Written by Matthew Slinn
Images by J.R Lawless

Editor’s Note: Due to the success of last week’s article and the positive feedback I received (thank you to those who took the time to give feedback; it is so valuable) this series will go ahead!…Cue triumphant trumpet sounds and a strong banner raised in victory…

Anyway, one caveat is that I will not be covering every game. I have made the decision to cover six games per week – those games that I find more educational than others. Obviously, I will try to include every team as the season rolls on, but naturally, some may receive more attention than others. Unfortunately, that is the nature of things when one doesn’t quite have the time to cover the entire expanse of the SFL.

What We Learned from Week 2

Tulsa Desperados 20-45 Las Vegas Fury

Individual feats of brilliance aren’t enough when mistakes outweigh them…

So, through two games of this young season, the Desperados find themselves with an offense that can’t really move the ball and a defence that has been beaten up in the running game – luckily, there are moments of positivity. It’s such a shame that they get overshadowed by momentum-stalling mistakes that give the other team even more of an advantage. In the first half against the Las Vegas Fury, we saw a Tulsa defensive back make a fantastic play to get his team back in the game – King Rashid (drafted from the Annapolis Navigators) bit on a shallow out route and caught his prey, picking off Joseph Green and racing over half the field into the end zone. Positive. Tulsa remained in the game for a while, but a first half fumble recovered by the Fury and a poorly timed INT just as the third quarter started stunted any growth. Negative. Sonzo Robinson makes a beautiful turn around, one-handed grab on a deep ball. Positive. The drive stalls and Tulsa have to settle for a short FG when they need TDs. Negative. Jason France leads the way on the Desperados’ best drive of the game, resulting in a score. Positive. Jay Cue gets the ball late to restore some pride after a sizeable defeat and throws two picks into the teeth of the Vegas defence. Negative. The one step forwards, two steps back pattern is there to see. This needs to reverse itself if Tulsa are to have any chance of changing the realities above.

Scott Johnson has taken a step forward…

The 1-1 Las Vegas Fury have displayed one of the most explosive offenses early in the season, largely down to the play of 4th year running back, Scott Johnson. The former Annapolis Navigator has been sniffing around the Top 10 RB’s in the SFL for the past couple of seasons after a difficult rookie campaign, but Season 18 feels different. Johnson’s initial burst and running vision has seen him scoot for 384 yards at a 6.3 YPC clip – 181 of those yards came against the Desperados. Perhaps a more impressive stat is the 6 TD’s #22 has scored in just two games – once again, he put Tulsa’s defence to the sword with 4 scores. A 69-yard sprint in the first half was his most impressive run, one in which he evaded Ricky Thornton’s arm tackle before outpacing the diving Philadelphia Collins into the end zone. The impressive peripherals on display as the rush opened up caught my eye more than anything – the way Johnson is following his blocker’s this season shows real development and maturity. Las Vegas’ defense was decimated by Free Agency, but the offense stuck together for the most part. Scott Johnson appears to have taken it upon himself to be the Fury’s catalyst for victory. 

Carolina Skyhawks 36-25 San Diego Mavericks

Randy Moss in attendance to watch his protege’s go to work…

Matt South currently has thrown the joint-fewest INTs in the SFL and has a QBR far higher than anything I’ve ever seen from him. A huge part of that success can be attributed to the exemplary play of his receivers, Heath McDaniel Jr. in particular. South threw for over 350 yards and a couple of TDs against a defense that kept legend, Ron Cockren, largely under wraps. 74 of those yards went to the explosive Harish Prasad while nearly 150 fell to Heath McDaniel Jr, who made it his mission to embarrass cornerbacks all game. South’s one blemish was a tip drill INT whilst camped on the San Diego line – I surmise it happened because McDaniel Jr. wasn’t within 10 feet of the ball to catch it. The receiver, whom is admittedly in his prime, pulled down contested catch after contested catch, including one in the 4th quarter which proved to be the dagger. He and Prasad worked excellently to get their bodies positioned between the ball and the defender, ensuring that even if a catch wasn’t made, neither would there be an interception. Carolina have looked accomplished in the first couple of games. The safe play of the offense is represented by the safe hands of their receivers. Matt South may yet have a season with a positive TD:INT ratio. 

Rookies will ALWAYS have games where they play like a rookie…

You have the ball with just over 3 minutes left. You’re nearing midfield. The score is 29-18 but a comeback is on the cards after a rough start to the game. All of the momentum is with you. Your rookie quarterback drops back to pass, releases the ball quickly as he sees a receiver open to the le-INTERCEPTION!. The opposition take over. All momentum is killed. They score on a deep pass and you wind up with a 36-26 home loss after a garbage time touchdown. Yes, I’m afraid San Diego, Scar Patterson will occasionally make a bad read. He’s a rookie! It’s what they do! Now, this isn’t a shot at Patterson or the San Diego coaches. Personally, I think Patterson has played well (how many players can say they defeated the Florida Storm in their debut) but in these tight situations, when near perfection is needed…the Mavericks may be found wanting more often than not. Scar appears to have a good connection with his top two receivers so hopefully that continues to grow. Just know that every week will be a challenge, including next Week’s trip to Los Angeles for his first career division game.

Los Angeles Lycans 24-30 Vancouver Legion

The Lycans defense continues to torment Pepper…

Since Tom Ramen and Rachelle Colston founded the Los Angeles Lycans prior to Season 16, they have been in the Pacific Division with the Vancouver Legion. They have had great battles every time. One more fact is certain – they have picked of Tom Pepper 15 times. Including Sunday’s game, they have intercepted the Legion QB 15 times in 2 seasons. Three of the picks came in the 24-30 loss to the aforementioned Legion. It started with a perfect tracking play by Jack Hacksaw, whom leveraged his receiver assigment to the outside and undercut a pass from Pepper that flew a little too low. Next in on the act was potential future Hall-of-Famer, Rachelle Colston. Colston is one of the best safeties in the game so it was no surprise when she ended the contest with a couple of picks. L.A couldn’t capitalise on the INTs and Pepper’s poor play to win the first road victory by any of the teams in this rivalry. Unfortunately for the Lycans, the score is a more important stat than the amount of turnovers you make.  

The Legion can win without the need for big plays…

Watching Vancouver’s clock management in their victory over the Lycans had me pinching myself – the Legion were settling for short yardage runs from Robert Redford, doing just enough to get the first down and to keep the clock running. The more surprising thing is that the entire game wasn’t exactly alien from this premise. Vancouver’s longest play was a 25 yard pass to Kendra Hall. David Gehres also caught a nice ball for 25 yards later in the game but that was about it for anything that even had a whiff of being a big play. In my honest opinion, this makes Vancouver more scary. The Legion have figured out how to win a tough game, when Pepper isn’t playing his best and when short yardage is often needed to keep things ticking over. They have now shown that they have this in their locker. What do they still have? The ability to rip it on offense and score 45+ points. That is still there. Going forwards, we may not know what type of Vancouver we’re gong to get. It could be the Redford show, like the game against L.A, or it could be receiver domination by Kendra Hall and Brett Killian. This potential unpredictability could be the key for Vancouver to take that next step and become a Championship game team. 

Sioux Falls Sparrows 23-20 St. Louis Gladiators

The veteran Sparrows have clearly had enough of losing…

The Sioux Falls Sparrows claimed an unlikely victory in St. Louis on Monday, triumphing 23-20 over the Gladiators with a 50 yard field goal as the seconds waned, kicked by Zashtl Black. Given the results from Week 1, many would call this victory a shock. Given the history of the two clubs and the way a couple of their older heads performed, some would say it was inevitable. A.J Levye and Jay Ringgold helped their team more than any players I have seen in this week’s games. The pair of defensive backs squatted down, told the rest of the Sparrows to climb on and carried them to a W. Ringgold himself picked off QB Christian Brown four times, including a tip drill with the game tied at 20-20 and under a minute left to go. Levye, one of the faces of the franchise, chipped in with two early interceptions of his own before returning a kickoff 97 yards for a special teams touchdown. These two men were in Sioux Falls when they dominated on the ground and made it to the playoffs nearly every season – they have stayed through the recent tough times too, a time when victories have been hard to come by. This is one that both of them can savour, knowing they contributed everything and more.

The passing game cost so much with very little reward…but it wasn’t all bad…

Christian Brown threw the ball 51 times on Monday night. 51! Those are ‘Jonny Pichler-esque’ numbers, or at least the numbers of a team trailing by more than a few points and are desperate to get back into the game. Now, this isn’t the main issue, just an accessory to causing the main issue. Anyone who watched that game could clearly observe one thing – Christian Brown was just having ‘one of those days…’. One of those days where you want the ground to open up and swallow you whole because things just aren’t going well. Brown finished the game with six interceptions, including crucial turnovers at the end of the first half and the end of the game. It was clear that Sioux Falls weren’t biting on the play action and seemed to telepathically know where Brown was about to throw the ball. And yet, the Gladiators only lost by three points. This is usually down to lacklustre offensive play by the other team or an excellent defensive performance – in the end, I would probably say it’s a bit of both. If St. Louis can stay in games where Brown has a stinker, imagine what they can do when he doesn’t. The Gladiators have assembled a nice team capable of making the playoffs – a loss at home like this though will have dented pride as well as playoff hopes.

Portland Fleet 21-33 Florida Storm

Ezekiel Love desperately needs to hail Mary for some help…

Every time Ezekiel Love touches the ball, we all lean forward in our seated positions and anticipate something spectacular happening. The athletic running back blitzed Florida’s defense for well over 200 yards and a couple of scores – not a bad day’s work if you ask me. However, the man can’t do it all on his own. OJ Bruin, in his second season as the Fleet QB, really needs to get a handle on the passing game and find his receivers consistently. Otherwise, Portland won’t reach the lofty heights many of us expect of them this season. There was one wonderful moment from Bruin, where, at the nd of the first half, he avoided a sack and hoisted a ball deep into the end zone, guided by a prayer. And it was caught! 6’3 rookie, Mike Savage, used his height to get above the rest and pull the Hail Mary play down. It was a great shame then, that a couple of interceptions very early in the contest saw Portland well behind the Storm, a team that keep a lead in this league better than anyone. Love, as usual, was game-changing. The rest of the Portland roster need to bottle some of that energy and sip on it for the remainder of the season. 

Storm teach us how important it is to keep the scoreboard ticking…

Aaaaaaaaaand, should I feel stupid for ever doubting this great Florida Storm team? Week 2 saw them return immediately to that tried and tested formula of ‘get ahead. stay ahead, win’. When the time came, when it mattered most, Florida’s players, whether it was on offense or defence, pulled out a good play to tip the scales in their favour. Some more than others, I will grant you – I mean, ‘Bullet’ Biletsky did have over 200 yards on the ground. Note: Have we ever had both teams finish the game with running backs over 200 yards? I forgot what rush defence was during this game. The shifty third year runner showed real heart every time he touched the ball, beating defenders, cutting into running lanes like a knife through butter and finding his way to the end zone on multiple occasions. The defense played their part, when Ezekiel Love wasn’t touching the ball anyway. Props must go to Rhett Sawyer, the marquee free agent securing his second sack in as many games for his new team. I watched this game in it’s entirety and Florida never really gave Portland a sniff. The Fleet mounted a slight comeback after the miracle Hail Mary to end the first half, but the Storm has such a strong lead, capitalising on early mistakes meant that a few field goals, expertly dispatched by Ethan Sneed, were all that was needed to claim a nice victory. Let’s not say that Florida have changed too much just yet.

D.C. Dragons 27-24 Fort Worth Toros

D.C will own the clock this season behind Kevin Seay…

The D.C Dragons scored a field goal late in the 27-24 victory over Fort Worth. This field goal was kicked with less than a minute left on the clock, largely thanks to the efforts of Kevin Seay and quarterback Shabazz Psynergy after an excellent late game drive. Psynergy for one, threaded a pass to the left side, hitting his receiver on the side-line where only he could get it – the pass was a thing of beauty and potentially my favourite play from the game. In contrast with that, for running back Seay, brutality is beauty. Seay runs with power and has more burst than many think. The young veteran run for an invaluable 114 yards against a tough defensive front who didn’t give him much to work with all game. When it mattered most, though, Seay stepped up, making first downs on third and short and scoring a touchdown that Barry Sanders would have been proud of. Psynergy also looks in fine fettle to start the season, connecting well with a range of receivers including a short pass to Lauren Percoco for a score after a fumbled return. The Dragons gained 7 first downs and nearly 10 minutes with the ball more than their opponents. Kevin Seay’s hard yards made those facts, and this win, possible.

Fort Worth may want to sack whomever is in charge of clock management…

Spike the ball! I’m sure that’s what Fort Worth’s coaches would have been shouting at Jonny Reno at the end of the loss to D.C. But, for whatever reason, unbeknownst to myself and the rest of the SFL community, Fort Worth let the clock run out whilst they were nearly in scoring position. Whoever is in charge of that clock needs sacking. Where’s Jeff Duffy? He’s pretty good at sacking people (Duffy pulled down three sacks on Monday, adding to a couple his line already had). Behind that fiasco, we have now seen an offense in Fort Worth that is actually pretty explosive. Reno knows how the spread the ball and make mostly correct reads, and his connection with Stephen Hacker is building. Hacker looked back to his best on Monday. The defense has been an issue, but with so many new faces coming in, one has to give enough time for teething issues. I don’t think the 0-2 Toros should be too worried just yet. We have learned that they have a great defensive line and a good young QB. Oh, and a clock manager who should probably quit their job.

And that does it for our ‘Week 2’ edition! Please, keep giving me feedback, good or bad. It really helps to surmise how many people of the community are enjoying the content. Thank you.