AFI Game of the Week: Brazil – Recife Mariners v. UFERSA Petroleiros

Recife Mariners (Recife, Pernambuco)


UFERSA Petroleiros (Mossoró, Rio Grande do Norte)

Saturday, September 3
2:00 PM
Estadio Aflitos – Recife, Pernambuco

The Stakes

For the Mariners, a win against the up-and-coming team from Mosorró will be crucial and allow them to move into a 3-1 tie with Joao Pessoa atop the Conferencia Nordeste standings. They will need to move the football against a speedy and aggressive Petroleiro defense.

The Players


  • The super-talented Alex Niznak continues his development as the Mariners signal caller. This will be Niznak’s third game running the Mariner high-tempo attack, since coming to Brazil directly from Sweden, where he played for the Tyreso Royal Crowns. Niznak has spread his three TD passes this season to Ricardo Texeira, Julio Adeodato and Augusto Bezerra. Niznak has also run for a TD.
  • Lucas Adolfo is an athletic back with the ability to run tough. His conditioning and the ability to carry the ball multiple times per drive in a hurry-up tempo has been a key to the brutal pace that the Mariner offense has clipped this year. Adolofo has 2 rushing touchdowns and a receiving score.Behind Adolfo, the Mariners will intensify their tempo.
above: Lucas Adolfo, running back, Recife Mariners. Photo Credit:

above: Lucas Adolfo, running back, Recife Mariners. Photo Credit: Tiago Giordani Photo

‘’As an offensive unit we have focused on communication on the field and from the sideline. This excites me because it allows us to adjust faster and dictate what we want to do. Individually I feel we have the best strength coach in international football anywhere in the world, the time we have had to work with him as a team and myself individually has been very helpful,’’ said Niznak.

  • The Mariner defense swarms to the football and is led by linemen, Diogo Sales, Nelson Ferreira and Tulio Albuquerque. The speedy Samuel Braz holds down the linebacker corps., while veteran safety, Junior ‘’The Dentist’’ Borges keys the secondary along with Bruno Top, who has one pick-6 on the season.


  • The Petroleiro defense is led by one of the best line-backing duos in the country, Ricardo Vicente and Junior Sena. Their long arms allow these two speedsters to leverage blockers and scrape to the football, and they are both aggressive, violent athletes.‘’ I think their defense plays hard and shows great effort. They clearly love the game and have fun playing,’’ said Niznak, of his Saturday opponent.
above: Petroleiros LB/TE extrordinaire, Junior Sena. Photo credit: Junio Sena's Facebook page

above: Petroleiros LB/TE extrordinaire, Junior Sena.
Photo credit: Junior Sena’s Facebook page

  • Running backs Ray Bradley and Renan Oliveira will carry the load for the Petroleiros and a rushing attack that averages 140 yards a game.
  • Jonathan Smith and Lucas Vinicius have split time at quarterback this year – the Petroleiros are tight lipped about how they will utilize each of these talented athletes on Saturday. Whoever is taking snaps (in most games this season, both do), they will be targeting Joao ‘’Alemao’’ Carlos and Cena (who also lines up at tight end when not tackling ball carriers).

The Game

  • It’s up-tempo offense vs. one of the fastest defenses in the country. Can Junior Sena and Ricardo Vicente get the stops the Petroleiros need to allow their offense to run the ball and eat clock? Or will the Niznak Magic lead to lots or Mariner points and a route?‘’ Playing fast is who we are, it is in our DNA. It is a system we believe in here and produces a product that we feel will allow us to be successful at a high level and also be fun to watch,’’ said Niznak.
  • The Recife fans look to be a difference maker for the home squad: ‘’Playing at home in Recife in front of our fans is an honor and exactly where we want to be. We receive great support here and we are very proud to carry the title as the team of the city. We are excited to host (Petroleiros) here for a great game,’’ said Niznak.
  • The Petroleiro defense has forced 11 turnovers this year in 4 games. Can they continue this trend?

The Storylines

  • The Petroleiros have the support of an entire university (University Federal Rural do Semi-Arido) and have some athletes. Brazil’s American football development has exploded, and in that environment, it takes more that athletes and support to contend for a conference title, but the Petroleiros appear to be on the right track. They own a speedy defense, headlined by two aggressive, violent, physical specimens at linebacker, Junior Sena and Ricardo Vicente.
above: Junior Borges returns one of the many interceptions that he has appropriated during his career leading the Recife Mariner secondary. Photo Credit: Zero4 facebook page:

above: Junior Borges returns one of the many interceptions that he has appropriated during his career leading the Recife Mariner secondary.
Photo Credit: Zero4 facebook page:

  • To add to their move to become an influential team in Conferencia Nordeste, the Petroleiros have invested in their coaching staff, sending Head Coach, Rafael Natan and Defensive Coordinator, Armando Gomes, to spend Spring football with the Georgetown University coaching staff. They also boast one of Brazil’s growing group of talented young coaches, in the 18 year old boy-wonder coach, Heitor Medeiros.
  • Is this the year of the Mariners? In an ascendance that all teams in Conferencia Nordeste likely aspire to, the Mariners have taken the lead in challenging the hegemony that is the Joao Pessoa Espectros, the only team that has currently ever represented the region in a national championship game. The Espectros, the defending CBFA National Champions, were beaten twice by the Mariners last season, and needed a last second victory to escape a third defeat in the national semi-finals. The Mariners appeared to be on track to finally reach the Nordeste mountain top, when knocked off by fellow contender, the Ceara Caçadores, who in the win, may have also divulged the formula to slowing down the Mariner attack.
18 year old Petroleiros Coach, Heitor Medeiros is one of the brightest shining stars in Brazil's youth movement of football coaches. photo credit: Facebook page of Hetor Medeiros

18 year old Petroleiros Coach, Heitor Medeiros is one of the brightest shining stars in Brazil’s youth movement of football coaches.
photo credit: Facebook page of Hetor Medeiros

‘’The Caçadores showed us the formula to beat a great Mariners team,’’ said Petroleiros DC, Armando Chaves. ‘’The ran the ball more than 60 times. Our focus is to hold on to the football,’’ he said.

  • It is an enormous step in Brazilian football, that the competitive gap is closed to the point that a team with no chance of a post season birth can potentially, with coaching, defense, and ball control, play spoiler to one of the favorites to win a playoff spot. The significance of this is that many teams, in various regions, with different types of resources and approaches, are developing strong American football programs throughout the country.
  • Alex Niznak as another high-profile player to love his experience in the exploding market of American football in Brazil: ‘’ Football in Brazil is growing fast, maybe faster than anywhere else in the world. The progress they have made in 10 years is amazing. My personal adjustment here has been a journey but an exciting one. I’m surrounded by great people that help me every day. The food and the weather in Brazil is some of the best in the world. From the day I got here, the Mariners organization took me in and treated me like family. I believe strongly in servant leadership, it’s impossible to be the captain of a ship if you are not willing to row the boat as well so when I got here I simply tried to work as hard as I could and learn as fast as I could. I believe this approach helped me learn about our guys and let them learn about me and how I like to lead,’’ he said.

The Quotes

‘’Well, we have not had a lot of time between the Caçadores game and this game, so we really only focused on regrouping and getting ready to face the Petroleiros. We’ve been talking the whole season about how adversities would arise and it’s how we face them that will define us, this is an opportunity to live up to that philosophy.’’ – Mariners Head Coach, Lucas Cisneros

‘’The Petroleiros are a very well coached team, they always play us very tough and we know we have to bring our ‘A game’ tomorrow.’’ – Mariners Head Coach, Lucas Cisneros

‘’They have one of the best secondaries in Brazil. We have to minimize turnovers.’’ – Petroleiros Defensive Coordinator, Armando Gomes

‘’We will approach the game tomorrow against the Petroleiros the same way we approach every game this season. Every team in our conference is dangerous and should not be overlooked.’’- Mariners Defensive Lineman, Tulio Albuquerque

‘’They key will be to win the little things: not turn the ball over and convert our third downs,’’ – Petroleiro Head Coach, Rafael Natan

Clayton Lovett has served football in Brasil in a variety of roles, including as the member of the coaching staff of two CBFA national champions (Cuiaba Arsenal 2010, 2012). Football is his hobby. Professionally, he is the founder of CS Educacional,