By Hunter Jones and Matthew Slinn
Feature Game: Indianapolis Spitefire (0-3) @ Tulsa Desperados (2-1)
The Tulsa Desperados beat the Indianapolis Spitfire 37-20 on Monday.
The story of the game for the Spitfire offense seemed to be tipped passes. Of Spitfire quarterback T.D. Drew’s three interceptions on the game, all of them came from a tipped pass. On offense, Desperados running back Sonzo Robinson dominated the game, scoring three of the Desperados’ four touchdowns and racking up 156 all-purpose yards. Desperados quarterback Ashley Jackson put together another solid performance, completing 22 of 32 passes for 371 yards, a career mark, with a touchdown and an interception.
The scoring began with the Desperados capitalizing on prime field position after an interception, capping off their drive with a six-yard Robinson touchdown run, his first of three touchdowns on the game. After another Spitfire interception, the Desperados were yet again gifted prime field position, however the Spitfire defense were able to hold the Desperados to a 46-yard field goal by Andrew Wheeler, putting the Desperados ahead 10-0 midway through the first quarter.
The Spitfire would finally get a drive going offensively capped off with a 40-yard touchdown pass from Drew to wide receiver Trevor Ferril to cut the Desperado lead 10-7.
The Desperados would again score a touchdown on the ensuing drive, with Robinson scoring on a four-yard run, putting the Desperados up 17-7. The Spitfire would respond with two field goals of their own to cut the lead down to four, going into the half down 17-13.
The second half would be all Desperados, scoring 20 points unanswered before allowing another Spitfire touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, a Steve Vetack pick six. However, by that point the game was well out of reach barring an absurd comeback.
The Desperados improve to 2-1 on the season as they look ahead next week to the St. Louis Gladiators in a battle of rookie quarterbacks for the second consecutive week. The Spitfire drop to 0-3 on the season and look to notch their first win of the season next week at home against the London Knights.
Best of the Rest
A frantic weekend of action started off with probably the most important match of the season so far: Alaska Storm (1-1) @ Tallahassee Pride (0-2). A lot was riding on this game for both teams as the pair of heavyweights started off the season 0-1. This rematch wasn’t just about intense rivalry; it was about getting a foothold within the league and getting the win column rolling. After a solid defensive display and offensive efficiency when it was needed most, Max Paul’s Storm ground out an excellent win on the road, 26-10. Ron Cockren put in a ‘game-manager’ like performance, connecting with his receivers 17 times for little over 160 yards, including a touchdown pass to Optimus Cline, another player fairly subdued with only 4 catches. Robert Merrill and Jason Williams worked in tandem much more effectively than the last time we saw them, gaining crucial first downs and keeping drives going – Merrill looked particularly good, using his speed and agility to average over 5 yards per carry. Outshining them all was non-contract linebacker, Alfredo Maisonet, who defied his lowly status to be the difference between the two teams. The 6’4 squad player was everywhere Tallahassee tried to attack, making numerous open field tackles, batting down dangerous looking passes, even popping up with a pick-6 off a skyward throw by an under-pressure Christian Christiansen. The rest of the Alaska defence played good football, but Maisonet seems to be gunning for a star job. As for Tallahassee, I wouldn’t be too concerned just yet. They’ve had it tough to start the season and they have a roster of players more than capable of making back to a championship game. On defence they look good, actually limiting the Storm to less than 300 yards with a good performance from the ‘bigs’ up front. However, Christian Christiansen and AJ Francis need to step it up a notch. ‘Dub-C’ needs to limit his turnovers (he threw 3 picks against Alaska) and AJ Francis needs to regain that mentality that made him a fan favourite back in Carolina. Francis barely cracks the Top 20 in rushing yards. He needs to improve on his 48 against Alaska on Friday.
Saturday evening at Stadio Azteca brought a game for the defensive purists to enjoy, the Mexico City Aztecs (2-1) squeaking a tight win at home over the Houston Hyenas (0-3). A 13-6 scoreline didn’t flatter either team’s offense as defences shut down all areas, stopping drives and causing turnovers. The lone touchdown pass from Matt Willson to Richard Montague (8 catches, 95 yards, 1 TD) proved to be the difference, with the home team pulling away in the 3rd quarter despite Willson throwing 4 interceptions. 3 of those picks were to rookie cornerback Everett Garrison, who had a stellar game as Houston’s new #1 corner. Garrison epitomised the battling show by the Hyenas defence as they succeeded in bailing out the stalling offence time and time again. Houston’s offense has started the season in an anaemic state, scoring less than 20 points in all three games so far, so it’s no surprise they were bottled up by one of the best defences in the league. Kentez Johnson continued his early sophomore slump, passing for less than 200 yards at 45% with 2 picks on top. D.R Sim didn’t quite manage to find the endzone and Warren Murray toiled for less than 4 YPC, despite having plenty of touches. Houston are good enough to turn this around providing Johnson can get his mojo back. Mexico City need to find some consistency on offense. Once they do, they’ll be fairly unstoppable.
Early Sunday afternoon was packed with SFL action, as 4 games kicked off simultaneously. The first on our radar was an instant classic between the Oklahoma City Renegades (1-2) and the Dallas Lobos (2-1). Billed as a show of offensive firepower before it even started, the teams did not disappoint, scoring 65 points between them and resulting in a 34-31 overtime victory for the visiting Lobos. The result was particularly harsh on the hometown fans as the Renegades surrendered 17 points in the 4th quarter to succumb to the added 5 minutes. Both offenses made over 300 yards through the air, 100 yards on the ground and 450 yards in total, with defences relying on turnovers to stop drives more than anything else (4 for OKC, 2 for Dallas). Despite tossing 2 interceptions, Deacon Nickens’ arm looked as strong as ever, connecting on more than 70% of his passes and striking up a particularly effective partnership with new wide receiver, Jafleeshious D’Angelo – try saying that after a Guinness or three. Tybeerious Bovine and Rich Pratchard continued their good form with a touchdown each and JW Doyle proved he isn’t just a one-week wonder with a slate of 135 yards and 2 scores. In the secondary, Brady Clarke abused Dallas’ passing game with 3 interceptions from his free safety position, but a failure to stop Zach Sandlin wore them down as the game drew on. Speaking of the late game drama, Jacques Luyindula proved he has ice in his veins, recovering from 4 aforementioned costly interceptions to lead the Lobos to an unlikely victory. Luyindula’s turnover numbers aren’t indicative of his usual safe play, but his effect on this Dallas team runs deeper than numbers. That is a game that Dallas would probably have lost last season. He and Zach Sandlin (7.4 YPC) have galvanised Steven Mullenax’s men, hence why they are winning tight games.
We move from one tight game to another as the London Knights (1-2) marked their first home game of the season with a 33-17 victory over the St. Louis Gladiators (1-2). The UK based outfit were helped by a lightning fast 14-0 start, seeing the Gladiators constantly trying to play catch-up without quite managing to keep London in sight. Despite the relatively high scoreline (for the Knights at least) defences played well on both sides, limiting offensive production to around 300 yards through forcing punts and causing a couple of turnovers. St. Louis’ defense held firm for large portions of the game, battling well with a powerful London offense between the 20’s – Ethan Kye in particular stood out. Kye made some thunderous hits on rookie running back Reggie Streeter and even managed to pick off Rob Roby in the second half. Colin Douglas also had a typically strong game against the Knights (Douglas always seems to perform well against London) shutting down receivers on his side of the field, also coming down with a pick of his own, although that came off a last second heave by Roby to end the first half. For the men in red, Blake Craize was the player constantly on the commentators’ lips. Craize was all over the field, tipping 2 passes whilst dropping back in coverage as well as making Denzel Diaz’s game his toughest yet, stunting the diminutive powerhouse to 33 yards on the ground. The tandem of Craize and Shady at linebacker is looking scary for London. Speaking of scary, rookie rusher Reggie Streeter continues to make a name for himself, especially in the red zone. Streeter tacked on 3 more TD’s on Sunday to the 3 he had already scored during Weeks 1 and 2. He and St. Louis’ Nick Finch were the two offensive stand-outs, Finch racking up 148 yards and 1 ridiculous TD against a young London secondary. We can’t end the recap of this game without mentioning Jeff Melinyshyn’s insane punt return score. The strong safety gathered the ball, followed perfect blocking and, breaking out of one tackle to streak for 75 yards, killing the game off for the visitors and securing London’s first win of Season 12.
Two of Season 12’s most unfancied teams faced off in our next game, the Atlanta Swarm (1-2) taking the trip to David A. Richardson Memorial Stadium to take on the Carolina Skyhawks (1-2). As you can imagine, this one was another close-fought battle with the Swarm stealing a win, 24-20, from the home of the Skyhawks. Despite fears about their roster as a whole, this victory demonstrated what can happen when Atlanta’s class of elite players knuckle down and show up at the same time. BDG Hollewood has his best game of the season by a huge margin, toting up 167 yards on 6.7 YPC. Young star Siege Falco looked like the receiver from Season 11, snagging 7 catches for 131 yards and 2 scores, including a 71 yard streak down the field that demonstrated his athleticism and speed. Aquantis Shyne (the jewel of the Swarm’s defense) put up hugely important numbers, making 7 tackles and returning a pick for 6 points. It’s absolutely no surprise that these three players stepped up and Atlanta secured their first victory. As for the hometown Skyhawks, they need to get the fundamentals right on the offensive side of the ball. Mark Biddix is throwing too many interceptions without making up for it in touchdowns, Randy Mercury couldn’t get anything substantial going on the ground (2.8 YPC) and the three receivers weren’t consistent enough. Harish Prasad had a decent day, gaining over 100 yards and a TD but there wasn’t enough there to help the defence out. So much so that the Skyhawk D had to find their own points, Jonny Savage snatching a Marcus Dunhill pass and returning it for 91 yards and a TD. Could that be the longest interception return in Carolina’s history? I’d have to do the research. All told, Atlanta’s 4th quarter was just a little stronger than Carolina’s, and they deserved the win down the stretch.
After looking at three pretty close games from Sunday, our last one was anything but. The undefeated Chicago Wildcats (2-1) travelled north to take on the Vancouver Legion (2-1) confident of walking away with a hard-earned dot in the win column. The Legion had other ideas. From the get-go, Canada field was rocking as their Legion side shot out to a lead; 14-3 at the half. That solitary field goal was all the Wildcats had to show for their efforts, whilst Vancouver racked up the points including 17 in the 4th quarter after the will of the Wildcats’ defense finally seemed to break. 38-3 was the final outcome; the manner of victory for the home squad a shock for most around the league. Whether it was due to player performance or superior scheming, Vancouver were utterly dominant. Tom Pepper had probably the best game of his SFL career, spreading the ball beautifully between his receivers, with all 3 getting in the end zone for 6. His favourite target – Brett Killian – caught 10 balls for 147 yards with #2 receiver Mickey Martino continuing his strong play with a 100-yard game of his own. Ivan Sanchez also got in on the action, rumbling in for a touchdown and charging for 94 yards, including a 60+ yarder. The big man isn’t the most consistent, but when he gets going he’s tougher than most to stop. The Legion’s defense also deserve a huge amount of credit for keeping a dangerous Wildcats offense out of the end zone. Chicago did manage to get some yardage, but great performances like that of Gus Schultz and the warrior, Frank Champion, blunted the teeth of the ‘Cats, ensuring they couldn’t strike all game. There’s not too much to say about Chicago. They’re still a good team and will show it next week. They’ll lick their wounds and be back with a vengeance. Shann Varner won’t let his team get blown out again. I guarantee it.
They say that fortune favors the brave, and fortune certainly favoured the Queen City Corsairs (2-1) when they travelled south to take on the rolling New Orleans Pharaohs (2-1). Queen City went into tyhe half-time break down 28-17, but in reality it could’ve been 31-10. The Pharaohs missed what proved to be a crucial 3 points early in the second quarter on a fairly routine field goal, whilst 7 of the Corsairs’ firs half points came off the back of a fumble by New Orleans’ punt returner. The speedster tried to make a play but found himself spinning into trouble, compounding the error by losing control of the football. It was a hammer blow to New Orleans, who had caught Queen City napping in the first half with their explosive offence. The Xander Gold – Deezer Powell connection was firing on all cylinders (Powell gained another 169 yards and 2 TD’s) and Logan Jack seemed to be living in the end zone (3 all-purpose TD’s on the day). Linebackers Gerry Bertier and Heath McDaniel II were also doing their part, shutting down Ash Odom to less than 4 YPC, forcing AJ Caswell to pass more than he usually likes to. Then, the second half came. The Corsairs management must have unlocked something within their players at halftime, because they came out showing much more fight and belief in the second half. For as much luck as they had in the first, Queen City showed mountains of character down the stretch. The travelling defence knuckled down competely, limiting New Orleans to a solitary touchdown and frustrating the home team. Nacho Sicario and Avry King showed something extra, using their experience to guide QCC to an excellent road victory and aloowing the offense to methodically take control. Rookie Stephen Hacker proved to be blessed in the red zone, snagging 3 TD’s from 14 catches including 113 yards. The nail-biter ended 37-35 after a long range, last-second field goal by QCC’s generic kicker. A great way to end a fascinating game.
A 10-point 3rd quarter proved to be the clincher for the Baltimore Vultures (2-1) against the Sioux Falls Sparrows (1-2) in what has been a tough start to the season for both franchises. Both are known to have hard-nosed defenses that are tough nuts to crack, and that proved to be the case yet again, with offenses struggling to find any sort of foothold within the game. A 13-6 scoreline was enough for the Vultures, who relied on a near 100-yard game from big-bodied back T-Roy Gaines. Gaines once more proved to be the ideal ‘powerback’ for grinding out a victory, scoring the crucial touchdown to seal the game for Baltimore. Other than Gaines, there were no stand-outs on offense for either side. Julian Tyree looked accurate but toothless (after having a great start to the season), Mike Dazzo couldn’t find anyone consistently and Colin Hart had the least effective performance of his career. Defense was where the quality lay. Jay Ringgold, Joe Dazzo and Hendrix Thornberry all got interceptions for their respective teams, and experienced safeties AJ Levye and Tony Willis were both all over the field, Willis chipping in with a sack and 3 TFL’s from his box safety position. Both sides showed why they are considered amongst the toughest to beat in the league. Offensive co-ordinators are going to have to play very smart football to get past the Vultures and the Sparrows.
We end Week 3’s recap with a shootout between the Denver Nightwings (3-0) and the San Francisco Sharks (2-1). Both teams came into this game undefeated, showcasing good offensive production to counter suspect defenses, with Denver powering to victory, 44-37, after a 14-point 4th quarter. It was nothing less than the Nightwings deserved, dominating tine of possession and consistent first down production with 21 overall. Josh Miller tore apart San Francisco’s secondary for the most part, splitting the seams for 437 yards and 4 TD’s. The rapport he has built with his group of receivers is impressive, and that was fully on display against the Sharks, Jockamo Jones being the pick of the bunch, showcasing his class with 169 yards and a hat trick of scores. Miller did throw 2 picks to outstanding rookies Justin Jones and Jakob Gustafson, but on the whole the Denver offense looked good, Jarrod McChesney also chipping in with over 100 yards on the ground. The Sharks can also be happy with their own offensive production, Gabriel Manning once again proving himself to be an elite talent in this league. He helped an average performance from the newly departed Dylan Aciel look good with huge catches including 2 big grabs in the end zone. Ogun Zulu also had a solid game but Aciel made too many mistakes throughout the match, throwing picks to Martie McCree and BJ Armstrong. Despite Denver having to come back, they never looked like they were losing this game. They are a great team and thoroughly deserve their unbeaten start.