Week 3 of the SFL has come and gone and with it nine pulsating matchups that didn’t fail to raise the pulse level. The league is ever changing due to the new progression system, growing better with each weekly showing. As a writer, I aim to emulate the league’s example and improve week to week. To do this, I’ve decided to change up the way I do game recaps, focusing on each individual player and their impact on the game rather than a chronological list of what transpired. People want to know what the top players did, how they performed for their team beyond just the stats. Well, that’s what I’m here for. I hope you enjoy the new way of recapping a game. Any and all feedback is welcome.

Leading Up to the Game

The build up to this game seemed centered around the fact that both of these teams are so evenly matched. Both were 1-1; both had clearly definable strengths and weaknesses after 2 weeks; both had something to prove. The Skyhawks were still trying to shake off the shackles of Season 9’s 1-11 record. It still hung over their heads like an ominous shadow,and Carolina need wins to finally put it behind them. As it happened, things were looking promising. AJ Francis was running over teams, the defense was improving week to week, and they were coming off a huge home win against the defending champions. Heading into this week, the Hawks were soaring high in Carolina. One concern however, was the lack of a passing attack. The Skyhawks’ passing stats were amongst the lower echelons of the SFL and they would need to vastly improve to have any effect against London’s number 1 pass defense. It would be interesting to see whether Carolina would risk more reward hitting passes more often or lean on AJ Francis (their early season stud) for more production. I had a chat with their owner, James Cline, before the game on Sunday:

“Sure. London is a very good team and a horrible match up for us. It didn’t take very long for us to understand that they have a top notch defense. Slinn Shady (linebacker for the Knights) is a man among men. In my opinion, Shady could be a contender for defensive player of the year. In my studies of London, Shady is all over the field. Shady can plug a hole, he can drop deep in pass coverage, and is really great in pursuit. Offensively London has very good running back in Spencer Mair. Michael Martin is a very serviceable QB. London has 3 very good WR’s that can toast any defense deep. In conclusion, London’s build is very similar to ours, but with #99 in the middle, I feel that Shady is the key to the game.”

The London Knights, coming off their first win as a franchise, had already gotten that monkey off of their backs and smelled blood, Skyhawk blood. Confidence must have been high entering this game after they obliterated the Vancouver Legion (at home) in Week 2. London needs to make Queensway a fortress this season and a good win against a tough Carolina squad would help to cement that legacy. The Knights were coming into this game with the aforementioned best pass defense in the league. The defensive backs had been playing lights out and the pass rush was now boosted by the capture of rookie defensive end, Byron Cowart. London would be hoping that this solid defense could hold Carolina to minimal points, thus helping The Knights’ inconsistent offense make some noise. Michael Martin is a confidence player and he likes to roll with it. If he could consistently find receivers Jockamo Jones and Andre Godspeed, then London would be in business against a secondary that got lit up in Week 1. I had a quick word with owner, Liam Crowter before the game:

“We’re going to make Biddix run around and not be comfortable in the pocket. We’ve been working on closing down runners and I think that will show this week. Carolina did well to beat Mexico City but I think we will come out on top this week.”

And, with that final word from London’s owner, let’s begin…

The London Knights: A Battling Performance

The London Knights are a team that only has four offensive star players: a quarterback, running back and two wide receivers. This puts extra pressure on owner, Sir Liam Crowter, to maximize the production of each of his attacking options. The leader and linchpin of the Knights’ offense is Michael Martin. Martin has shown flashes of ability, but lived up to the ‘inconsistent rookie’ stereotype through his first two games, with this game being no exception. His touchdown/interception ratio took another hit against the Skyhawks, as he threw no 6-pointers to 1 ugly interception late in the first half. The pick wasn’t his finest moment, sailing one deep into a Cover 3 defense, ready to be snagged by a grateful cornerback. However, after what was probably a stern team talk by ‘Sir Liam’, the young signal caller looked good in the second half, heating up on his way to 25-36 passing and 289 yards. Martin can be pleased with his performance, showing a lot of composure late and clearly has a calm head on those young shoulders, leading London to a game winning drive in overtime.

One huge play that Martin made late, was a long pass to 240-pound wide receiver, Andre Godspeed. Godspeed is becoming a fan favorite amongst the Knights’ faithful and the offensive captain had another strong game on Sunday. A big game for a big man. ‘Tiny’ had 11 catches for 134 yards and deserved a touchdown, in all honesty. He grew into the game as it rolled on, lighting up the 4th quarter with a previously mentioned 59 yard grab over the middle. He also chipped in with some solid gains to keep London’s drives going late, always under pressure from a tight Carolina secondary. Godspeed has quickly become Michael Martin’s favorite target, shown by his status in the top 10 receivers in the league regarding yards gained. The man joining Godspeed each week on the outside is Jockamo Jones. ‘JJ’ came into this season as a top draw rookie prospect, yet still hasn’t shown his full potential. He has made some important catches at crucial times, but safe hands on medium distance isn’t going to wow viewers in this league. For coaches however, the man is a lifeline. Reliability; secure hands; primetime mentality…JJ has them all. This was exhibited in the 4th quarter against Carolina as he outfoxed the man coverage to make a 20-plus yard snag near the goal line, leading to London’s only touchdown. It was one of 4 catches on the day and gained the majority of his 48 yards. Believe me, there is more to come from Jockamo Jones.

London’s passing game ranks in the top half of the league, and supplementing that is The Knights’ highest value player – running back, Spencer Mair. The workhorse back has battled on every carry so far, and has found more and more success as the weeks have gone on. Sunday was another battling performance, keeping enough of an average to keep the offense moving without having any truly big runs. One moment when Mair did show some explosiveness and big play ability was the defining moment of the game – his short yardage touchdown. The big-bodied back showed excellent spacial awareness and good agility for his size, spinning out two defenders before waltzing into the endzone to put the Knights up 13-10 with only 2 minutes left.

That scoreline was only possible because of some stonewall defending in the first quarter by London’s stingy defense. Fronting up for the Knights are defensive ends, Eyal Rushinek, and newly acquired Byron Cowart. Rushinek was a thorn in the side of Carolina’s offensive line all afternoon, pressuring Mark Biddix and eventually scoring himself a sack as a reward. Cowart showed his intentions early, hitting running back AJ Francis like a truck and forcing a fumble that would be recovered by the Skyhawks. Cowart lit up the edge of the line and marshaled Francis well all game as the London defense kept him well below his normal level of production. Making the middle of the field their own behind the defensive line are linebackers Slinn Shady and Garrett Roland Sr. Both helped to keep Francis in check, stopping him from breaking one of his expected big runs and doing the dirty work that often goes unnoticed. Shady in particular stood out, breaking into the backfield twice to cause a loss of yardage, stunting Carolina’s drive with one big hit forcing the Skyhawks to hit a field goal in the second quarter. Roland ended up with the most tackles made for London on the day, showing nothing flashy, but acting as the unsung hero for the team. From unsung heroes in the front seven to solid play in the secondary, Donnie Mac and Cain Vasquez are the glue that holds the rear guard together. Both had solid games with Mac limiting receiver Mark Strike to only 1 reception and Vasquez recovering from a bad blown coverage in the 1st quarter to make 9 tackles and 1 pass deflection. I know what you’re thinking…I’m missing someone! Don’t worry, I couldn’t forget about the real playmaker of the London Knights’ defense: Jeffrey Daggs.
Daggs was a real drive killer for London, snagging 2 interceptions from deep Mark Biddix passes, one in each half. The first takeaway was a thing of beauty. Biddix lofted a pass deep over the middle of the field, unaware that a predator was lurking. Daggs stuck out a telescopic hand and pulled the ball down, having the awareness to immediately turn upfield and gain good yardage. He doubled his total with a more routine pick, showing excellent anticipation and positioning to read the eyes of Biddix.

Jeffrey’s brother, Zach, made all of his kicks for the Knights (he’s also perfect on the season) and showed icy veins to hit the game winner in overtime. Some fans were slightly confused that London chose to go for the field goal whilst on first down, but with a kicker like Daggs, it’s practically automatic. London can be really happy with their rookie kicker.

Carolina Skyhawks: A Whole Lot of Grind…Not Much Reward

Carolina’s squad seems ready to get after it this season, being perfectly suited to the grind that is going to be the Eastern Conference. Leading up to Week 3, the Skyhawks rushing attack had been lighting up the league with the defense looking relatively solid, but the passing attack faltering. Mark Biddix has had a tough start to Season 10 and things weren’t about to get any easier against London’s league leading pass defense. Things started perfectly for Biddix, connecting with receiver, Tristan Dieciseis, for a 70 yard touchdown that silenced the raucous home crowd. It was the first time this season that Biddix has shown his arm potential, hitting Tristan perfectly in stride over the middle. The game then revolved around short passes to AJ Francis and London’s ability to stop them. The second time the experienced quarterback tried to hit a receiver deep, the London defense was waiting with a pick. This seemed to knock Biddix’s confidence for the rest of the game and he needed to use his undoubted scrambling ability more to ask the Knights’ defense some more difficult questions. He had an efficient performance, but efficiency doesn’t always yield points and this is an area that Biddix needs to improve.

Backing up Biddix in the backfield was AJ Francis, a man amongst boys during week’s 1 and 2. Unfortunately for the rookie running back, he came back down to earth with a bump against the stiff London front seven, not gaining much success on the ground and being limited to short passes in the flats. Some of these passes did allow the workhorse to gain some momentum in his running and he ran over more than a couple of would be tackles on the way to first downs. Francis will hope he can up his production in Week 4 and lead Carolina to a second victory. The player who impressed the most on the Skyhawks roster was 3rd receiver, Tristan ‘D’. He split the safeties in the 1st quarter on his way to a long range touchdown and was busy all game, finishing with over 100 yards receiving on the day. The Skyhawks will be hoping to utilize Dieciseis’ skills more and more as they head through the season, ensuring this is not a one game wonder.

Moving on to the defense, which restricted London to their own half for most of the first 2 quarters, things looked fairly solid for most of the afternoon. Phil Hall was balling, Sir Chappell and Giovanni Bolt were holding the line and Pierre Luyindula was having a hell of a day in coverage. The lowest value corner in the SFL made an awesome interception on a bullet from Michael Martin, dropping back into Cover 3 and baiting the inexperienced quarterback to throw his way. He was fairly active all game, making a couple of tackles and also stopping 2 passes from reaching their intended destinations. The main issue that plagued the Skyhawks as the game wore on was stamina. You could tell that Carolina was losing the grind and the Knights were gathering momentum with every possession. Christopher Colon, who was causing havoc on the defensive line early, faded into the background as London pounded and pounded at the door, eventually scoring their crucial touchdown. The two safeties also began to struggle with Andre Godspeed’s enormous size, allowing him to catch nearly at will. Phil Hall needs to galvanize the rest of that defense and show them how to sustain a performance through the entirety of a game. Hall finished with 13 tackles, the most of any player on the afternoon, and did all the dirty work for the Skyhawks.

In the end, it just seemed to be a case of so close, yet so far for Carolina. Hopefully this won’t become the story of the season.

A Grindathon

In the end, this was a great game to witness for both fans of the teams and neutrals. The score may not have been high, but the back and forth nature of the game really made it an exciting matchup. One team was hot while the other was cold, offenses struggled then seemed to find their feet when others faded and the first overtime of the season was played out. If that’s not an exciting game, I don’t know what one is.

London and Carolina both need to keep grinding. Squeaking out a victory against odds is going to be the way to make noise in the east, and both teams have that ‘grind’ and ‘grit’ about them. I think there are quite a few sides in the SFL happy that they don’t have to play one of these two. The East had better take note.