Written by Matthew Slinn
Images by J.R Lawless

Week 5 came and went and proved how much variance in game types the SFL can throw out week to week. We had tight, defensive affairs, high-scoring offensive extravaganzas and drama that trickled down to the very last second. Some teams continue to fill us with shock and awe, whilst others are seemingly fading into an all too familiar mediocrity. Let’s take another deep dive into what there was to be learned from Week 5.

What We Learned from Week 5

St. Louis Gladiators 20-23 Denver Nightwings

Phil Kos proves he is still one of the best…

So often, the Gladiators rely on the great hands of Eagle Mondavi or the battering ram shoulder of Kairo Martinez. These two playmakers have been at the heart of St. Louis’ recent successes and it becomes easy to forget that there is another playmaker on the roster, one that, on his day, could be considered as good as any tight end in the SFL. Of course, I’m talking about Phil Kos. Kos was a force to be reckoned with last weekend. St. Louis’ short yardage, possession holding game plan was built for a player like Kos to excel in and he did just that. The 6’5 tight end finished the game with 13 catches on 14 targets, 118 yards and a touchdown (easily his best performance of the season so far). Unfortunately for the Gladiators, a missed long range field goal and a second half resurgence by the home town Nightwings snatched victory, but one has to recognise a great performance when one sees it. Kos has been in the league for four seasons now. He is an experienced campaigner who remains a consistently solid option for Christian Brown. The next time Kos has a big game, the Gladiators may well come out with a victory.

Sometimes you don’t need most of the ball, sometimes you just need three big catches…

After a passive first half where they barely had the ball, the Denver Nightwings needed a spark. A second quarter interception by Nick Kindler didn’t seem to do the trick, but once the half-time oranges had been eaten and strong words spoken, Denver looked a different team. It only takes one domino to topple before the entire stack falls, and that first domino came in the form of a remarkable run after the catch by Bryce Battle. The slot receiver caught a short pass on the right hash mark before avoiding two would-be tacklers with a wicked spin move. He then showed more burst than I have ever given him credit for and scampered for 55 yards, nearly outstripping the remaining defenders. This catch led to a Baylee O’Shaughnessey touchdown to make it 10-10. Game on. An athletic Jose Fuentes interception then led to our second domino: Riley Quintero’s electric 47-yard touchdown. Quintero’s route saw him matched up against Geralt Winkler, one the SFL’s premiere safeties. The exciting receiver stole the ball out of the air, leaving Winkler clutching at nothing before sprinting into the end zone. 10-17. The final domino came much later in the game, with the scores 20-20, St. Louis having just missed their kick. 3rd and 6 on the Denver 47. Eric Price needed a big catch to get the drive going. He found one in Jeremy Moseley. Moseley showed unbelievable concentration and security to come down with the ball whilst getting popped in the ribcage. His clutch reception allowed Denver to play safe and dink the ball for a few yards at a time, getting Fenech into kicking range. The rest, as we so often say, is history. 

Louisiana Revolution 28-20 Atlanta Swarm

If you ever needed an example of why great Special Teams play is important…

Yes. It is official. You CAN win games by taking field goals more times than you score touchdowns. However, a few things need to be in place for that to happen. Firstly, you need to control the clock. Louisiana’s rough and ready offensive game plan did just that, taking over 26 minutes of clock to Atlanta’s 17. Secondary to this, you need to create turnovers. Once again, not an issue. The Revolution have one of the best secondaries in the league currently, and even a team that turns the ball over as little as Atlanta do, coughed up the rock five times. For reference, the Swarm had only given up 4 turnovers during the previous 4 weeks of the season. Thirdly, and probably most importantly, you need a kicker who can consistently slot it between the posts. In Otis Boudreaux, Louisiana has a leg that doesn’t appear to know how to miss. As the first kicker drafted in the Top 10 in SFL history (by the Las Vegas Fury back in Season 15) Boudreaux has always carried a certain level of pressure to perform. The 15 field goals he has made so far this season at a 100% clip wouldn’t lead you to believe it is affecting him, though. I know that not ever kick is created equal, but they all have to go over. The seven kicks that Boudreaux landed in Atlanta won the game for his team. You can’t ask for much more. 

Losses don’t look as bad when you lose pretty…

Talking about the Swarm’s heart-breaking final drive, which ended at the 1-yard line before time expired, and bringing up Bryant Dynasty’s tough second half would tell the story of the game more clearly, but I’m here to be mostly positive. Anyway, this is not a game recap. There are highlights for that sort of thing! I want to focus on how darned entertaining the Atlanta Swarm are to watch. They must be a neutral supporter’s dream. Boo Chisholm, B.D.G Hollewood, Jamal Wooding – all great playmakers, marshalled by the often brilliant, yet occasionally baffling Bryant Dynasty. You are guaranteed a big play play from at least two of them on each given week. Yes, I know I’ve missed out Siege Falco, but I’ve always seen Siege as more of a dependable red zone threat who will bag you a touchdown. Back to the weekend’s loss to Louisiana, the first half brought some memorable moments. Jamal Wooding struck first, stealing behind the Rev’s secondary to catch a bullet from Dynasty. Wooding didn’t quite have the legs to go all the way, but I still maintain he is the fastest tight end in the SFL. Next up, B.D.G Hollewood broke out his famous ‘spin cycle’ manoeuvre bamboozling everyone in the stadium and allowing him to rocket to a 70+ yard touchdown. Chisholm was next to ramp up the excitement, receiving a pass over the middle, only to get popped by Mike Ryan and fumble the ball (personally I didn’t believe he had proper possession). Granted, that is a negative highlight, but credit to Boo – it was extremely entertaining. The Swarm have taken a couple of bad losses at home in this young season – they need to figure out how to turn that around, otherwise entertaining the masses won’t be enough.

Lone Star Glory 25-21 Houston Hyenas

The Glory have a habit of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat…

Watching the highlights on YouTube to this game, I couldn’t believe what my eyes were telling me. Then I remembered that I was watching a Lone Star game, and last minute comebacks are becoming a bit of a habit. Mind you, what a fantastic habit to have. First, the crazy victory in London, and now this? Twenty-two unanswered points in the fourth quarter was what was needed – low key one of the best come-from-behind wins I’ve seen in the SFL. Ace Fenech was dialled in. Clutch passes to Greg Soto and Dave Axis (who made a beautiful catch in the corner of the end zone) started to drum up belief in the travelling Lone Star supporters and, after the onside kick, one final dart to Soto in the end zone proved to be the dagger. Fenech has easily been one of the most consistent quarterbacks of the past three seasons – a feat for which I don’t think he gets enough credit. Speaking of clutch, Mickey McGuire’s game sealing INT of Dave Burr was equally as remarkable. Knowing that Burr had to gamble, McGuire tracked his receiver perfectly, spotted the ball early and caught it with aplomb. Moments like this are why Lone Star are one of the most surprising teams in the SFL so far this season. Comebacks like this won’t happen all the time, but when they do, you have to stand and applaud. 

Houston’s new backfield is going to be a tough problem to solve…

The disappointment of defeat, at home, when in reality you should have won will still be stinging everyone involved with the Hyenas organisation. But on a positive note, the young backfield they have assembled is very, very dangerous. Behind the blocking of huge tight ends Randy Pierce and Stephen Walker and 6’7 offensive guard Ethan Kai, the Hyenas are quickly developing one of the best rushing offenses in the SFL, rivalling the likes of Mexico City and Florida. They aren’t quite at the level of a powerhouse team like D.C yet, but I can’t see them slowing down any time soon. Youngsters Brad Jones and Justin Williams make a strong and vibrant unit, Jones with his well-balanced running style and Williams mostly for his strength and solid run blocking. Jones hit the headlines once again at the weekend, methodically cutting through Lone Star’s defence for 105 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The smooth runner may not have the raw speed or power of some backs in the SFL, but he has a knack for coming through when it really matters, and responds well to a higher workload. It is clear that Houston’s coaches are happy for him to carry a large portion of the attack too – Jones has amassed 89 carries over four games. A date with Fort Worth comes next for Houston. I expect Jones to have another big game against a team shipping more than 100 rushing yards per game. 

Portland Fleet 34-47 San Diego Mavericks

This roster is too talented to be 0-5…

There is a reason why a lot of content creators and analysts predicted an advance for the Portland Fleet this season: the roster, on paper, is just very good. Ezekial Love is possibly the most destructive running back in the league (I know Kevin Seay has popped this season, but Love pound-for-pound is still my #1). The receiving corps, whilst not containing any stars, is a nice mix of experience and youth. Nelson Lozano is a dependable tight end. OJ Bruin, whilst still finding his feet, was predicted to make an advancement to ‘solid starter’ status. The defensive line is scarily good, led by former #2 pick, Vernard Patterson. The four-headed linebacking room is possibly the best in the entire SFL, again, on paper. The secondary is young, fast and in the past has been clinical when the ball is in the air. Turnovers have always come naturally to this aggressive backfield. For whatever reason, things just aren’t clicking into place. The 34-47 loss to San Diego demonstrated the best and worst of the Fleet. If you go on the road and score 30+ points, you should be annoyed that you didn’t come home with a W. But when you throw interceptions from your own end zone that result in a pick 6, or fumble punt returns when the game is on the line, maybe it is not a surprise. I have seen teams come back from an 0-4 start in the past to make the playoffs. The mathematical possibility is still there for Portland. A bye week to take stock of things is then followed up by a trip to Vancouver. A shock victory in Canada could be the boost the Fleet need to finally hit the open sea.

San Diego’s new additions are proving to be the difference…

There is always so much intrigue and furore around the SFL Free Agency period, and rightly so. Teams are scheming one way or another to put together a championship winning roster and the cut throat nature of free agency is infectious to those not directly involved. At this moment, it seems like San Diego won free agency in a very big way. First, we’ll start with wide receiver, Gunner Lewis, who has been a revelation since joining from the Sioux Falls Sparrows. Lewis put together a masterful performance against Portland, going for 196 yards on 17 catches and scoring twice. Given the size of his contract, the Mavs supporters would have been expecting gaudy numbers, but 6 TDs in 4 games will be higher than even their lofty expectations. San Diego clearly wanted another top receiver to partner Liam Hammer and help out rookie QB Scar Patterson. So far, Lewis has owned that role. Next, let’s flip field and look at a cornerback who grabbed a pick 6 vs the Fleet, Zak Ley. Ley jumped over from Charleston, where he was their #1 strong safety, to try and master the CB position in San Diego. Joined by the exciting Tom Creeg, Ley is doing a fantastic job of holding down that #1 spot – he has taken to coverage at the CB position better than many thought he would. Ley has grabbed 3 picks so far this season – not a bad haul for a player changing positions. These two signings are just the tip of the free agency ice berg for the Mavericks. They are a vastly different team from the one that couldn’t to buy a win two seasons ago. I have to admit: I underestimated them. 

And that does it for our ‘Week 5’ 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.