured the final score. This time it was Jaakonsaari from seven yards out. The point after was good and the score Crocs 79 and Wolverines 14.
With 3:26 remaining in the game, the Wolverines moved the ball about 30 yards to eat up the remaining time. They finally kneed the ball down to end it.
The game was really no contest. And being such, it took something away from the anticipation of playing the Wolverines again based on our last year’s experience. During the 2013 season, the Crocs faced off three times against the Wolverines. The combined point differential was four points across the three games with advantage to the Wolverines. The Wolverines beat the Crocs by eight points in the semi-final game to reach the Maple Cup here at “The Swamp.” This game had been very anti-climatic compared to our three games last year.
Due to Portland cement truck parked between my eyes, the bus ride home was fairly miserable. We eventually got to Seinäjoki and by the time Charlie and I biked to the apartment it was 5AM. Tomorrow would be spent trying to get some meds to knock down some of these symptoms.
Here are some links for the game:
Another post-game article out of Helsinki