By Steve Vetack
Intense, nervy, chaotic and defiant. Holy cow catches, near misses, dominant strengths and emerging legends. Sudden changes. Sighs of relief and holding your breath. And then ……. Wow.
The playoff game between the Indianapolis Red Devils and the Tallahassee Pride was everything everyone didn’t expect. An expansion team in its very first year with a veteran coach but an entirely rookie SFL roster took on the Tallahassee Pride, a mostly veteran team with a great history in the SFL who were undoubtedly the most dominant team this year.
Indy stumbled into the playoffs with a 6-6 record but upon closer examination it could have been as good as 11-1 as 5 of their losses came by an average of 3.6 points. The Pride on the other hand had some close games but mostly handled their competition soundly and most of their pressure on the year came from keeping the perfect season alive. To say that many gave Indy a chance would be not exactly correct. The Red Devils fan base obviously were pulling for their team but this writer suspects that the non-Indy fan votes that went for them were likely others who wanted to see that perfect season snapped and not have to deal with the Pride in their own playoff run.
Now I am going to attempt to do this epic game a service in the article to follow. In the event that I fall short, I leave you the link below to the game. Sometimes the game speaks for itself.
Indy D Plays Tragic Hero
In a matchup of strength on strength the Indy secondary made up of 5 premier DBs in both the safety positions and outside corners looked to shut down or at least contain enough the best passing offense in the league. If Indy was to stand any chance to win this game they needed almost perfect play from this unit and turnovers.
In the first half you could tell this all-rookie team had some nerves but after a couple drives they seemed to remember they were still playing football. After a first drive Duke Wilson TD Indy was able to keep the Pride in check and they were looking at a 13-0 deficit. At the time it seemed much larger with their own offense struggling.
The Indy secondary came alive in the second half. Tallahassee looked to be driving again threatening a TD that could have really put pressure but then arose CB Steve Vetack. Rising up and diving back the ball was picked in the end zone and suddenly Indy had life. Two plays later Eli McCormick caught a pass from a scrambling Nathan Lee for 83 yards and a TD. Next it was the other Vetack brother to step up. A pick in the Pride side of the field by CB Mike Vetack was returned for 20 yards and set Indy up for a short TD pass to TE Kyrie Tate. That man Steve Vetack would come up with another late 4th quarter INT that would setup Indy for a go ahead FG.
But like an good Greek tragedy the heroes must ultimately die in the end. The Pride offense which has been predicated on constant aggression and big shots downfield tried it just enough times to hit one more and tie the game after a 2pt conversion. The secondary did its job as best it could. Stifling the Pride offense when it matted all the way up until the end. Desperation served the Pride in the end as Indy left everything on the field. It is not often you lose forcing 3 turnovers and having none of your own.
Big Play Pride Do Enough
Tallahassee is most likely going to win the title this year. That’s this writer’s opinion at least. Going up against a stellar big play defense like Indy’s and still be able to put up big numbers when you need them is enough proof for me. To overcome 3 turnovers in the second half and still be able to keep your composure and not panic that a game one playoff exit was coming which would also ruin the perfect season was impressive.
The Pride D line made Indy one dimensional even though they voluntarily rely on the pass game to do most of the damage. The inability of Mitchell to be a moderate threat on the ground helped to keep Daly and Eli in check as best they could and weather the turnovers. A key to an Indy win would have been more control of the clock but without a run game it was very difficult to pull off. As much as the star players on their D were key everyone will be talking about “The Block” or as it will be called in Indianapolis “That Bleeping Play”.
After a miracle finish in regulation Tallahassee was able to hit another big pass to WR Ken Gossett and a 2-point conversion it was another defensive struggle for the two epic sides. As fans in the stands were whispering about a possible double overtime the unthinkable and improbable happened. Punting from their own 20 Indy were set to contain the Pride again. Out of nowhere the punt was blocked. With no premiere defensive or offensive players on the field this matchup of emerging legends (you could say Loading Legends) was decided by depth players and third stringers. A TD pass would be caught to seal the game the next possession but the game was sealed at that point.
To the neutral observe it was a fitting end to a wild and amazing game that had just about everything you would want. A David vs Goliath matchup that needed both sides to dig deep. To the fan bases it seemed an odd way to end it. Incredible still but an almost alien event to what should have been ended with the best of the best in the pivotal moment.
Indy will go home wondering what could have been and be simultaneously disappointed but incredibly proud of their fight. Tallahassee will also leave with dual emotions of pure jubilation and complete relief as to what could have been. This my friends is the SFL.