By Christian Pundt

The four-time SFL Champion Corsairs traveled to South Dakota to face the surging Sparrows in arguably the most interesting matchup of the weekend (can anyone really top Alaska-Mexico City?). The top-heavy Queen City attack lead by quarterback AJ Caswell (on his retirement tour) and running back Ash Odom has been among the most-steady all season long, producing a 7-5 season and was awarded the second automatic qualifying bid out of the scary Eastern Conference.

Meanwhile, the Sparrows finished the season winning six of their last seven to end the season at 9-3 and owning the Tulsa Desperados (who, remember, started the season 7-0), to gain homefield advantage in the quarterfinals.

The Sparrows marched down the field to begin this game, downballot MVP candidate Julian Tyree moved an effective aeriel attack that had some relatively inefficient Robert Redford runs sprinkled in. After nearly four minutes, the Sparrows were able to capitalize on the drive on a ten-yard post route touchdown from Tyree to AJ Warren. Caswell and the Black and Neon responded unphased, marching the ball downfield against an aggressive Sioux Falls defense. Odom and Memphis Blue would convert for some critical first downs, putting QCC in position to expose the Sioux Falls defense for its lack of attention to their TE, resulting in a redzone touchdown to TE Mike Daggs at the 1-minute to-go mark.

As would become the story of the game, neither offense could be stopped and was able to strain out the clock, turning their drives into massive time crunches, taking up a half quarter each and finishing them off with scores. The Sparrows did much of this on their ensuing drive. Tyree lead a five minute drive deep into Corsair territory (Redford was mostly bottled up on this drive), resulting in a chip shot field goal to retake the lead at 10-7. The Corsairs, however, wasted no time in response. Caswell and the disciplined Corsairs took advantage of the aggressive Sparrows secondary by throwing underneath routes with whiffed tackles turned the short passes into big gains, quickly moving the ball to the midfield mark. The balloon finally burst on this drive, on a deep route to Chris Curtis, resulting in a 47-yard touchdown for Queen City to pull ahead 14-10. The Sparrows would respond by throwing two late half picks, which Queen City capitalized on for seven points on another Mike Daggs redzone touchdown (however, they left three more points on the board on a long missed field goal).

The Corsairs, leading 21-10, got the ball to begin the second half. They seemed to pick where they left off with Caswell leading his Corsairs downfield, but they wound up stalling at midfield. Julian Tyree and Robert Redford came out knowing their season was on the line, marching straight down the field with relatively little resistance en route to another AJ Warren touchdown making it 21-17. Queen City looked to keep the game at a two-possession difference heading into the fourth quarter as Caswell continued his dominance, picking apart the Sioux Falls defense (and now having resurgent Ash Odom tearing away as well). All momentum was stopped in their tracks, however, as the ball was picked off on a tipped pass thrown into inside the ten yardline.

As the 4’s went up and seasons were pushed up against the wall, Julian Tyree and the Sparrows wasted little time pushing the ball downfield and giving AJ Warren a hat trick at 8:46 remaining in the game to pull ahead 24-21. Queen City wasn’t done either, leading a two-minute drive culminating in a touchdown to give Mike Daggs a hattrick of his own, pulling ahead 28-24. Queen City remained aggressive, pushing the ball downfield. This time, unfortunately for Corsair supporters, Caswell’s deep ball was picked off by Adam Okoye around the QCC 20. Tyree and the Sparrows picked right up where they left off, driving the ball on several deep strikes. The Queen City defense was caught flatfooted multiple times with big gains being given up left and right, but at the redzone, the disciplined unit coached by Eric Walsh dug their heels in and forced the Sparrows to kick a field goal to retain their lead in a now-one-point game. Queen City, however, was not able to get Odom going to close out the game, being forced three and out and having to punt the ball back to a whitehot Sioux Falls offense with three timeouts remaining and the two-minute warning to work with. Shockingly, the QCC defense recorded a sack and several ineffective sideplays that forced Tyree into a fourth and long situation. And, in one of the plays of the season, Tyree delivered a strike to Shaun Harrelson to record a first down and keep the season alive. Harrelson caught another deep ball to put the Sparrows into the redzone and that was followed up by Redford turning into an absolute beast of a running back. He finished off the drive, breaking several tackles and scoring the go-ahead touchdown to put SXF up 33-28 with 22 seconds left (the two-point conversion was missed on a questionable screen call). The double comeback was not to be, as Caswell was ushered into retirement with a pair of sacks and a fourth down tackle short of the marker by team captain AJ Levye.

Notable stats/observations in today’s game:
– Sioux Falls QB Julian Tyree finished 45/61 for 394 yards (3 touchdowns, 2 interceptions)
– Queen City QB AJ Caswell threw 26/37 at 352 yards (4 touchdowns, 2 interceptions) in his final career game
– Sioux Falls RB Robert Redford had more catches (19) than carries (14). His 19 catches were the most by any player this season
– Queen City RB Ash Odom was limited to 16 carries for 43 yards. Sioux Falls was one of the few teams to not only contain arguably the best RB in the SFL, but eliminate him from the flow of the game
– Sioux Falls WR AJ Warren and Queen City TE Mike Daggs both recorded hat tricks
– Both of Queen City’s and Sioux Fall’s top receivers (Memphis Blue and Chris Curtis/AJ Warren and Shaun Harrelson) broke the century mark
– Jeff Duffy recorded 2.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles and 5 TFL. He was the most disruptive front seven player on the field today

“I thought we played hard right up to the final minute. We gave ourselves a chance to win a tough road game, against a well prepared opponent. They did a great job exploiting some of our weaknesses, and that proved to [be] the difference in the game. I’m proud of this team and feel bad that I wasn’t able to get them any further. We look forward to next season with our core group of players and are excited by the crop of next season’s rookies.”
— Eric Walsh, Queen City Corsairs owner

A note from the Editor: Huge props must go Christian for producing such a well thought and well written article. He wrote this as an extra when he is already very busy, purely out of passion for the league and for the production standards we hold ourselves to. Awesome man. Just awesome.