Badalona Dracs overcome self-inflicted wounds to down Hurricanes in Zaragoza

As the old coaching cliche goes, it’s a lot easier to learn and make corrections after a win than it is a loss. Cliche it may be, but that will certainly be the case at the Camp Municipal de Montigalà in the coming days.

The Badalona Dracs played a sloppy game against the Zaragoza Hurricanes on Sunday afternoon in Aragon, complete with several careless penalties and multiple turnovers. However, all that truly matters is the record next to their name, which reads 5-0 after the Dracs took down the Hurricanes 27-21.

“A win is a win,” quarterback Kevin Doyle said. “We can’t discredit that because we play hard to get these wins, but that doesn’t mean we’re satisfied.”

Sunday’s game was never going to be easy. Zaragoza played Badalona close the first time the two teams faced off back on January 14 in Catalunya, losing just 13-0. This time, both sets of coaches had film to break down and ideas of where to exploit which led to a higher-scoring game in which momentum swayed like a pendulum.

The Dracs’ defense will want to forget its first series on the field as the unit nearly generated more flags than positive, destructive moments. Numerous mistakes kept the Hurricanes’ offense on the field for over half the first quarter and prompted an immediate regrouping on the sideline after it finally forced a turnover on downs.

Photo: Mohamed Saleem

As soon as his defense stepped off the field, defensive coordinator Victor Perez huddled the unit together and in no uncertain terms let them know he wouldn’t tolerate any more mistakes. The message included a few bits of colorful language as he ensured his message got across.

“I think [the meeting] juiced us up and gave us more confidence,” defensive back Jeremiah Gutierrez said. “I felt like we needed that for sure. We needed to execute the simple stuff, which is all in the details.”

Soon after the Dracs began to click. Running back Edu Molina opened the scoring, breaking through the host’s defense for a long touchdown run after he found space in the second level. Then Gutierrez got in on the fun with his first touchdown as a Drac, a pick-six in which he snatched the ball out of the air, reversed field and eventually tumbled into the end zone.

“I’m reading the quarterback, looking at my defender and it was just a tipped ball that I made a play on,” Gutierrez said. “Then I just tried to get to the open field, hit the sidelines and ended up scoring the touchdown.”

That was one of two touchdowns the American import scored Sunday afternoon with the second coming on offense on a designed run play in the second half. The natural defender could find himself with more offensive touches going forward after the midseason retirement of Edu Morlans.

Zaragoza receiver Aaron David scored the next 14 points on his own, first by winning a jump ball on the Dracs’ sideline before outracing his defender to the end zone and then another on a short reception in the red zone after his team forced a turnover.

“Credit to the Hurricanes, they came out and put a good game plan together,” Doyle said. “It’s hard to beat a team twice.”

Those self-inflicted wounds were the story of the game for the visitors. An interception while knocking on the door of the red zone, several fumbles, penalties –– it all allowed Zaragoza to stay in the game for longer than anyone on the Dracs’ sidelines was happy with.

Photo: Mohamed Saleem

While plenty to clean up, there were moments of positivity for coach Roman Villamonte’s team as well. A 14-0 and 13-0 run, one in each half, allowed the Dracs to seize momentum twice and proved they could play through in-game adversity. The defense once again came up with several turnovers, including one by Eric Gracia that set up a touchdown by Raúl Cernuda.

“The drives before and after halftime were when I saw a good offense,” Cernuda said. “It wasn’t our 100% potential, but it was 70% and we can improve on that. At halftime we worked on our mentality as a whole offense. I think we addressed that really well.”

The Hurricanes had one final opportunity to upset the Dracs in the final two minutes, but failed to find the end zone and ultimately turned the ball over on downs.

“The defense came out and they won us this game,” Doyle said. “They got the turnovers and special teams played a huge part as well. I know the offense will get better. I’m not worried, I’m just impatient.”

Thankfully for Badalona, nobody is going to remember how Sunday’s game played out come April. It was ugly with glimpses of positivity few and far between. But the Dracs accomplished all it set out to do: win. They didn’t play well and left a lot to be desired, but at 5-0 it serves as an unpleasant lesson rather than a painful ‘what-if’ en route to another playoff berth.