05 August 2014
Last Saturday the Crocodile 2014 winning streak came to a grinding halt. We faced off against the Turku Trojans in Turku and came up on the short side of the scoreboard. The loss created a three-way tie for best records in the Maple League with four remaining games. As it stands now, the Roosters, Trojans, and the Crocodiles all have 5 and 1 win-loss records. It is a circular deal with the Crocs beating the Roosters, the Roosters beating the Trojans, and the Trojans beating the Crocs.
We knew coming into the game this would be by far our toughest contest to-date. The Trojans feature a big strong running back named Jocques Crawford and a talented wide receiver named Rodney Brown Jr. Both these players were part of the Crocodile roster during the 2013 season. Rodney was initially signed as a quarterback but was then moved to receiver after the organization signed Steve Adams midway through the season. Jocques ran the ball for the Crocs and set all kinds of records.
The Trojans are new to the Maple League having been promoted from the division below by winning that championship. Their organization is strong and they did a good job of gathering up a lot of talent from across Finland to field a large roster.
This game was a road game for us, which of course meant an early departure and the 5-hour bus ride to the coastal port town of Turku. We got there about two hours before the game and got ourselves ready. It was hot on the field at +32 Celsius. The surface was nice…top-quality field turf. The only drawbacks to the stadium were some relatively short spaces between the back lines of both endzones and a tall chain-link fence, which surrounded the field, and the scoreboard, which was directly behind the visitors sideline where you can’t easily see it.
We had to play very short-handed this game on defense. We were missing our American Defensive End Gerald Gooden from Purdue due to an ejection during the Roosters game last week. The rules here in the Maple League are if you get tossed in the second half of a game, you automatically are suspended for the next game. An unfortunate reality here is that many players are targeted and goaded into altercations. To me, it is much like the “red-card” strategy employed in World Cup soccer.
Another issue was our linebacker core. We were still down many players from that group. However, as I mentioned in my last week’s blog about the Rooster game, you put your best 11 players on the field and do the best that you can.
The game began with the coin toss, which we won and then chose to defer. So the defense would be taking the field first.
Cutlan lined up to kick and sent the ball sailing into the arms of Brown who returned it 16 yards to the Trojan 27-yard line. Using an efficient 11-play drive, the Trojans methodically moved the ball down the field and punched it in for the touchdown. The highlight play for them was a 28-yard rush by Crawford. This rush turned out to be his longest run of the day. The defense was anxious and we had some bad angles and overrun issues that allowed the long run. They hit the extra point and we were down early 7 to 0.
Webster and the offense took the field on the Croc 27-yard line. Three incomplete passes later, Cutlan was punting the ball. Spencer had a nice kick that was well place out of bounds denying Brown a chance to return it. The Trojan offense took over on their own 42-yard line.
After a quick first down on a completed pass, the Trojans were hit with a holding penalty that put them into a hole. On third down and 18-yards to go, the defensive line jumped offsides and West, the Quarterback, had a free play to work with. He took a shot down the field but Tuomas (Doc) picked the ball. All this was, of course, for nothing as we had the offsides. With a third and 13-yard situation, West threw to Rodney, who missed. The Trojans had to punt the ball away.
The offense took the field deep in our territory on the 14-yard line. They strung together an 18-play drive that consumed nearly 10 minutes of play clock that spanned the first and second quarters. During the drive, Webster connected on passes with Cutlan, Runner, and Rajamaki. All these were nice gains to keep moving the ball down field. The final strike was to Suurkuukka for the score. Vili added the extra point and we were tied at seven each.
We kicked off and the Trojan offense started on their own 35-yard line. The offense put together a solid 10-play drive to log their second touchdown. The key plays for this drive came from a third down and 4-yard play that was a swing pass to Rodney and then a personal foul penalty we committed while defending in the red zone. Unfortunately, we missed on a tackle when they ran the swing pass and the resulting yards-after-catch went from zero to 19. The penalty placed the Trojans inside our 10-yard line. Crawford, who is hard to stop, scored from seven yards out. They converted on the extra point to make it Trojans 14 and Crocs 7.
We took the kick and started our next offensive series from our own 19-yard line. A Trojan face-masking penalty got them somewhat out of the hole and gave them a new set of downs on our own 39-yard line. After the next three plays, we were faced with a fourth and 3-yard situation from our own 46-yard line. We opted to go for the first down. Webster found a wide open Roman Runner who made it to the endzone untouched for the 56-yard score. Vili missed the extra point and the score was Trojans 14 Crocs 13 with 3:50 remaining in the half.
Cutlan kicked off and the Trojans ate a 15-yard clipping penalty on the return giving them the ball on their own 23-yard line. They managed a first down after three short gains and then Crawford broke out another good gain for 24 yards down to our 43-yard line. Two more completed passes and another personal foul put the Trojans on our 10-yard line with a new set of downs. Time was running down and the Trojans called for a timeout with 24 seconds remaining. With a second and goal from the 5-yard line, they completed a pass to Crawford for no gain. Things were moving fast and the Trojans rushed to the line with West going under center. Apparently, more time had ticked off the clock than I had realized. I was certain we had about 15 seconds or so left and desperately wanted to set up something for the defense. I made the mistake of not checking the time on the scoreboard behind me and called a timeout. Turns out, three things happened at once: the clock ticked down to one second, West successfully spiked the ball, and the ref called the timeout. It was a sideline coaching gaffe to say the least and I felt pretty bad about it. But… shit happens and that would qualify as shit. I took full responsibility for it. The Trojans ended the half by lining up and hitting the short field goal to make the halftime score 17 to 13. The understatement of the moment was that I was little frosted at myself.
Halftime was spent in the dressing room. Considering the short-handedness of the defense, I thought we had done fairly well. We had limited Jocques to just a couple larger runs that were by no means game-breaking plays. I emphasized angles and breaking down in space to make open-field tackles, apologized for my timeout and then left the room.
We started the second half by taking the kick. Both our first series on offense and the Trojan’s first series resulted in punts. Our series began with a brilliant 67-yard kickoff return by Roman Runner that gave us the ball on Trojan 23-yard line. Then, a pass interference call against the Trojans put down to the 8-yard line with a first and goal. Unfortunately, we missed on three consecutive pass attempts and were going to settle for the field goal. The snap and hold were good but the kick hit the left upright and rebounded back. Flags were on the ground though. Turns out the call was a “running into the kicker” penalty. This particular penalty is slightly different than a “roughing the kicker” penalty, which results in an automatic first down. A “running into the kicker” penalty is less severe and took the ball halfway to the goal line setting up a new fourth down with four yards to go. We decided to go for it. Webster rolled to the right and had to throw across the grain and we missed.
Turku’s offensive series started deep from the 4-yard line. They called and executed a nice screen for 19 yards to get them some breathing room. The defense held though and eventually forced the punt. After the punt, we had the ball back on our own 21-yard line.
We screwed ourselves with multiple penalties on this drive and were forced to punt again. Cutlan punted from our 20-yard line and got off a nice 43-yarder that went out of bounds. Trojans took over on their own 37-yard line.
This next series was a disaster for our defense. Turku immediately hit two nice plays for 16 and 19 yards, respectively. They then worked their way down to our 21-yard line and were faced with a third-down and three yard situation. They lined up in trips to the left with Rodney Brown isolated to the right. Our best cover corner Doc was on him in man coverage. Rodney ran a delayed release fade down the right sideline. Doc had good deep coverage on him and West overthrew the ball… or so it seemed. Rodney managed a brilliant, one-handed catch using his right hand. However, as I clearly saw from the sideline, his left hand helped distance himself from Doc by providing a push. Doc hit the deck as Rodney came down with the catch. The sideline judge made the call and the yellow flag came out. All this was for nought, though, as West lined up with a fourth down and 18-yard situation that we should have completely managed. The Trojans went for it and sent Saloranta down the left side. Our corner lost the deep and was behind by a step and the pass dropped in for the catch and score. The extra point was good to make it Trojans 24 and Crocs 13.
We took the kick and Roman got us out to the Croc 27-yard line. On a third down and 10-yard play, Webster hit VP our running back on a middle screen but he was stripped of the ball. More salt in our wounds as the Trojans scooped the ball and went in for a defensive score. The extra point failed but it was now Trojans 30 and Crocs 13 with 4:01 remaining in the third quarter.
We started our next series from our own 27-yard line. We picked up a first down on an offsides penalty committed by the Trojan defensive line. Then, on a first and ten from our 41-yard line, Webster hit Suurkuukka for nice 11-yard pass. Disaster struck again on the yards-after-catch run. Once again, we lost track of the ball and it was on the ground. The Trojans recovered.
The Trojans took over on their own 44-yard line and put together a 14-play scoring drive. The defense was not able to stop the steady stream of short to medium gains on the ground. The score was completed with one-yard rush from Crawford. The extra point was good and it was now early in the fourth quarter with the Trojans 37 and the Crocs 13.
On the next series, the offense went nowhere and were eventually faced with a fourth and 30 from our own ten. This all happened with a combination of sacks and bullets to the foot (penalties). Cutlan stood in the endzone to make the kick. He got off a 36-yard punt to give the Trojans the ball on our 36-yard line.
During the next defensive series for us we were looking at a manageable third down and 11-yard situation when West dropped to pass. He was flushed from the pocket and ran nine yards before one of our linebackers Juhanie stripped him of the ball and Tuomas Leinonen scooped it from the ground and took it down to the Trojan 40-yard line.
Webster and the offense took the field again and strung together a series of completions to get us in the endzone again. The score dictated that we go for the two-point conversion. Unfortunately, we failed to convert and the score remained Trojans 37 Crocs 19 with 5:23 remaining in the game.
We lined up and attempted an onside kick. The kick bounded long and Crawford covered it up. Trojans would start on what would be the final drive of the game from their own 43-yard line. Turku moved the ball well enough to keep the chains moving and eat up the remaining time in the game. From our 10-yard line they mercifully took a knee to end the game.
The game was not without drama and issues. In the second quarter, there was a double ejection. Apparently, our 3-tech tackle Ashley Dewing and one of the Trojan guards had enough activity to get themselves both ejected. This put further pressure on our already short-handed defensive line. The first half was also laced with plenty of emotion from both teams due in part I am sure to the familiarity that both teams had with each others roster. In the second half we saw a great hit by Roman Runner that was flagged as unnecessary. Along with that, we had a close catch in the endzone that was released early due to an impending collision with the chainlink fence and was thus ruled incomplete. And finally, we lost a valuable running back in Mika Nissinen who suffered a broken fibula during the game.
It is always tough to lose but you can gain valuable lessons from every game win or lose. This game would provide us with the opportunity to get better in several areas. We would survive and continue on with our four games and our season’s run at the Maple Bowl game. Next week would be the tough Poorvo Butchers at home.
Here are some links for the game:
Post game article from Trojan site.
Post game article from the Croc site.
Post Game mid-week interview with Charlie.