By JW Doyle and Matthew Slinn
Feature Game – Oklahoma City Renegades @ St. Louis Gladiators
Heading into Week 2, Oklahoma City @ St. Louis was a very intriguing matchup to say the least. Although most saw this game as way to see if the Gladiators could continue their excellent refurbished offense that they unveiled in Week 1, against Dallas, now against OKC whose defense gave up a few too many big plays that lead to a 17 point loss to Tulsa in their Week 1 appearance. There were many questions that were given before this game, Will Moody Mitchell continue to look like a OROTY hopeful? Will STL’s defense hold any better against OKC whose offensive and defensive struggles were clearly evident the week prior? Or will OKC somehow find a way to increase its measly 10 points and 38 rushing yards? Of course when it comes down to questions. ALL of them are settled in one place, The gridiron.
OKC kicked off and did the one thing no one expected to do, force a three and out and then drive down the field and score with a 1 yard punch out TD by RB J.W. Doyle. Snow had an impact on the game however, Commentator Demond Simien acknowledged that it had snowed in St. Louis the day before the game as well as the morning of the game and the ground was still mushy, this was personified by St. Louis missing a field goal from the OKC 28 yard line. The rest of the 1st quarter was filled with good defensive plays until Moody Mitchell found WR Nick Finch to tie the game 7-7. Once the second quarter started the big plays started to roll in, As OKC was trying to take back the lead, SS Ethan Kye picked off one of his passes and returned it to the OKC 26. The crowd was erupting, The gladiators were in scoring range, this was where the table turns, BANG! OKC CB Nello Barber gets his own INT and returns it to the STL 28, The Gladiator cheers had fallen dead and now the Renegade faithful were cheering out their seats. The Renegades were held to a FG and the Gladiators were out for blood, Mitchell led his offense down the field and hit WR Badr Aljouni in the side of the endzone for a TD to take the lead for the first time in the game 13-10. And yet again the home fans were extremely excited, a few plays go by and its 1st and 10 from the OKC 45, OKC’s lined up in the Offset-I, Doyle gets the handoff, and gets tackl-WAIT, HE SPUN OUT AND IS ALL ALONE WITH ONLY 30 YARDS TO GO, AND ITS A TOUCHDOWN FOR THE RENEGADES. Then the half ended with a few measly plays that had STL run out the clock.
This same theme of having STL strike a long scoring drive and then OKC scoring in just a few plays was echoed throughout the game. The energy even from the broadcast and in the chatroom was exciting whether you were on OKC, STL, or just a spectator. However OKC’s big plays did get them through this game and onto the next week. If the Renegades can keep up their luck they have all of the tools they need for a vast improvement compared to Season 11. Voices from inside OKC say that Michael Irvine plans for Playoffs this season. As for STL, This is a uppercut to the chin, they have plenty of time to recover and proved that they were a formidable force in Week 1. Their second matchup in Week 10 should be a fun one, you should be seeing two teams fighting for a bottom playoff spot or even a top playoff spot.
As for player of the game, there are two guys who stand out. J.W. Doyle rushed for 221 yards and 3 TDs. Now the second ‘guy’ is the OKC secondary, Four INTs is a gift for any team and OKC used them well, atleast 2 out of the 4 ended in points and as stated before Nello Barber’s INT had a massive impact, Brady Clarke got two INTs one of which put OKC in scoring range again. Rookie Thomasina Ramen got the game-sealing INT and has looked way better than her expectations currently. This OKC secondary will have to be on every pass happy teams’ radar in the coming weeks.
Best of the Rest
The opening game of Week 2 saw an Aquantis Shyne injury greatly hamper the home team’s chances, as the Atlanta Swarm went 0-2 with defeat at the hands of the New Orleans Pharaohs. The influential linebacker went down in a hectic first half which produced 59 points as both teams took over on offense. Atlanta came out of the dressing room clearly fired up after last week’s drubbing at the hands of Vancouver, and Marcus Dunhill looked much more comfortable in the pocket. The second-year passer spread the ball around well, linking with all the weapons in his arsenal, especially emerging tight end, Jamaal Wooding. The rookie caught 5 balls for 205 yards (a huge 41 YPC), taking 2 of the catches for long distance touchdowns. Amidst all the talk about the lack of talent on the Swarm’s roster this season, Wooding has shone brightly, the 6’6 255 pounder displaying great hands and the speed to outrun safeties and corners over a long distance. The disappointment for Atlanta was their inability to sustain their offensive output, something that New Orleans managed extremely well. Xander Gold is in the form of his life, as he produced another stellar performance, gashing the Swarm’s secondary for 4 TD’s and 43 completions, throwing at a 10 yard clip. Gold’s favourite target was rookie halfback, Logan Jack, who proved to be much more effective in his second week, however the player of the game honours went to newly-signed Deezer Powell. Powell ate rookie Lee Pado for breakfast, streaking past him time and time again on his way to 222 yards and 3 scores. The Pharaohs only have 4 stars on offense, but when they click, they’re scary. As you can imagine, other than a pick or two from the secondaries, there wasn’t too much to shout about from the defences in this one. New Orleans got their act together in the second half, limiting Atlanta to 7 points, and the Swarm’s D looked lost without Shyne marshalling the troops. They’ll be glad to have him back next week.
Saturday afternoon saw a high quality, back-and-forth contest take place between the Chicago Wildcats and the Mexico City Aztecs. This entertaining matchup – a rematch of the Season 9 SFL Championship game – went down to the wire, with Chicago scoring 14 points in the last 30 seconds of the game (a go-ahead TD and a pick 6) to take the victory, 35-27. Unlike the Championship game, Saturday’s match was extremely tight, with well-drilled offenses just getting the edge on solid defenses, as both teams gained over 300 yards on overall. Matt Willson and his receivers didn’t have quite as much joy as last week although Mike Daggs and KL Barrett again showed their quality. The two aforementioned pass-catches snagged 8 balls each for a total of 158 yards and 2 TD’s. Willson did throw 3 picks against a roaming Wildcats secondary, but the Aztecs were able counter that with a 100+ yard performance from Ray Bentley. Bentley has never quite replicated his performances from Season 9 but he remains a Top 5 rusher in this league nonetheless. He did outperform his opposite number Jared Willis, though Chicago’s real threat came through the air. The Wildcats put together a gameplan that exploited gaps in the secondary that teams very rarely find. ET King completed 70% of his passes whilst Buchanon Simons and Cory Carter snagged 3 TD’s between them, the first of the two gaining more than 100 yards on the day. There was little to shout about on Mexico City’s defense other than Nick Daggs heading on a small tackling spree, although Chicago’s secondary really stepped up. Maurice Spurgeon stood out all game, really epitomizing the courage shown by Chicago in the dying stages.
One of the most memorable games in recent times occurred at the Silver State Stadium on Sunday, as the Las Vegas Fury squeaked past the ‘Storm Killing’ Baltimore Vultures 31-30. In what – on paper- looks like a ‘run of the mill’ close victory, Las Vegas’ punt blocking team turned up with rockets in their cleats, penetrating the line and getting a body to no fewer than 3 of Baltimore’s punt attempts. With each blocked punt, Vegas gained significantly advantageous field position and, despite gaining less yards, 1st downs and having a lot less time with the ball than their opponents, were able to sneak a 1-point victory. The two sides of the ball in the Vultures locker room should quite rightly feel aggrieved to have lost that game as they matched or better the home side nearly everywhere. The Dazzo brothers ‘dazzled’ somewhat, with Mike throwing for over 300 yards against a dangerous Fury secondary and Joe seemingly making it his mission to stop runners behind the line of scrimmage, ending the game with 6 tackles for loss. Aman Takess had a uncharacteristically quiet game however new rookie receiver, Bishop Warfield, shone yet again, catching one TD pass from his QB as well as burning for over 180 yards. The young stud actually sits second amongst all receivers in receiving yards. On the opposite side, it was no surprise to see Merrick Itera and Max Jackson kept busy, with Jackson showing his class, making 18 total tackles and snagging himself a turnover. Jackson is the glue that holds Vegas’ defense together and Sunday’s game proved it. Mike Johnson showed good penetration and chipped in with 2 sacks, keeping Baltimore at bay whilst Vegas’ offense trundled through the game. No Fury player (other than Thomas Ramen) could end the game boasting a 100+ yard day, hampered by the Vultures’ typically stingy defense. There is no doubt that the 3 punt blocks played a huge part in the victory and I can see Baltimore seamlessly coming back from this. Vegas took their chance with aplomb and thoroughly deserve to be 2-0.
Two old heavyweights collided at Liberty Park as the Tallahassee Pride roamed into Sioux Falls looking to take the wind out from underneath the Sparrows’ wings. Unfortunately for the new look away team, their first outing of Season 12 would end in a 31-23 defeat. Sioux Falls produced a clinical 4th quarter of 14 points to take over what had been (up to then) a close and competitive contest. A cagey first half started the game off, with only 2 TD’s being scored altogether and defences looked largely on top. Sioux Falls’ experienced defense looks legitimately elite this season, able to restrict a sharp-toothed Pride attack to just 2 scores and a bunch of field goals. The combination of Alex Parker and Nick Fargo is a good one at linebacker, and John Barnhardt looks to have taken up Chris Dodd’s mantle nicely – incidentally, Dodd was released by the London Knights this week after starting the season on fire, catching 4 interceptions. Parker and Fargo especially showed their worth against perennial All-Pro AJ Francis, who only gained 58 yards on the ground for his new team. ‘Dub C’ spread the ball well at quarterback for Tallahassee, but never really looked like threatening the endzone apart from his 1 TD lob to ‘Big Play’ Greyson Willis. For the Sparrows, Julian Tyree quietly had an excellent game, throwing 3 TD’s to zero picks, slowly but surely picking apart the defense that the Pride presented and using his vast experience to good effect down the stretch. Tyree found a lot of joy passing to Colin Hart in the flats, knowing that the 2nd year running back would use his speed and power to gain yards at a devastating clip. Hart really was the difference in the game, abusing Tallahassee for 100 yards on the ground and 129 from catches; the Pride never seemed to figure out how to stop him. After last week’s disappointment, the Sparrows looked like good playoff contenders again. The Pride wil lick their wounds and be back.
There was a slightly closer finish in the game between the Denver Nightwings and the London Knights as a storming comeback was thwarted at the last by a game-winning field goal in OT, preserving Denver’s perfect record. In what can ONLY be described as a game of two halves, Jeremy Vega’s squad scored a nice 41 points to London’s 38, snatching victory after surrendering a 38-14 half time lead. That initial lead was built from a huge 17 point 3rd quarter by the men in blue as everything seemed to be going their way. They hadn’t been able to totally dim the bright London offense, but Josh Miller was throwing dimes, Jared McChesney was realising his full potential and Nicholas Warner was picking balls out of the sky with one hand and returning them for 6. The Nightwings’ non-contract return man was even getting in on the act, taking a kickoff back to the house in what would prove to be crucial points for Denver, who laid an egg in the second half. That 3rd and 4th period really showcased what the Knights can do when they remain mistake and turnover free. The Slinn Shady led defense was fairly consistently shutting down McChesney and the running game, and the secondary was also getting in on the act with cornerback Chris Dodd snagging 2 interceptions in his final game for the foreseeable future. With better quality ball and decent field position, Rob Roby gashed Denver’s usually strong D, throwing for 394 yards and 3 TD’s, backed up by rookie running back, Reggie Streeter. The young rusher had his second stellar game in a row, making 166 all-purpose yards and scoring a hat-trick of touchdowns. It all proved to little too late for the men from across the pond, as a long TD pass to Donnie Hands was cancelled out by the game-winning Kramer Jackman FG, giving Denver the narrow victory. Special mention must go to Jockamo Jones, wide receiver for the Nightwings, scoring 2 TD’s against his former club.
Sunday’s final match-up saw an ultra-confident Vancouver Legion squad travel to ConPro Field to take on the Queen City Corsairs, still reeling from defeat in Week 1. Vancouver’s confidence was well justified after their convincing Week 1 victory, however a lesson in 4th quarter scoring brought them back down to earth with a bump. Tom Pepper, who shone a few days ago, seemed to revert back to making old mistakes, tossing 4 interceptions on the day and only really opening up a good connection with long-time receiver, Brett Killian. It is worth noting that returning receiver Chris Braun did score his first T of the season in this game. Queen City’s secondary, led by Oskar Dunklee, marshalled their assignments extremely effectively, showing the type of athleticism and clever play that puts them in the upper echelons of the league. That, coupled with Avry King’s absolute shutdown of Ivan Sanchez (only 2.7 YPC), gave AJ Caswell and company free license to do what they do best: score. To be fair to Vancouver’s defense, they made it tough for the home team. The Legion boasted one of the best defences in the SFL last season and it shows. The only QCC player able to break free of the pack was rookie receiver, Stephen Hacker. Hacker reeled in 8 catches for 82 yards and 2 TD’s, not huge numbers by any stretch of the imagination, but crucial numbers nonetheless. The Corsairs have to be happy with the comfortable manner of their victory against a high-flying Vancouver team. After a rough off-season, this could be a typically successful season for the men in green. The Legion…just get some consistency.
Before we knew it, Monday night came calling and brought with it an action-packed contest between the Dallas Lobos and the Tulsa Desperados, with the 0-1 Lobos taking the victory, 37-29. If you like a strong passing game, you’d have loved watching this game. Dallas and Tulsa threw everything they had at each other, pounding at the defences door until they finally gave way. Dallas can put their victory down to a blistering start and an opponent who looked like they were still in the dressing room. The men in black were 21-7 up before Tulsa even knew what had hit them. Jacques Luyindula was throwing peaches on his way to 354 yards and the Lobos’ defense was shutting down Tulsa’s running game, Denzel Maverick particularly standing out in his 2nd game. Dallas’ run game wasn’t spectacular but bulldozing back Zach Sandlin did manage to crash into the endzone 2 times, ultimately providing the points that gave his team victory. The Lobos also had a nice game from Júnior Senior III, as he made over 100 yards on 10 catches and a score of is own. Looking at the Desperados, nothing seemed to gel quite as well as it did in Week 1. Sonzo Robinson was virtually invisible on the ground and Ashley Jackson was getting the kitchen sink throwin at her, once sacked by Joukyn Roukyn and also hit by the aforementioned Maverick. Her accuracy was significantly affected, however she did still managed to find the end zone 3 times, hitting Stephen Buh twice and continuing her solid rapport with tight end, Garren Malone III. Tulsa’s defence didn’t play terribly, and Charles Ball got his token interception, but 37 points is too much to concede when you have a rookie quarterback. Its puts toom much pressure on Jackson’s shoulders. In all fairness to her though, she seems capable of taking the load.
The penultimate game of the week was between two sides looking to improve on lacklustre Week 1 performances. The Houston Hyenas and Carolina Skyhawks battled for their first win of Season 12, with the home team eventually taking the glory with a 24-13 victory. Carolina played solid defense and decent offense, with no one individual particularly standing out above the performance of the team. Mark Biddix had a mixed night, equalling his 3 scoring plays with 3 turnovers, further detailing his limitations as a passer. Harish Prasad looked dangerous at times and Dupree Hudson finally started to look comfortable after his off-season switch from Queen City. Hudson ended the game with 67 yards and 1 score. Carolina’s defense made fairly light work of the Hyenas’ toothless offense, picking off ‘out of sorts’ Kentez Johnson twice and limiting Warren Murray to under 100 yards. Houston never really got going and didn’t improve on their showing from last week. Kentez Johnson is in a sophomore slump, the defense is good but not unbeatable and Warren Murray needs to see more of the ball. The Hyenas are out of sorts and the onus will be on Demond Simean to try and turn things around.
Our final game on the week took place at the Hoosier Memorial Stadium as the San Francisco Sharks travelled to the Indianapolis Spitfire, confident after their narrow Week 1 win over London. That confidence certainly turned into points, as the Sharks came away with a somewhat surprising victory, 34-24 after a blistering start put them up 14-0 in the 1st quarter. The Spitfire were too slow in the early knockings, and there was rumour that they may have underestimated their opponent. Keith Swearingen and rookie TD Drew actually had good games, with Drew passing for 2 scores to try and keep pace with the rampant Sharks, who were doing a great job breaking the plain of the end zone. Trevor Ferrill also chipped in with a nice game, but it wasn’t to be. San Francisco were clicking well, and when you have a player the calibre of Gabriel Manning returning kicks for you, you know positive things are going to happen. That they did, as Ogun Zulu broke through for a big game, and Manning also had 2 receiving touchdowns. This was a great win for San Francisco. It seals them at a standard to at least be battling for a top half finish. Indianapolis need to keep heart. It will come.