Badalona Dracs eke out victory over winless Murcia Cobras

Just when it seemed the vaunted Badalona Dracs had successfully turned the corner after uncharacteristic early season struggles, the once untouchable franchise looked distinctly beatable once again on Saturday.

A week after dominating the winless Murcia Cobras in a 42-6 blowout courtesy of veteran Spanish quarterback Sergi Gonzalo, the Dracs stumbled often in the rematch, eking out a 21-13 win despite a wildly inconsistent outing from the signal caller.

Few could have suspected just how close the Cobras would come to downing the four-time reigning Spanish champions based on how the game began. Jordi Brugnani took the opening kickoff all the way to the Cobras‘ 33-yard line and Gonzalo found Austrian weapon Dario Dobrolevski for 22 yards right off the bat to make it first and goal. Four plays later, Gonzalo carried it in himself to open the scoring.

The Dracs struck even faster on their next drive. With time in the pocket, Gonzalo found Javier Fernandez in behind coverage and the Cobras could only watch as he raced 73 yards for the touchdown. The extra point was deflected wide but Badalona entered the second in complete control with a 13-0 lead.

Badalona Dracs WR Jamier Fernandez hauling in a TD pass from QB Sergi Gonzalo Photo: Badalona Dracs

That looked to continue early in the second when scrambling Murcia quarterback Robert Paul Cuda was stripped by Alex Gonzalez and linebacker Nikolas Knoblauch recovered, but when Gonzalo trotted back onto the field, he was seeing ghosts. The veteran pivot threw two wildly off target passes then short armed it to the wide side on third down, allowing Sebastian Castaner to come up with the easy interception and waltz in untouched for six.

Gonzalo’s afternoon would not get any better, as he completed just three passes the rest of the game, finishing 7-of-21 passing for 114 yards, one touchdown and one pick with almost all of his positive plays coming on the first two drives.

The Cobras attempts to tie the game before halftime were brought to a halt by a Nikolas Knoblauch strip sack, but the team put together a clock-eating drive to start the third quarter. Three massive penalties by the Dracs placed the ball inside the five-yard line but their defense held firm, forcing three consecutive losses. Discipline issues reared their ugly head again when Murcia gambled on fourth and long however. Cesar Brugnani was called for a facemask while sacking Robert Paul Cuda and the quarterback took his revenge with a 15-yard touchdown strike to Jose Sotomayor.

Tied after a missed extra point, the Dracs found themselves in an unusually tight contest against an under-manned opponent and without their typical passing efficiency to rely on. They found the answer on the ground and powerhouse back Eduard Molina broke the stalemate, making the first tackler miss and rumbling for a 40-yard touchdown on the next drive. Gonzalo connected with Borja Vilanova for the two point conversion to make it an eight point game.

Molina’s run would prove to be the game’s deciding play. While Gonzalo continued to fire blanks, pressure disrupted Cuda for much of the fourth quarter and one final desperate heave was intercepted by Jordi Brugnani to seal the Dracs narrow victory.

Murcia Cobras QB Robert Cuda #7 was under pressure all game Photo: Badalona Dracs

With the offense failing, Badalona’s defense stepped up with five sacks. Nikolas Knoblauch and Pep Tricas each posted 1.5 quarterback takedowns, Mike Taylor III had another and both Felipe Archilla and Ezequiel Pizarro had an assist. Eduard Molina kept the team in the contest, rushing 10 times for 90 yards and a score.

On the other side, Robert Paul Cuda helped his team punch above their weight class with his work on the ground, taking off 12 times for 72 yards. He completed 11-of-20 passes for 99 yards, one touchdown and a pick, with Jose Sotomayor being his favorite target with four catches for 46 yards and a touchdown. Antonio Monton carried 13 times for 34 yards to round out the offensive leaders and Alberto Del Cerro had the team’s only sack.

Badalona left the field with a victory, but far more concerns than their winless opponent with the playoffs fast approaching. Uncharacteristically, discipline continues to be an issue for Oscar Calatayud’s squad and the Cobras were gifted almost as much yardage as they gained, while Gonzalo’s erratic outing could leave the club contemplating other options under center.

The biggest question in Spanish football continues to be which Dracs team will show up week to week: the powerhouse of old or its vulnerable counterpart. Badalona will need a permanent answer soon.

J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.