Written by Matthew Slinn
Images by J.R Lawless

Week 3 in the SFL proved to be one of the most unpredictable sets of 12 games in recent memory. The idea of a firm ‘Home Field Advantage’ running true in the SFL was wiped from the minds of all onlookers as 9 of the 12 contests ended in victory for the road team – some of the matches weren’t close, either. Week 3 brought blowouts, turnovers, high scores, untimely injuries and a level of drama in the final game between Las Vegas and Arizona that I won’t cover in this article. I will, however, say that every game between the Fury and the Scorpions proves to be a tough affair – that intra-division rivalry could be one that we need to keep an eye on in the coming seasons. 

As always, I perused the buffet of games on display and picked those that stood out to me, in one way or another. I have also tried to make sure I cover every team at least once during a span of three weeks – after this read, every SFL franchise will have earned their coverage.

What We Learned from Week 3

Denver Nightwings 39-36 (OT) Sioux Falls Sparrows

The Price is right for Denver…just about…

After helping to lead the Nightwings back from the brink in the 4th quarter, overturning a 13-point deficit to go into overtime at 36-a-piece, Denver’s young QB, Eric Price, did the unthinkable, throwing an interception to A.J Levye (featured in last week’s article) and subsequently giving Sioux Falls the chance to claim a famous victory. As it happened, Denver’s defense held, Baylee O’Shaughnessey cracked off a long run and Price managed to guide Denver into field goal range at the second time of asking. Price didn’t have a bad game – in fact, I was impressed. His accuracy on the deep ball looked especially good, receiver Logan Keel the main beneficiary, scoring a pair of long range TDs, one in each half. The Price to Keel connection would eventually ice the game, a mid range pass down the middle on the field form Price finding his experienced receiver. I have to admit, I underestimated this receiving corps in Denver. Logan Keel and Bryce Battle are very experienced campaigners, and Riley Quintero brings an X-factor that few teams have – granted, his performance this week was poor. They have played a large part in why their quarterback has started the season pretty well. With the West division seemingly reaching more parity, Price will need to be locked in for the 14-Week duration. I expect Keel and co. to help make sure he doesn’t nearly throw the game away again.

One point can make all the difference…

In a game that ended with a combined points tally of 75, Sioux Falls’ loss essentially came down to the failure to score one of those points – a 1-pt conversion that cannoned off the back of a Sparrows offensive lineman. Those of you who fancy yourselves as a bit of a Math whizz will know that, had the kick sailed through the uprights as it should, Sioux Falls would have ran out 36-37 victors in regulation time. For a team that has struggled over the past couple of seasons, a team that is desperately trying to force it’s way back into the race for the West, moments like that must be soul-crushing. To tell the truth, the Sparrows had issues with their kicking team for most of the afternoon, one occasion resulted in the holder getting hit just as the ball was kicked. Luckily, the pigskin bisected the posts. Now, I’m not naïve enough to state that this moment is what cost the Sparrows their win – many more factors come into play, such as the dip in quality of offense in the 4th quarter, allowing Denver to mount an unlikely comeback. But, the sheer fact that a singular event, that almost seems inconsequential at the time of happening, can have such an effect at the end of the game is what makes football such a captivating sport. The Sioux Falls Sparrows are now 1-2 instead of 2-1, with a divisional loss on the record. One point can sometimes make all the difference. 

Vancouver Legion 28-14 Jacksonville Kings

Drew Hamilton is making an early case for Defensive Player of the Season…

The Vancouver Legion have always had a fairly solid secondary. I’ve never considered the group one of the best in the league, but they get the job done often enough to allow their high-powered offense to shine. On the road in Jacksonville, however, one safety decided that simply stopping the opposition wasn’t enough. He was hell bent on destroying their collective souls. Strong safety, Drew Hamilton, picked off Marcus Dunhill four times during Saturday’s contest…four times! I can only think that Dunhill didn’t send Hamilton a Christmas card last month because this seemed almost personal. Dunhill was nowhere near his best, but Hamilton appeared to read his mind on each interception, placing himself in perfect position to easily snag the ball out of the air. At one point, sections of the crowd looked to be considering a call to the police after witnessing such blatant robberies. Hamilton has always been a solid safety and is experienced enough to act as a leader in that secondary. I’ve never seen him pop like he did last weekend, though – I doubt I’ll see it again either. I quite like the idea that we may have witnessed the best performance from a player in their entire career. Hold on to this one Drew.

Sometimes, even the best have nightmares…

Prior to Saturday’s loss to the Vancouver Legion, Jacksonville players, coaches and fans will all have been visualising the events of the upcoming game. I’d wager that very few, perhaps none, would have envisioned an emphatic loss and an 8 turnover performance by the offense, including 7 interceptions thrown by talismanic quarterback, Marcus Dunhill. The former SFL champion is the focal point the Kings want to build their young team around – the rebuild started with Dunhill. When he has a bad game, there is no recovery. The star QB seemed half a yard off the pace for the entire game. His passing wasn’t as accurate as we have come to expect, balls often left his hand at a lower velocity than was needed and he didn’t seem to make adjustments in response to each set back. The TD passes to Jack Wall and Shea Carroll were nicely taken, but when you throw the ball to the opposition 7 times, it puts the defense under too much pressure to even think about winning a game of football. Even when Dunhill did complete a pass, there were issues – young tight end Talon Steele coughing the ball up after getting smacked by Dean Maddox. Both myself and Marcus know that things need to improve if Jacksonville are to stay above .500. A lot of content creators wrote the Kings off at the start of the season. More games like this one against the Legion will prove their foreshadowing true.

London Knights 23-31 Mexico City Aztecs

Vin Calia is the knight in shining armour…

Vin Calia is the star of the London Knights’ offense. Yes, I know they have the big free agent names like Jonny Pichler, Mike St. Green and Tybeerious Bovine, but the long-time London #1 receiver shines the brightest. With this defeat in Mexico City, the Knights sit at an unlikely 0-3, winless and stuck to the root of the North division – it seems like Calia is taking it personally. #19 balled out against the Aztecs, smashing through the 200 yards barrier, grabbing a 73 yard touchdown to boot, all of which put him third in receiving yards on the season behind Kendra Hall and Liam Hammer. Calia gave Aztecs’ #1 CB, Jahrad Brodie, all he could handle, catching nine balls from ten targets, including the long range TD, in which he outjumped Brodie, high pointed the ball and sprinted off towards the end zone, outgunning the covering defense. The receiver, who is now entering his athletic prime, has always been a great deep threat, but Season 18 has bought a depth and consistency to his game that we haven’t seen yet. It could well be that the connection with Pichler is stronger in the QB’s second season in London and that fact alone is boosting Calia’s numbers. It was unfortunate to witness the one ball that Calia didn’t catch get deflected into the air and into Jahrad Brodie’s bread basket, but at that point, the Knights were chasing the game and risks were taken. London are 0-3, which is a shock to some. I hope the community don’t use the record as an excuse to forget about how great Vin Calia really is.

Willson spreads the love like no other…

Mexico City carry a fairly unique offense in the fact that they have nine weapons, of varying levels of calibre, for Matt Willson to use. Even more unique is that Willson managed to use ALL OF THEM last weekend vs. the Knights. This ability to spread the ball around was, in the end, what helped the Aztecs to outlast their opponents. There were no flashy plays above 40 yards, no one hit wonders – every player simply helped to move the chains, eat some clock and keep the drives going. Rather ironically, the Aztecs’ #1 receiver from Season 17, Fox Highwind, was held to zero catches on the day. Watching the game live, I don’t recall Fox getting injured at any point, although I could have just missed that to go and make a cup of tea, so apologies in advance if that detail was missed. Back to the point at hand – Willson reminds me of Tom Brady when he played for the New England Patriots. Of course, the ‘Bronze Bomber’ doesn’t have anywhere near the amount of titles to his name (one, to be exact) but Willson’s ability to get the most out of a group of receivers that weren’t predicted to set the world alight is uncannily similar. Mexico City’s #1 and 2 receivers, Jason Bartley and Jacob McCall, have been career slot guys and understudies before this season, McCall transferring over from Arizona last season. Season 18 has given them a chance to impress and they have taken it with two hands. The rapport with Willson is clear to see. Mike Daggs is the obvious star of the show (another 3TDs scored at the weekend for him) but younger pass-catchers Orane Darby, Nick Lockett, T.T Krystal and Bill Henry are all getting in on the act too. It was a pleasure to watch Willson and his offense work against the Knights, the QB ending with 4 TDs to zero INTs, and I am looking forwards to how they respond to the test in D.C next week. 

Queen City Corsairs 34-47 Houston Hyenas

The Queen City defense is getting beat too often…

Last weekend was an ugly one for the Queen City Corsairs. The offense came to life in the 4th quarter to make the score seem somewhat respectable, but in truth, it was over at halftime. After the game was over, I had to take a look at the team statistics to see where QCC’s defense ranks so far this season, to see if one can pinpoint where things are going wrong. I partly did this because of the 47-point drubbing they took against Houston, but also because of how good the D was last season. Season 17 saw QCC make an unlikely trip to the playoffs, largely due to the quality of their defense which was in the Top 10 in pretty much every major category. Season 18 comes around and the Corsairs have the 3rd worst scoring defense. So, what’s the issue? Well, they have been very good on 3rd down, they have been average against the pass (giving up yardage whilst taking the ball away at a decent rate) and below average – but not terrible – against the run. One thing that shocked me the most was that QCC have given up nearly the lowest amount off first downs in the SFL at 48. This led me to one conclusion – the Corsairs are getting beat deep far too often. They have been a slave to the big play, which is obvious when you look at the tape from Week 1 and Week 3. Week 2’s victory at home to Mexico City was excellent, but the road losses to Lone Star and now Houston are startling indicators that screws need to be tightened in that defense. Whether it was the heat or just bad days at the office, I don’t know. What I do know is that the Corsairs need to cut out opposition big plays fast if they are to have any chance of coming out of the tough North division. 

Sometimes those who jump from the lowest height make the biggest splash…

Coming out of the draft, there was a certain hype around running backs at a level not seen for quite a while. Four names were being talked about with varying levels of conviction: Doug Brown, Randy Squarebush, GP Wells and Brad Jones. Out of the four big names, Jones was given much less air time than the rest and was considered by some as a second option to his more illustrious peers. Jones eventually fell to Houston, with nowhere near the hype surrounding Doug Brown and Squarebush might I add, and set about his work under the radar. Well, after Week 3, in a break out game where he torched the Queen City defence for over 200 all-purpose yards and a trio of touchdowns, his name should well and truly be on the lips of much of the SFL media, including mine. The young finesse back was on fie against the Corsairs, running perfect lines behind his blocking, slipping tackles when he needed to and showing enough burst to hold off covering tacklers until it became a true foot race. Jones doesn’t quite have the speed to pull away on a long run from the fastest defenders, but he is still fast. Peehaps the most pleasing and surprising quality Jones showed was a mentality to get stronger the more he was used. During Houston’s 0-2 start, the Hyenas were often coming from behind in the game, meaning Jones was bottled up fairly easily. Now that Houston were holding a lead for the entire game, the running back needed to step up: and he did. Jones has 346 yards on the season, 138 more than the nearest rookie running back, Douglas Brown. Houston may well have got a steal in this season’s draft.

St. Louis Gladiators 27-13 Atlanta Swarm

Shutdown defence just the ticket for St. Louis

I was fairly critical after Week 2 of the Gladiators’ offence as they narrowly lost, at home, to the Sioux Falls Sparrows. Week 3 saw a much improved performance by Christian Brown and his offence, but more impressively, a solid effort from the defence. St. Louis held the Atlanta Swarm (by all accounts a tougher team than the Sparrows) to 13 points in their own stadium. Not only is this the first time St. Louis has ever beaten Atlanta in The Hive, it is also the first time the Swarm scored less than 14 points since way back in Season 11, where they fell to the Queen City Corsairs, 25-10. A combination of safe football on offense and a smothering defence backed Atlanta into a corner and, despite a second half mini-comeback, the Gladiators eventually went in for the kill. The nail in the coffin at the close of the game summed up St. Louis’ defense: teamwork. Role player and backup safety, Graham Northrup, doesn’t see much playing time, but on Sunday, he was the hero. Knowing Atlanta had limited time and had to go for broke, the Gladiators overloaded in the secondary, Northrup covering short out routes – he spotted Dynasty looking to his left, saw the ball leave the QB’s hand and snagged it out of the air with exceptional skill for a non-contract player. Not done yet, Northrup then sprinted to the end zone, finishing the contest with a pick 6. The Gladiators didn’t have anyone with gaudy numbers that pop off the screen – this was a team effort. Often, individual stats pale to insignificance when a unit can come together and produce.

Swarm fall victim to a lack of sharpness…

A third quarter resurgence, led by BDG Hollewood, wasn’t enough for the previously unbeaten Swarm, who couldn’t quite break through the wall put up by St. Louis’ defence. Despite a strong defensive performance themselves – apart from a 2nd quarter in which St. Louis running back Kairo Martinez looked like a man possessed – the offence seemed blunt. We are used to seeing Atlanta prove dangerous in attack: it was strange to watch them play without any sting. Bryant Dynasty, a quarterback I often feel is one of the best in the SFL, played it safe for most of the game with short completions, but first downs were hard to come by. Atlanta finished the game with only 9 first downs and a paltry 23% on 3rd down. BDG Hollewood broke out a couple of spectacular plays in the 3rd quarter, shakin’ defenders out of their boots before scampering for over 20 yards or in one case, a nice TD, but for the most part he was well martialled. This loss may be slightly more concerning for the Swarm management because it was to a divisional opponent who now goes top of the division. I understand that there is plenty yet to play for, but tiebreakers could well come into play down the line – they always do. The main positive for the Swarm is that this may just be an anomaly. I predicted the Swarm to do well this season – 9-3 to be exact – and I still believe they will make the playoffs. The offence will pu this one down to a tough day against a great defence and move on. 

Charleston Predators 23-20 Portland Fleet

An experienced secondary is worth it’s weight in gold…

The Charleston Predators were on the verge of throwing away an excellent winning position in Portland at the weekend as they allowed the Fleet to come back from 17-0 down to having the ball in the red zone with the score poised at 23-17. A crucial stop forced a field goal and, a couple of minutes later, a cultured interception by Josh Riese sealed the deal, with OJ Bruin forcing the ball downfield as Portland went for the win. Without that interception from Riese and the other 3 turnovers affected by the older heads of the Predators’ defense, Charleston would not have own that game – at least in my opinion. Erich Hammer snagged the first from his linebacker spot, clasping his hands around the ball gratefully after Bruin’s short throw was tipped. The remaining two came at the end of the first half, perfectly timed as Portland looked to be gaining momentum. John Stamango rose highest for one, high-pointing Bruin’s deep pass down the middle for an athletic catch. Experienced CB Johnny Bravo then showed exceptional concentration as he tipped a pass gently into the air before turning his body and catching the INT on the second attempt. These pics came at such game-breaking times and each time it took Portland a few minutes to recover. The old boys at the back definitely earned a rest on Monday with that performance.

Different week, similar story…

I have mentioned a few times how much faith I had in Portland to do well this season – their trajectory was only going to go one way in my eyes and I even had them pipping Vancouver for the top spot in the Pacific Division. Right now, my prediction is looking as likely Robert Merrill being the rushing leader for Season18 – sorry London!. My wins estimate was based on OJ Bruin taking a step forwards in his sophomore season – he doesn’t appear to have done that yet. For what it’s worth, Portland’s receivers need to step up – Izrell Adams sits as their leading receiver with 157 yards on 13 catches – but with an elite running game and a defense that has looked solid, you have to do what it takes to get the win. There are few places to hide in this league, even fewer when other areas of the team are doing what they are supposed to. Bruin has shown nice touches – singular plays or drives within a game that make one stop and think ‘This guy has something about him’ but we don’t see it enough. The Charleston Predators were there for the taking on Sunday. One drive was all that was needed to claim a comeback victory. But, as we know, the offense fluffed it’s lines. Sonner or later, Bruin is going to have to find an inner connection with his receivers, especially Jean Valentine, otherwise playoff hopes are going to slowly sail away.

And that does it for our ‘Week 3’ 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.