By Matthew Slinn

Mexico City Aztecs @ Tallahassee Pride

A Heavyweight Battle

If you asked the members of the SFL community ‘Name two teams that have been powerhouses over the last few seasons’, Mexico City and Tallahassee would get mentioned alot. These clubs have consistently shown that they are no flash in the pan, no fluke, but perennial high flyers looking to create a dynasty at the top of the SFL. True to form, here we find the Aztecs and Pride; battling in the Lion’s Den for a place in the SFL Championship game. For Tallahassee, it’s a chance to be a part of the Big Dance for the second season running, a chance to right the wrongs in that devastating loss to the Alaska Storm; for the visiting Aztecs, It’s the time to build on a spectacular playoff win in which they overcame being the away team against a much favoured Baltimore squad, and a chance to replicate their Season 9 Championship win. Everything is pointing to this being a classic showdown of wits between Ramos Lynn and Frank Goodin. Here are a couple of questions they have probably been focusing on.

Can the Aztecs slow down the J-train?

Let’s face it, you’re not going to stop Jaye Eniola this season. Last weekend’s demolition of the best rush defence in the SFL proved that. Eniola is good for at least a touchdown and 100 yards week in, week out. All that Mexico City can hope to do is slow him down, and the brunt of that load is going to fall on the shoulders of marauding linebacker, Jack Brown. A trio of hard-hitting safeties should help, but the 3rd most prevalent tackler in the SFL should have one gameplan in mind: to key in on Eniola. If Brown can keep the Purple Bullet in check, Mexico City’s talented secondary could swing the momentum in the Aztecs’ favour. The tough duo of Zamora and Nick Daggs and the playmaking safety Jeffrey Daggs are a force to be reckoned with, and Season 11 Christian Christiansen hasn’t displayed the kind of consistent form to suggest he can take on this group succesfully. Limiting Eniola is the mission. A watch of Tallahassee’s game against Carolina may be worth a watch, in which Eniola only ran for 69 yards.

Can the Bronze Bomber continue to be clutch?

I think it’s fair to say that at times this season, Mexico City’s formidable defence and solid running game has masked the poor play of their esteemed quarterback. That will all be shunted into irrelevance though if Willson can perform like he did against Baltimore when the game was on the line. Willson become ultra aggressive with the ball in that overtime, overcoming a calamitous endzone interception to hit Mike Daggs in stride for a walk-off touchdown (possibly the best moment of Daggs’ career). Willson’s statline wasn’t spectacular (62% passing and a 2:2 touchdown to interceptions ratio) but he was much more decisive in his decision making and wasn’t afraid to go after a pair of excellent corners in Kaz McFly and Hendrix Thornberry. Against the Pride, I want to see Willson maintain this aggression and I hope he does, especially when throwing across the middle to Daggs, who appears to be in the form of his life. Experienced safety Alex Bond may have something to say about that, and the Sprous brothers will be expecting an interception chance or two to come their way, but if the Aztecs want to win, Willson needs to show up in the big moments.

The Prediction

I expect the Pride to take this one, at home, although it will be their toughest test of the season. Mexico City will come in with a sound gameplan, but perfect execution still won’t prove enough. Tallahassee to win by less than 7 points.

Houston Hyenas @ Alaska Storm

Class is Permanent

Arguably the two classiest owners in the SFL will face off tonight in what I expect will be a high-scoring affair. Obviously we know that the Storm have been virtually unstoppable all season, combining high-powered offense with stifling defence, but the Hyenas are flowing through a rich vein of form themselves, culminating in a comfortable victory over a very dangerous Chicago Wildcats team. Max Paul and Demond Simean will have put the hours in this week, and I can’t wait to see their hard work come to fruition. Here are a couple of takeaways to discuss leading up to tonight’s clash.

Can Kentez Johnson play well with ‘Big Sexy’ in his grill?

If there’s one thing that Alex Dominguez dies well, it’s laying his body on a poor quarterback, especially rookies. They know he’s coming; they know the offensive line will let him through at least 3 or 4 times a game; what the best don’t do, is panic. The 18th overall pick in this season’s draft has shown star potential, and I mean high elite star potential. So far, the big occasion of the playoffs hasn’t gotten to Johnson, proven last week as he gashed the Wildcats’ secondary for 227 yards and 1 touchdown, all the while completing 88% of his passes. A passer whose accuracy rivals that of his opposite number (the most accurate quarterback in the SFL) Johnson is the perfect guy to keep Alaska’s offence off the field. He’s essentially Ron Cockren 2.0. The question is, can Kentez throw all over the Storm after Dominguez has inevitably buried his shoulder into the young quarterback’s ribs? For Houston’s sake, I hope so.

Will the Hyenas be able to limit the first downs?

If the Alaska Storm are truly dominant in one area, it’s their ability to control the time of possession by amassing an insane amount of first downs and a 3rd down percentage that is 9% higher than their nearest rival. I always went under the adage that the SFL is all about the big plays, but Alaska’s success is wavering my beliefs. The way Max Paul uses Jason Williams in the short run game is masterful, punching him through the centre of opposing defensive lines for crucial gains of 3-5 yards. Williams may not have the most spectacular season stats, but the big-bodied fullback’s impact on the field is unmistakable. For Houston, rookies Rodney Panani and BJ Loveless have done a good job of beefing up the Hyenas’ front seven, but the main counter comes in the sizeable form of stand-out defensive tackle, Chad Takkul. Takkul will need to use that huge frame and length to clog up the inside running lanes, forcing Williams outside where he can be cleaned up by the likes of experienced safety, Eddie Gauge. Houston’s defence has alot of experience an guile; they will need it all to halt the Storm’s hunt for first downs.

The Verdict

No Las Vegas’esque miracles needed for Alaska here, although they will be pushed hard. A 4th quarter injection of quality will prove too much for a Houston defence worn down by Jason Williams, with the Hyena offence finding it tough to match Alaska blow for blow.

Fun Fact: Yasin Clifton (Tight End, Houston) and DJ Majesty (Linebacker, Alaska) are both facing their former teams. Look for that heated battle across the middle of the field.