By Christian Pundt and Matt Burnham 

#10 Carolina Skyhawks @ #7 Queen City Corsairs

And the playoffs are upon us!

The opening match of this season’s tournament was the the tenth-seeded (7-5) Carolina Skyhawks at the seventh-seeded (8-4) Queen City Corsairs. The Skyhawks started off the season 6-0 before dropping five of their last six to move from first in the Eastern Conference to fourth (behind 9-3 Baltimore, 8-4 Chicago, and 8-4 Queen City). Meanwhile, the Corsairs began the season 7-1 before losing three of their last four, a span in which they rose to first in the conference before being forced to settle for a wildcard spot by the redhot Baltimore Vultures and Chicago Wildcats. Also during that span, the Corsairs and Skyhawks played each other (Week 12 to be exact). That game, which was in Carolina, resulted in a 41-34 finish for Queen City, where the four-time champions paced the upstart Skyhawks team for virtually the entire game.

The story of this game was Corsair dominance from the first quarter through to the fourth. Queen City outgained Carolina 501 to 177 yards and also held the ball for over thirty minutes of the game. By the end of the first quarter, Queen City had pulled ahead 21-7, before going up 34-7 at the half – leads which would never be in danger the rest of the way.

The Corsairs recorded a shockingly efficient day, even by their lofty standards. Quarterback AJ Caswell went 20-for-25 for 244 yards and three touchdowns (one interception) and Ash Odom put up six yards per carry on nearly forty carries and a touchdown (official statline: 37/221/1 with a vultured touchdown). Odom consistently found space and broke into the second layer of the defense as evidenced by the 14.0 tackles recorded by free safety, Sir Chappell and 11.5 tackles recorded by Trystan Hatley (Phil Hall and Shravan Prasad managed their linebacking duties well with 10.5 tackles and 6.0 tackles respectively, along with a tackle for loss and pass deflection each). Corsairs receiver Dupree Hudson also had a very nice day, catching ten balls for 174 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

The Carolina offense unfortunately stagnated the entire game. The normally reliable ‘league’s most highly paid player’ AJ Francis “only” managed 65 scoreless yards on 15 carries. Much of this was likely due to gameplan and a lack of possession, but the neutralization of Francis cannot be understated. Meanwhile, Jacques Luyindula put up arguably the worst game of the season for himself. He recorded only eleven completions of twenty-eight passes (that’s 39.29 completion percentage folks) and three interceptions. He did have some personal saving graces with a first quarter touchdown and what appeared to be nearly a dozen drops induced by the stingy Corsair defense. Jalan Miller encompassed virtually the entirety of Luyindula’s production, with a 4/87/1 statline, while rookie receiver Harish Prasad put up zeros across the board on only one target.

This loss should not overshadow what has become one of the most successful seasons in Skyhawk history. While the game itself got out of hand, General Manager/Offensive Coordinator AJ Francis and Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Sir Chappel have done an outstanding job turning around what was previously a barren franchise. On Queen City’s end, an already outstanding team looks to be playing peak football as they enter what should be a legendary quarterfinal tilt with the second seed: 10-2 Tallahassee Pride.

It feels weird to look forward to a rematch of a preseason game, but in this case, when the Pride and Corsairs went the distance in Queen City, resulting in a heavyweight 45-42 victory for the home team, and where Ash Odom’s destruction of the Pride defense outpaced Tallahassee quarterback Christian Christiansen’s destruction of the Corsairs’ defense, we are forced to watch. It’s two traditionally Eastern Conference rivals set to face off all too early in the playoffs, in what should be a great game.

#9 Las Vegas Fury @ #8 Sioux Falls Sparrows

The Las Vegas Fury (7-5) pushed their way into the nest of the Sioux Falls Sparrows (7-5) on a cool Wednesday night. This highly anticipated game between two hard working teams was met with cheers, love, and a LOT of sacks. So many that I lost count. Sacks Galore; the Bond character you never knew about. Doesn’t that violate Twitch terms and conditions or something?
Sorry. Here’s the recap.

The Fury
The Las Vegas offense had a lot of trouble, both through the air and in an underutilization of their running game. Quarterback Thomas Ramen threw for 224 yards and even with a very rough 18/37 (49%) completion rating, managed 2 touchdowns. His most valuable target was wide receiver John Blades, who made 10 receptions for 182 yards and 1 touchdown. Ramen threw 4 interceptions that were absolutely devastating to their momentum, and contributed heavily to the poor performance. Runningback Robert Redford, while managing 1 touchdown, was still only given 17 carries for 60 yards – his second lowest contribution of the season. Kicker Matt Rage went 2/2 but it was not enough to change the course of the game.

Las Vegas’ defensive line got a mouthful of sacks, with 13 on Tyree for a total loss of an insane 82 yards. Mike “Fats” Johnson had 10 tackles and 6.5 sacks, putting him as my defensive player of the game. Strong safety Max Jackson had an insane 291 kick return yards and 1 kick return touchdown. Cornerback Merrick Itera had a beautiful blocked punt and recovery on Sioux Falls’ 4 yardline that led to a touchdown. Even with all of this, the very solid secondary was unable to stop Tyree’s successful passing game.

The Sparrows
The Sparrows played like there was no tomorrow and it showed. Quarterback Julian Tyree threw for 518 yards with a 33/47 (70%) completion rating and 5 touchdowns. He threw only one interception the entire game. His vital targets were wide receivers Shaun Harrelson (4 rec for 158 yards, 2 TD), AJ Warren (4 rec for 108 yards, 1 TD), and Riley Porter (3 rec for 81 yards, 1 TD). These contributions and Tyree’s incredible performance were absolutely legendary and will go down in the annals as one of Sioux Falls’ best performances. Runningback Colin Hart had 9 carries for 54 yards; his lowest yet, but he was used more effectively in the receiving game. With 13 receptions for 67 yards and 1 TD, his contributions came in a much different way than you’d expect.
Kicker Prefontaine was 2/2 which was only icing on the offensive cake that the Sparrows had been able to concoct.

The defensive line managed 5 sacks on Ramen for a total of 30 yards lost, with contributions from linebacker Alex Parker. The secondary built a sturdy nest in the backfield and led to 4 interceptions. Strong safety AJ Leyve with one, cornerback Andrew Nyberg with a pick six, and cornerback Jay Ringgold with 2 picks absolutely shut Las Vegas’ passing game down. Their contributions were some of the highlights of this game.

The Gist
Sioux Falls had an absolutely incredible game. 573 total yards, 26:06 minutes of possession, 48 points total. While they dominated, Las Vegas put up a decent fight with a record 13 sacks and ending with 34 points. The game was fun, exciting, butt clenching, and even though Las Vegas was not able to pull it through, they should be proud of the season they’ve had. And the sacks. Did I mention those?