Written by Matthew Slinn
Images by J.R Lawless

Week 6 was perhaps the most competitive week we have seen across the season so far. Other than one game that sticks out, teams played each other hard and kept each other honest. As we reach the second half of Season 18, it’s great to see coaches really get to grips with their strategies, making the SFL even more tense and entertaining. 

What We Learned from Week 6

Denver Nightwings 34-37 Arizona Scorpions

Is Quintero really Denver’s #1?…

There is no doubt that Riley Quintero has something special about him. Ever since he burst onto the scene for the Birmingham Fuel in the SFLm Season 2, Quintero has made big plays – especially in the return game. But, is he being overshadowed by Denver’s more experienced receivers? The numbers indicate that he is. The young star hasn’t been bad – his kick return on the opening kick off against the Scorpions was electric – but Logan Keel has been fantastic. Keel is having the best season of his career, already reaching over 500 receiving yards and a league-leading 7 TDs. #82 was at his best again vs Arizona, scoring a pair of short range touchdowns despite being held in check for much of the contest by Arizona’s impressive pass defense. Despite the loss, Week 6 showed that Keel can do more than just act as a deep threat. His threat to defenses doesn’t subside in the red zone – it may even increase. If the Nightwings are going to make it back to the SFL playoffs after they missed out in Season 17, they need to keep using Keel regularly. 

Jackson and the D-Line ensure a memorable victory…

Last weekend was a great show of fight by the Arizona Scorpions. Being down for the majority of the game, as much as 14-3 at one point, they could have easily folded. Roared on by a home crowd that hadn’t seen a home victory this season, the Scorpions wrestled back momentum in the last few minutes of the game, scoring with a minute left and stopping Denver short of field goal range on the ensuing drive. The game-winning drive by the Scorpions was an example of great play calling and execution. Ashley Jackson showed poise that I wish we saw more often, sending a strike down the middle of the field to tight end Will Todd in the end zone. It will have been pleasing to Arizona offensive staff to see Todd get into the end zone as he takes on a larger role with the loss of the Hands brothers last off-season. After the jubilation of the touchdown, the defensive line killed the game off. The Scorpions have long had one of the more talented defensive lines in the SFL, and they were once again dominant, limiting Baylee O’Shaughnessey from fully getting going and sacking Eric Price 3 times. The Nightwings were forced into a 4th and 24, a near impossible situation which they couldn’t get out of, sealing the victory for Arizona – yes, I know the ensuing punt was blocked, but the complicated ruling still fell their way. The Scorpions have found it tough so far this season, but the West is yet to show a front runner. Getting to .500 next week in St. Louis shouldn’t be beyond them.

Florida Storm 24-41 Vancouver Legion

Biletsky is Florida’s best since Ash Odom…

Week 6 brought an inconsistent performance from the Florida Storm as they were outgunned by the Vancouver Legion in the 4th quarter. One player who brought his entire arsenal of weapons to the fight though, was Charlie ‘Bullet’ Biletsky. The 4th season veteran gained an impressive 202 yards and 3 TDs on 23 touches, including 144 yards on the ground; he only carried the ball 11 times. Pushing aside the fact that Florida didn’t give him the ball more often, it’s impossibly to deny that Biletsky is firmly in the B.D.G Hollewood conversation as ‘shiftiest back in the league’. The bag of tricks ‘Bullet’ put on display made Vancouver’s defence look like they were chasing a ghost. I haven’t seen strings of moves like that so regularly since Barry Sanders played for the Detroit Lions – full disclosure – I was only six years old when he retired. With Ron Cockren seemingly on a bit of a down year, by his high standards, the running game has had to step up in a big way. Biletsky, following excellent blocking by fullback, J.W Doyle, has steadied the ship, keeping the Storm in the top half of the league when it comes to overall scoring offence. Florida are keeping pace in an Atlantic division that looks more competitive than we have ever seen it to be. A crucial divisional match up with Charleston looms in Week 7.

Tom Pepper regains some of his spice…

It’s no secret that the Florida Storm have one of the best defenses in the SFL, especially against the pass and on third down. It’s also no secret that, up until this home victory, Vancouver’s usual ‘big play’ offense has been a little off – Pepper hasn’t been clicking with his receivers quite like we are used to. Then, Week 6 happened. After a quiet 1st half that looked like ‘more of the same’ from Tom Pepper and co’, the Legion’s offense ignited. Every player was winning their individual battles. The O-Line gave great protection, Pepper was placing the ball in the right spot most of the time and his receivers were not only winning the catch, but tacking on yards after it too. Brett Killian summed up the game most effectively on his 69-yard TD catch, one of two on the day. BK12 hung in the air on a corner route, beating Ryan Davidson on the jump before streaking past a flailing Andrew Francis and breaking through the despairing arm tackle of free safety, Adrian Blaine. Pepper would throw 4TDs during the game, but that one, in particular, sticks in the memory. As Pepper’s confidence increased, so did the space for Robert Redford to exploit. Redford started to break the tackles of a tiring Storm D and finished the game with well over 100 yards of his own. When Vancouver play the way they did in the second half, no defence can handle them – they look to have the Pacific division locked up tight, unless San Diego can mount a serious challenge. 

Jacksonville Kings 16-45 Los Angeles Lycans

A game to forget…

Coming into Week 6, the Jacksonville Kings were in the healthiest position they have been in since blowing up the roster a couple of seasons ago and starting a rebuild. They were sitting pretty on a 3-1 record, joint top of the Atlantic Division with Florida, facing a team that has struggled to get things going offensively all season. The explanation as to why the Kings were dominated in every facet of the game is unclear – it’s obvious that it should be put down to an ugly road trip for a ‘still developing’ team and that a return home to face San Diego is the perfect opportunity to get one back against the Pacific. One thing they need to worry about next week, is facing another power back in Jaylin Wells. Now, I’m not saying Wells has the calibre of Robert Johnson, who abused the Kings last weekend, but the tackling is something that needs to be cleaned up. Stewart Zomelia, in particular, was unceremoniously put down by a Johnson shoulder at least three times, an experience the young safety will surely learn from. Marcus Dunhill also needs to clean up his play – for an experienced, title-winning QB like him, 17 INTs in 5 games is unacceptable. The Mavericks don’t have the most aggressive secondary in the league, but they will take the bal away from you if given an easy chance. Zac Holldorf needs to be avoided, if possible. So, what did we learn from Week 6 about the Kings? Nothing much, just areas they need to tighten up heading into Week 7. I’m expecting a much more complete performance, especially in front of an expectant home crowd. 

RJ33 taking names all night…

Every season, one game comes along where Robert Johnson decides that he can’t be tackled – it’s just not worth it for defenders – safe yourself an embarrassing highlight. Now, personally I’d like to see Johnson unleash his inner ‘Beast Mode’ more often, because when he does, it’s as entertaining as the SFL gets. Johnson trucked his way to 170 yards and 2TDs at a clip of over 7 yards per carry. As I did with Vancouver and Brett Killian, I’m going to describe a run that has lodged itself into my short term memory, more than the rest, just so those that didn’t see the game can get a feel for this man’s ruthless style. Taking the ball on his own 39-yard line, Johnson ran out to the right of his O-Line, using a shity move to avoid Taqwuan Hale who had beaten his blocker all ends up. He proceeded to lower his shoulder into linebacker John Martin, usually sturdy in the tackle, forcing #55 to taste the cold turf. Not finished yet, RJ33 shrugged off a strong hit by Greg Gaines before making cornerback Terrence Pearson look like a child playing a man’s game. The rest of the TD run, he remained untouched, having enough speed to beat non-contract safety, Will Parker, to the end zone. Johnson continued to run with power and explosiveness rarely seen, even in the SFL, and helped L.A capitalise on the turnovers forced by Rachelle Colston and that dangerous secondary. One more big advantage Johnson’s performance brought – a turnover free game by Sully Richardson on limited throws. Maybe limiting the use of the passing game is the blueprint for success in L.A.

Baltimore Vultures 26-20 Queen City Corsairs

The Vultures do have a back-up plan…

We knew it would happen eventually. We knew that Baltimore’s passing game would come up against a secondary that was ready for them and ‘Plan B’ would need to come into effect. Well, it wasn’t pretty, but the Vultures found a successful ‘Plan B’ and scraped out a victory on Monday night. Now, it is no secret that running back Jimmy Hazzard hasn’t exactly had a professional view on practice this season – I’m not sure whether it is a contract hold out or he doesn’t like the pass heavy offense, but Hazzard hasn’t turned up mid-week since the opening week of the season. However, when called upon last Monday, he was ready. Hazzard, who’s usage only surpasses that of Robert Merrill in London, showed what he could do with 20+ carries – 116 yards and a pair of touchdowns, one coming crucially near the end of the game. The shifty back showed good burst and body control in contact, breaking tackles more often than not and earning the hard yards on first and second down. With Wigmore having a bad game, despite making a couple of insane throws on third down, the role of Hazzard and fullback T-Roy Gaines magnified significantly. They did just enough to keep Baltimore undefeated and alone atop the North division – D.C suffered their first defeat at the weekend. 

Five reasons why Queen City should have won that game…

I left the broadcast of that game with a gut instinct that this game was there for the taking for QCC. They may not have been the better team, in fact it was remarkably even, but when you hold the free-scoring SFL Champs to under 30 and within 6 points, you have to grab that opportunity. I will be as succinct as possible, but here is why the Corsairs ‘should’ have come out on top. 

  • In the 1st quarter, King Jamaal picked off Wigmore, only to fumble and give the ball right back to the Vultures, from which they scored a field goal (3 points)
  • At the start of the 2nd quarter, the Corsairs got Baltimore to 4th and inches, outside of field goal position. On 4th down, Andre Krimm jumps offsides and the Vultures move within field goal range (3 points)
  • Later in the 2nd, QCC commit a facemask penalty on T-Roy Gaines, giving Baltimore further yardage which, once again, led to a field goal (3 points)
  • Moving into the 4th, QCC have Baltimore at 3rd and 13 – BJ Loveless comes on a blitz and hits Wigmore just as he releases the ball, only to see it fly into the hands of a leaping Baltimore receiver for a first down, which led to a TD (7 points)
  • QCC force Baltimore to a field goal, giving them the ball with just over a minute left. Caswell throws an interception, giving Baltimore the game

I know that a ocuple of those bullet points can be attributed to great play in the clutch by the Vultures, but when you have the ball last in any game, you have to close it out. This was a huge missed opportunity for the Corsairs – they remained rooted to the foot of the North Division. 

And that does it for our ‘Week 6’ edition! Please, keep giving me feedback, good or bad. It really helps to summise how many people of the community are enjoying the content. Thank you.