Finland Downs Sweden to Take Lead in Annual Challenge

Team Finland used a strong first and fourth quarters and took advantage of a penalty-prone Swedish national team to defeat Sweden 31-17 Saturday in Helsinki, Finland. In the Viking Line Bowl, the annual grudge match played between these two countries regularly since 1992, Finland took a 11-10 lead in victories.

Finnish running back Veikka Lehtonen scored three touchdowns and rushed 18 times for 64 yards to pace his team as he seemed unstoppable inside the red zone. Finland’s quarterback Otso Flinkman had a quiet game completing just nine of 20 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown. Finland’s other running back Alexander Kuronen had 73 yards rushing on 10 carries. Wide receiver Tommi Pinta scored Finland’s other touchdown.

Swedish quarterback Anders Hermodsson led all rushers with 122 yards rushing but completed only six of 16 passes for 92 yards. Philip Juhlin, who alternated with Hermodsson, threw for only 49 yards on five of 12 passing. However, it is tough to win when you take too many penalties. Team Sweden head coach Andreas Ehrenreich cannot be happy with the 14 penalties his team took which cost them 165 yards and plenty of momentum.

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Finnish WR Tommi Pinta scoring on beautiful corner route. Photo: FSC Media/Riku Flink

Finland jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, scoring on their first two possessions as Sweden could not get untracked. The overnight ferry ride from Stockholm to Helsinki seemed to have disrupted the Swedish offense as neither quarterback could find a rhythm. Finland had no such problems as Lehtonen scored two of his three touchdowns in the first quarter as Finland used the running game effectively, especially in the red zone. Much credit has to go to Finland’s offensive line. They were opening holes for both running backs all game.

Sweden finally got on the scoreboard in the second quarter with Hermodsson rushing for a total of 70 yards capping the drive with a 14 yard scoring pass to Andre Holgård to pull to within 14-7. Neither team could move the ball well again before the half as both offenses sputtered.

A timely interception early in the third quarter by Swedish linebacker Eric Murphy gave Team Sweden the ball at Finland’s 38 yard line, but despite moving down to the 11 yard line, they had to settle for a Hampus Simon field goal to draw closer, 14-10.

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Finland’s Okko Outinen (#90) tracking down Swedish RB Emil Knutsson Photo: FSC Media/Riku Flink

Then Kuronen made his first mistake of the ball game, fumbling on his own 18 yard line. Sweden wasted no time as Hermodsson found running back Emil Knutsson wide open in the end zone giving Sweden their only lead of the game, 17-14.

Finland regained the lead on the very next possession as Flinkman drove his team 83 yards in six plays, capping the drive with a 23 yard touchdown pass to Tommi Pinta and Finland went back ahead 21-17.

Finland was awarded a safety on Sweden’s first possession of the fourth quarter as Juhlin was trapped in the end zone after intentionally grounding the ball according to the referees.

Finnish head coach Tuomas Heikkinen then wisely kept it simple on the ensuing drive. Starting from their own 35 yard line, Finland marched down the field handing the ball off to either Kuronen or Lehtonen with Lehtonen rushing over left guard to give Finland a 31-17 lead they would not relinquish. Not once did they throw on the seven play drive but they ate up over four minutes on the clock.

Sweden got no closer than the Finnish 20 yard line after that. Hermodsson saw his fourth down pass attempt fall incomplete with just under a minute left and Finland had broken the series deadlock.

Photo credit: FSC Media

Roger Kelly
Roger Kelly is an editor and a writer for AFI. A former PR Director the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League for 7 years, he now lives in Sweden writing about and scouting American Football throughout the world.
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