By Matthew Slinn and Chris Colon 

Feature Game: Mexico City Aztecs @ Carolina Skyhawks

It’s a new year, new season; renewed passion. new resolutions. The same goes for the Simulation Football League. The off-season was pretty bright for the visiting Aztecs, who come into Carolina with confidence, owning two victories over them in the last two seasons. For the Skyhawks, the off-season was pretty bleak as they lost all but a handful of players and staff. Armed with a new GM but a familiar face in the locker room, General Manager Colon managed to sign and help draft a rookie as well as sign a rookie – even signing top tier veterans in Dupree Hudson and DJ Majesty as well as owner James Cline signing Blake Chance and LB Allen III.

This game was much anticipated. Unfortunately, we did not get an even matchup. Instead, we saw a lopsided victory by Mexico City. Mexico City scored early, pulling off three touchdowns and three extra points. Suddenly, Carolina pulled off two pick six interceptions in a row in the first half. The second half was all Mexico City, scoring 28 points. Carolina scored on a passing TD in garbage time bring the matchup to 49 – 21.

Mexico City came away with a strong victory over a brand new Skyhawk team looking to find their footing with a brand new team staff of young coordinators who arr confident. The season is young and both teams have tough Week 2 opponents. The Aztecs on one hand look very tough while the Skyhawks on the other have lots to go over. After the game, Defensive Tackle and General Manager Colon had this to say to the TV cameras for post game interviews.

“We had some positive moments and some things we need to go over and clean up. I’m proud of the way we handled our defeat. Nobody argued. Nobody fought each other. Nobody pointed blame at anybody. We know we’re better than what we showed tonight. We just gotta go and show it, learn what we can from this game and move on to Houston next week. They’re a tough squad and respectable, so we gotta prepare ourselves for an opponent who’s been around the block or two. They know a thing or two about success, so we gotta study up big time. We can’t dwell on a Week 1 loss. Its a long season ahead. Thanks for the interview.”

Best of the Rest

Week 1 opened with somewhat of a ‘shock’ result as the Alaska Storm lost to the Baltimore Vultures, their first loss in nearly 2 full seasons (San Francisco were the last team to defeat Max Paul’s team, 27-20 on that occasion). What was even more surprising was the manner in which the reigning double champions went 0-1, succumbing to a 23-10 scoreline in The Eye, in front of their home supporters. Baltimore’s defence completely shut down Alaska’s running game, holding Jason Williams and Robert Merrill to under 20 yards, with the latter struggling to an average of less than 1 yard per carry. The lack of penetration made with the run will worry Max Paul, who invested alot in his new HB-FB partnership. Ron Cockren was then forced to throw the ball alot — 39 times to be exact – which played into the hands of one of the best secondary’s in the league. Kaz McFly, Hendrix Thornberry and Tony Willis all made huge interceptions at key moments to halt any momentum Alaska may have gained. On the other side of the field, Mike Dazzo marshalled his troops well against a typically stout home defense, tossing two touchdowns to new wide receiver, Bishop Warfield. Warfield proved to be a thorn in Alaska’s side all evening, catching 6 balls for 115 yards and the previously mentioned TD’s. T-Roy Gaines also did his thing, running over the Storm’s generic linebackers for a 5.1 yard average and 163 yards. One major positive for the men in blue was the play of free agency acquisition, Kevin Bane. Bane demolished his side of the line, making 4 sacks and getting around the field for 9 tackles overall. All told, it was a comfortable victory for Baltimore, who may have caught Alaska in a post-championship hangover.

The were no hangovers to be found in the game between the St. Louis Gladiators and the Dallas Lobos as both franchises are looking to bounce back after a couple of troublesome seasons. The hometown Gladiators brought home the win, 35-29, in a thoroughly entertaining game for the neutral supporter. #1 pick in the SFL Draft, Moody Mitchell, was the story of the game, finishing with a TD:INT ratio of 3:0 and a QBR of 110.8. Mitchell showed touch on his throws when needed and wasn’t afraid to go downfield, uncorking a bomb to Nick Finch for a 77 yard score. Pro Bowl tight end Cody Scott also had a field day, catching 5 balls for 134 yards at a clip of 26.8 YPC. Dallas’ passing attack matched that of St. Louis’, with new signing Jacques Luyindula matching Mitchell’s TD:INT ratio whilst eclipsing the 400 yard mark. The other pro bowl tight end on the field, Tristan Carr, eclipsed even Scott’s performance with 117 yards and 2 touchdowns. What a signing that could turn out to be. In the end though, the difference makes was St. Louis’ running back, Denzel Diaz, who had a career day, making 138 all-purpose yards and gashing the Lobos’ defense for 3 touchdowns. It was the same old story for Dallas; sharp offense and wafer thin defence. We’ll see if they can improve that area of their game, just like we’ll see if Mitchell can perform against a stingier defense.

Speaking of stingy defences, did anybody see the beating the Tulsa Desperados put on Oklahoma City Renegades quarterback Deacon Nickens? Nickens spent more time on the deck than on his feet, getting hit 9 times in total as the Tulsa defensive front looked dominant, led by 2nd-season defensive end, Gib Leedoo (6.5 sacks in total). Despite the constant pressure and the lack of a running game, Nickens showed his class, still managing to be accurate, completing a pass to Tybeerious Bovine for Oklahoma City’s only touchdown. Nickens ended the game with a 92.26 QBR. As previously mentioned, the Renegades’ running game never got going, shutdown by a linebacking corps headed by Espnn Ry’ale, supported by strong safety Charles Ball. For the Desperados’ offence, rookie quarterback Ashley Jackson was all about the big play, tasting the game nervously with a pick to fellow rookie Thomasina Ramen, before settling down and gashing the road team’s secondary for over 300 yards. Stephen Bush and rookie tight end Garren Malone III both caught a touchdown each, accompanied by over 100 yards receiving for Khoury Jones. Jackson should be pleased with her first game, and this Tulsa passing attack looks threatening. As for OKC, if they can protect Deacon Nickens, they’ll have a shot in any game.

An absolute blowout took place at Canada Field this week as the Vancouver Legion turned over the Atlanta Swarm and put them to the sword. The Legion’s offense played effective, efficient football – Brett Killian finished the game with 114 receiving yards and one score whilst former fullback Ivan Sanchez bulldozed his way to a buck 53 and 2 TD’s – but the home defence is where most the credit must lie. Vancouver’s secondary picked off Marcus Dunhill an astounding 8 times, showing the type of predatory instincts that has people calling them the best secondary in the league. Dante West was the pick of the bunch, plucking the ball out of the sky 3 times in total, killing Atlanta’s momentum time and time again. Marcus Dunhill was the QB at the route of these ugly turnovers, showing that he is still adapting to the SFL despite a full season under his belt. The Swarm did have a late, 4th quarter surge and Siege Falco was just as dangerous as ever (7 catches, 125 yards, 1 TD) but it was all too little, too late. The Swarm ran into a Vancouver team showing great early season form. They were simply outplayed, 38-17.

The Hoosier Memorial Stadium (home of the Indianapolis Spitfire) hosted a nail-biter on Sunday evening as the Denver Nightwings rolled into town and snatched victory with a clutch, last-minute field goal by star kicker, Kramer Jackman. Jackman’s successful attempt put the road team up, 23-20, breaking the hearts of the Indianapolis faithful. The newly-branded Spitfire actually had the edge in the stats, holding the ball for longer, gaining more yards on the ground and through the air; they just fell short where it truly mattered. Defences on both sides came to play as both sides were restricted to just one touchdown a-piece. Denver’s came from a Josh Miller strike to rookie tight end Hiapo Kinloha, whilst Indy’s 6-pointer came from a rookie-to-rookie connection, TD Drew hitting Leonidas Richards for the score. The second quarterback taken in the draft looked composed against a stingy Denver defence, recovering well from a costly pick-6 by second year player, Matthew Lee. Drew will learn from this disappointment and become better for it. the other defensive standout was linebacker Echo Love, who seemingly tackled anything with the ball. Denver ended up squeaking out the win, but the Spitfire already look like a better prospect than last season.

A dominant second half by the Las Vegas Fury defense helped them to a come behind victory, at home, against perennial playoff contenders, the Sioux Falls Sparrows. The Fury, led by Mike Johnson and Anthony Wyo, suffocated Julian Tyree’s offense resulting in a scoreless two quarters for the visitors. Owner Max Jackson must have made some on the fly adjustments at half-time, as Sioux Falls went into the break 24-17 ahead. Tyree had one of the better games we’ve seen from him in a long while – over 300 yards passing with 2 TD’s – and Colin Hart put in a routine 100-yard rushing performance, but it wasn’t enough to hold off a resurgent Las Vegas offense. Thomas Ramen (much maligned for leaning on his run game last season) had probably the best performance of his young career, going 32-38, 228 yards and 2 TD’s. Ramen seemed extremely comfortable dinking and dunking to his receivers all day, spreading his passing well between Funk, John Blades and Robert Redford. Alex Parker and Nick Fargo both had huge games for the Sparrows, the latter hitting Robert Redford 3 times for a loss. This defeat will sting Sioux Falls, but they know they have lost to a strong team in the Fury, and losing 27-24 is respectable. I could see this being a friendly rivalry for seasons to come.

To start of the Monday Night slate of games, the Houston Hyenas continued a recent trend of starting the season in poor fashion, falling 24-12 to a clinical New Orelans Pharaohs team and scoring no touchdowns in the process. This one was pretty much done and dusted at half-time, with the Pharaohs out to a 17-6 lead and the Hyenas just unable to get into the endzone. Folliwing this week’s trend of sencd season QB’s having their career game, Xander Gold threw 34 passes, completing an astoundingly accurate 91% of them, tossing 3 TD’s in the process. He also threw 2 turnovers courtesy of Trystan Hatley and Everson Garrison, but it proved inconsequential. Gold looks to be living up to the #1 pick hype that haunted him last season. Possibly the off-season’s shrewdest signing, Deezer Powell was Gold’s favourite target, tormenting rookie corner Everson Garrison to the tune of 148 yards and a solo score. Aaron Arrington continued to be a lockdown corner as well for the Pharaohs, picking off Kentez Johnson and holding DR. Sim to less than 100 yards (no mean feat). For the home team, other than solid run defence, and an accurate kicking perfroamance, there’s not too much to shout about. One thing is for certain though, Houston will dust themselves down and be back next week. Don’t be surprised if they have a positive record come mid-season.

The penultimate game of the weekend saw the Chicago Wildcats utilize a powerful rushing attack combined with a brick wall of a rush defense to restrict the Queen City Corsairs to just 10 points. Queen City’s typically forceful offense never really got going behind Ash Odom, despite receiver Chris Curtis impressing (10 catches, 132 yards, 1 TD). The experience of Clint Hendershot and Dillon Rolland showed as they tackled themselves to a standstill, limiting Odom to just 59 yards and no score. AJ Caswell had a decent game for Queen City, as did ET king, but the major difference maker was Jared Willis. Willis has rejuvenated the Wildcats’ run game since he joined the team mid-Season 11, and the story was no different on Monday night. The halfback gashed Queen City for 170 yards in total, including a 61-yarder that showed his speed and eye for a gap. The Wildcats will see themselves near the top of the standings again this season if Willis is in that mood for every game. Queen City just need time to gel. The defence looks relatively solid; the offense just needs to become sharp.

Week 1’s final game took place between the San Francisco Sharks and the London Knights, a match-up where turnovers proved to be the deciding factor. The Sharks’ young secondary picked off their former quarterback 6 times, including one pick-6. Barry Barkley seemed to be wherever the ball was, rising for 3 of the 6 interceptions while also breaking up 2 passes. Matt Burnham also had an excellent game for the home side, accruing 180 receiving yards and 1 TD in his first game as a receiver (he played tight end last season). New signing Dylan Aciel turned the opportunities his defence gave him into over 300 yards passing, although he himself was robbed 3 times as the Sharks only scored 14 offensive points. Despite the turnovers, the Knights can be pleased with their defence, especially against the run with Slinn Shady and Blake Craize limiting Ogun Zulu to just 2.1 YPC. The pass-D also proved effective when called upon, making the aforementioned 3 turnovers and marshalling every receiver but Burnham. Rookie runningback Reggie Streeter looked dangerous on the ground, but the damage was done with 6 picks to Rob Roby’s name. Looking forward to next week, London simply need to limit the turnovers and San Francisco could do with more bite in their attack.

Tune in next week for another SFL Recap.