Alaska Storm at Tallahassee Pride
April 24, 2018
SFL Season 10 Championship Game

By Ray Bentley, SFL Beat Writer

Tonight, the Simulation Football League’s 10th season came to a thrilling end in the Lion’s Den, as the Alaska Storm (12-2, #2 seed) travelled to take on the undefeated Tallahassee Pride (14-0, #1). The path to this stage was not an easy one, either. Tallahassee, undefeated in the regular season, escaped a close quarter-final loss in a double overtime period against Indianapolis thanks to a blocked punt, while Alaska had to overcome the defending champion Aztecs on their climb to the top. Each team is rife with players nominated for awards, with both claiming at least one MVP nod (Alex Dominguez, Alaska; Christian Christiansen, Tallahassee), and the energy could be felt all day leading up to the big game. When all was said and done, it would be the Alaska Storm on the podium with Commissioner Cameron Irvine, hoisting the Season 10 SFL trophy, and ending the Tallahassee Pride’s perfect streak.

Riverboat Ron Cockren hit some rocky water early in the contest

The First Quarter

Pride, Storm Feel Each Other Out

Captains for both teams met at midfield, with Alaska choosing tails at the coin toss.
Unfortunately for the Storm, it was heads, and the Pride elected to kick. SFL Commissioner Cameron Irvine signaled for the start of the game with his proclamation of “KICK IT!” and the game was underway. Robert Merrill of Alaska returned the ball to the Alaska 28, and Storm quarterback Ron “Big” Cockren took position under center. Big games have a way of playing with your nerves, and it was apparent with Cockren, who was sacked on his first two plays by Tallahassee’s Kevin Bane and Hunter Norwood, respectively. Rattled after two big hits, his third play was an errant incomplete pass, and the Storm punted to Tallahassee’s 38.

‘Dub-C’ came out firing!

Christian Christiansen is a humble man. The MVP candidate downplays his achievements when asked about them, instead directing attention to his receivers, Duke Wilson, Kenny “G-Zus” Gossett, and his two backs, Jaye Eniola and Caleb Connely. While humble, the man throws a mean spiral, and did exactly that on his first play with an exciting first-down long bomb to Duke Wilson. Ken Gossett was the recipient of the next, well into Alaska territory. Just two plays in for the red-hot Pride offense and it appeared that the Storm would be in for a long night. However, on the next play Jaye Eniola had a five yard gain negated with an offensive holding call, and things began to gel for Alaska’s award-winning defense as they forced Christiansen into a
3-and-out. The Pride settle for a field goal and put the first points on the board, taking an early 0-3 lead.

After a rough first drive, Ron Cockren returned to the field and was able to stymie the Tallahassee defense for a bit with some runs from Stanley Nordelus, as well as passes over the middle. away from Pride safeties Anthony Wyo and Alex Bond. Storm wideouts Robert Merrill and Jeff Comeau were able to nab crucial first down catches to help march Alaska down the field. However, their quest for the first touchdown was stopped short in Tallahassee territory, and Brad Brechett came out to tie up the score, 3-3.

Christiansen came out with a fury, leveling a pass to a wide open Ken Gossett before lofting another bomb to fullback Caleb Connelly at the Alaska 34 yard line. Like a man with a mission, Christiansen found Gossett again for a 17 yard gain, but somewhat confusingly, handed the ball off to rusher Eniola on the next set of downs for a gain of 4. In the Storm’s red zone, the Pride offense was unable to gain separation on Alaska’s cornerbacks like they could in the open field, and it cost them. Evan Carroll swatted down the next two passes meant for the usually infallible Gossett, and the Pride once again settled for 3, re-gaining the lead 3-6.

Alaska’s third series began with Mike ‘Fats’ Johnson laying Ron Cockren down in the backfield, and the first quarter drew to a close with the Pride beating the Storm by a single field goal. While Florida has endured hurricanes before, those usually come in from Atlantic waters, and the Pride were about to see what the weather patterns in Anchorage were truly capable of.

Scoring Summary:
– 32 Yard Field Goal, Richard Douglas (TAL) 7:45
– 23 Yard Field Goal, Brad Brechett (ALK) 2:46
– 29 Yard Field Goal, Richard Douglas (TAL) 0:31

The Storm’s passing game looked shaky in the first quarter, however they aren’t the #2 passing attack in the SFL for nothin’

The Second Quarter:

Alaska Storms Ahead

Yasin Clifton, receiver for the Storm, began to give Alaska hope with a 9 yard reception to start the second quarter. Robert Merrill then cemented it with a toe-dragging catch to keep the Storm’s offense on the field. Alaska had moved the ball into Tallahassee territory when, on 2nd and 10 Cockren took his fourth sack of the day via Kevin Bane for an 8 yard loss. This pushed Alaska well out of field goal range and helped restore the energy to the crowd in the Lion’s Den. Now 3rd and long, Clifton’s 12 yard reception on the ensuing play wasn’t enough for a first down, and the Storm sent the pigskin right back to the Pride with a punt that gingerly rolled into the endzone, thanks to a bit of miscommunication on Alaska’s special teams unit.

Taking the command of the Pride offense, Christiansen lobbed another huge bomb to Wilson for a first down to start the series, but faltered on his subsequent throw, which nearly resulted in an Alaska interception. Corners Evan Carroll and Ryan Davidson were keeping consistent pressure on the Pride, and for the first time that night they were forced them to punt, downing the ball at Alaska’s 21.

When Cockren returned to the field, his first pass had the look of a still-shaken man from the blindside blitz hit earlier. His next, a deep throw to Optimus Cline, demolished that image as Cline took it all the way to the house to put the Storm on top of the Pride, 10-6.

The Pride’s offense re-took the field but it felt almost as if something had changed in the stadium. The crowd, still jubilant, had a small hesitancy to them now. On the Pride’s next series, they don’t do much to quell fears, either. Eniola picked up 6 yards on a run, but only 2 on a swing pass, and an incomplete settled the set of downs for Tallahassee. Fortunately for the Pride, their defense also began to step up, putting pressure back on Cockren, and the Storm were forced to return the ball to Tallahassee with around three and a half minutes to go in the first half. Unfortunately for the offenses, both defenses were flexing their muscles, with Tallahassee’s Anthony Wyo and Alaska’s Andrew Francis getting in nice blocks, and the teams traded the ball back and forth.

Ultimately, Tallahassee ended up with the ball under the two minute warning. Christiansen began mustering his MVP aura, marching his team downfield with a steady series of passes and handoffs to Eniola. With 26 seconds remaining, however, Christiansen had a pass tipped by Ryan Davidson of the Storm, and intercepted by Tony Willis, who then executed the play of the game, running the ball all the way back for a pick-six, stunning The Lion’s Den into silence. Christiansen received the ball back and showed a more conservative playcalling style, handing the ball off to Eniola and letting the clock run down. At the end of the first half of the Championship Game, the Alaska Storm held an 11 point lead over the Tallahassee Pride, 17-6.

Scoring Summary:
– Optimus Cline (ALK) 79 yard reception (Extra Point Good) 7:12
– Tony Willis (ALK) 83 yard interception (Extra Point Good) 0:39

The Storm’s fearsome defence always came through when it mattered most

The Third Quarter:

A Category 5 Hurricane

With the Storm ahead by two scores, the undefeated Pride were in a dangerous position, but not an unwinnable one, which team owner Frank Goodin stressed to the troops during halftime. They were down, but not out, and to sweeten the deal, they were receiving the ball to start the third quarter. Christiansen, however, appeared rattled from his pick-six, and stuck to a conservative playcalling style again, eschewing his offensive wideout stars in favor of the running game. Andrew Francis from Alaska had Eniola’s number all night, though, and on 3rd and 1 Eniola had a fumble forced by pick-sixer Tony Willis, which was then recovered by Alaska’s Warren O’Hare. Things were now starting to look dire for Tallahassee.

Alaska got started with a short pass, complete to Merrill. A longer pass to Cline, initially ruled out of bounds, was challenged by Storm head coach Max Paul and reversed. Clifton and Cline continued to rack up more first down catches in traffic, while Robert Merrill caught a pass knocking directly on the Pride’s end zone at the 1 yard line. When everyone expected Stanley Nordelus to shine and be called on to rush, the Storm called a gutsy over-the-middle pass play to Jeff Comeau, putting another 6 on the board and giving Alaska (with extra point made) an 18 point lead.

Goodin’s team wasn’t down for the count, however, as Christiansen once again rallied his troops and took them into Storm territory. Again, however, a shorter field in the red zone wound up being their undoing, as the Pride would settle for their third field goal of the night after attempting to get Alaska to jump offsides. With now a 15 point lead, the Storm offense took to the field again. This time it would be Robert Merrill who, after a series of positive yardage plays, strapped on his rocket boots for a monster touchdown to end the third quarter, extending the Storm lead to 31-9. There was still one more quarter of football left to play, but at this point, the question was if Alaska would let Tallahassee play it. The Pride would answer themselves in the quarter to come, but it wouldn’t be enough.

Scoring Summary:
– Jeff Comeau (ALK) 1 yard reception (Extra Point Good) 7:10
– 23 Yard Field Goal, Richard Douglas (TAL) 2:10
– Robert Merrill (ALK) 41 yard reception (Extra Point Good) 0:18

The seasoned vet is currently the most accurate quarterback in the SFL

The Fourth Quarter:

SFL Season 10 Champions, The Alaska Storm

Christian Christiansen is an MVP caliber quarterback, with a sterling record from the regular season, but he was sadly only able to muster those qualities at the end of the game in the fourth quarter. Receiving the ball at their own 25 the Pride showed bursts of their undefeated swagger, methodically marching towards the other end of the field, eating time off the clock until Christiansen found Gossett in the end zone with 5:25 remaining in the game, bringing the contest within two scores at 31-16. Alaska came prepared though, and took their time sending the ball downfield. The Storm’s clock management was less perplexing, as they ended their possession with another field goal from Brad Brechett, extending their lead to 34-16.There was 1:58 remaining in the game. If Tallahassee had any hope of winning, it was quickly evaporating…

Until MVP caliber Christian Christiansen regained his moxie.

The Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate showed heart and grit right to the death, despite the Storm’s insurmountable lead

While ultimately it wasn’t enough, Christiansen took his team back to the promised land one last time with a pass to Duke Wilson, adding 7 more points to the Pride’s total. The expected onside kick was easily recovered by Alaska. With no time outs to stop them, the Tallahassee Pride watched Ron Cockren take a knee into the SFL history books, as the Alaska Storm handily won the SFL Season 10 Championship game, 34-23.

Scoring Summary:
– Ken Gossett (TAL) 16 yard reception (Extra Point Good) 6:26
– 48 Yard Field Goal, Brad Brechett (ALK) 1:55
– Duke Wilson (TAL) 29 yard reception (Extra Point Good) 0:46

Championship Game MVP: Ron Cockren, 332 Yards, 2 Touchdowns – 134.8 QB Rating

Ray Bentley’s Trucking Service PLAY OF THE GAME:

Tony Willis, Strong Safety for the Alaska Storm, grabs an interception tipped by Storm cornerback, Ryan Davidson and takes it all the way to the house for 6 points.

 

POSTGAME QUOTES:

Ron Cockren, quarterback, Alaska Storm, Season 10 Championship MVP: “It’s all about the offensive line. I give a lot of props to Max “Mighty” Paul. It feels really good, to go from 1 and done last year to here. It’s a team game, though, and I don’t see myself as the MVP – Alaska are the champions, and that’s what matters.”

Jaye Eniola, running back, Tallahassee Pride: “All I can say is the Pride were an active team who had fun together and got the most out of our SFL experience – not something many others can say. At this time, I’m not sure if I’m returning next season, but nonetheless Tallahassee will be back in the finals – and this time, winning it!”

Robert Merrill, Wide Receiver, Alaska Storm: “It was a complete team effort. Defense was solid the whole game and forced some huge turnovers. Offense got off to a slow start, but then really picked it up as the game went on. Max Paul’s gameplanning has truly been phenomenal all season.”

Anthony Wyo, free safety, Tallahassee Pride : “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.”

Ryan Davidson, cornerback, Alaska Storm: “I’m still speechless. It seems like yesterday when I first signed back as a rookie corner for the Storm, and look where we are now. The SFL Championship game is an experience everyone should live, it’s just amazing. The people, the atmosphere, the drama…wow. This is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life!”

Taquan Hale, defensive end, Tallahasse Pride: “A few things: First congrats again to Alaska. Also, Tallahassee scouts and coaches did not underestimate Alaska’s defense, there’s a lot of respect there from Frank and defensive-minded people like myself. Further analysis, TAL has been terrible in the redzone all year (See week 10 @ Mexico City) and if both of our first 2 scores were TDs instead of field goals, both teams would’ve played differently down the stretch, though ALK still had the gameplan for success. Finally, the obvious one is the turnovers – they were killer and it was a tip-drill interception and a fumble, both somewhat rare in this game. But again, a great game between 2 great coaches.”

Evan Carroll, cornerback, Alaska Storm : “We went into the game knowing it’d be hard to knock the undefeated Pride, but we have a great team and an amazing coach, and that’s what got us through in the end. Really, Max “Mighty” Paul is the champion of champions.”

Christian Christiansen, quarterback, Tallahassee Pride: “Cockren, Davidson and Willis had our numbers. The better QB, team, and gameplan won, but having said that – TAL TAL TAL TAL TAL, baby.”

Alex Dominguez, defensive end, Alaska Storm: “Just a good game overall. Glad Alaska could pull it off.”

Frank Goodin, Tallahassee Pride Owner: “I’d like to say that, in the championship game, I appreciated Max Paul’s ability to do something with his team that’s extremely hard to do against the Pride – stay on the field for multiple long drives. I expected him to bring a defense that would challenge us, but I didn’t expect that from his offense, and to me that had a significant impact on the outcome of the game. Props to him for his diligent work in the offensive game plan – it worked to perfection! I love the SFL and I embrace all aspects of it – which of course means taking the losing along with the winning. It just becomes a part of the story, and the SFL is better because of it! I’m just happy and fortunate to have my part in it, and I’m honestly happy for “Mighty” Paul, someone who does so much for the league. We all want to win, but it shouldn’t stop us from being cool with our competitors when they find success for sure!”

Max “Mighty” Paul, Alaska Storm Owner / Head Coach : “This was a trying season. We went for broke and wound up rich. Our motto this season was “The Revenge Tour,” because we felt slighted and had bones to pick with a lot of folks. It’s also more relief then elation, because it was getting to the point where I was more hot air (advice) than practical results, especially the way Season 9 ended – we lost our last 3 games including a blowout playoff home loss to Vancouver. But, as is now customary for us, we’re blowing up the build and trying something new for season 11. And hey, there’s an actual trophy this season. Ron played out of his mind this whole season. He was ticked that he was left off the MVP ballot. I’d say his playoff run was of epic proportion. He had a lot to carry this season as we forwent using a star halfback. He was more than able to meet that challenge. Tallahassee posed one heck of a challenge between their dual threat power running game and their duo of playmaking homerun threats. Very happy that our gameplan held up.”

THE SIMULATION FOOTBALL LEAGUE 10TH SEASON CHAMPIONSHIP GAME ROSTERS

The Alaska Storm, Your Season 10 SFL Champions:
Ron Cockren, #3 Quarterback – MVP of the Game, Offensive Player of the Year Candidate
Brad Brechett, #4 Kicker
Jeff Comeau, #13 Wide Receiver
Robert Merrill, #18 Wide Receiver
Ryan Tobin, #21 Free Safety
Evan Carroll, #29 Cornerback
Tony Willis, #31 Strong Safety
Ryan Davidson, #44 Cornerback
Andrew Francis, #52 Linebacker
Alex Dominguez, #69 Defensive End – MVP Candidate, Defensive Player of the Year Candidate
Yasin Clifton, #87 Tight End
Optimus Cline, #88 Wide Receiver
Owner / Head Coach: Max Paul – Coach of the Year Candidate, Owner of the Year Candidate

The Tallahassee Pride:
Christian Christiansen, #13 Quarterback – MVP Candidate, Offensive Player of the Year Candidate
Duke Wilson, #14 Wide Receiver – Offensive Player of the Year Candidate, Offensive
Rookie of the Year Candidate
Caleb Connely, #22 Fullback
Michael Sprous, #25 Cornerback
Jaye Eniola, #28 Running Back
Alex Bond, #29 Strong Safety
Anthony Wyo, #35 Free Safety
Hunter Norwood, #74 Defensive Tackle – Defensive Player of the Year Candidate, Defensive Rookie of the Year Candidate
Ken Gossett, #84 Wide Receiver – MVP Candidate, Offensive Player of Year Candidate
Taquan Hale, #91 Defensive End – Defensive Rookie of the Year Candidate
Kevin Bane, #95 Defensive End
Mike Johnson, #98 Defensive Tackle
Head Coach: Alex Bond – Coach of the Year Candidate
Owner: Frank Goodin – Owner of the Year Candidate

Additional Stats and Corrections provided by Scott LeRoux, Andrew Rastelli, and Cameron Irvine.