Barcelona Dragons upset Hamburg Sea Devils with gutsy road win

When the European League of Football first announced the creation of the Barcelona Dragons, many wondered if a team of players from a non-traditional football nation would be able to match the size and physicality of well-oiled German franchises.

It might be time to put that narrative to bed, as Barcelona withstood the ground and pound rushing attack of the reigning ELF runners-up on Sunday to defeat the Hamburg Sea Devils by a score of 24-21. There were no easy yards in what became a physical defensive battle in the second half, but the Dragons battened down the hatches and coasted to a road victory on the back of some early offensive fireworks.

Up against one of the league’s most popular teams, the Dragons laid all their cards on the table starting on the very first drive of the game. Head coach Andrew Weidinger opted to gamble on fourth-and-two from the Hamburg 38-yard line and let quarterback Zach Edwards do what he does best. The mobile playmaker stepped up and out of a collapsing pocket and lofted the ball over the pressure in his face to find running back Antonio Monton past the line to gain. As a result, the Dragons kept their opening series alive, and Edwards capped it with a 16-yard fade to import receiver Kyle Sweet to open the scoring.

Backed up by a penalty on the return, the Sea Devils couldn’t respond on the following drive and Edwards soon showed off some more magic, this time on the ground. Taking off on a designed quarterback draw from deep in his own end, the Barcelona signal-caller sliced through the center of the Hamburg defense like butter before veering down the right sideline for a 71-yard romp that was stopped shy of the end zone by safety Kevin Fortes. Two plays later, Sweet had the ball in his hands again on a three-yard touchdown toss and the Spanish underdogs were up by 14.

Hamburg finally returned the favor at the end of the first quarter, as receiver Lamar Jordan II spun out of an attempted tackle from linebacker Antony Rodrigues behind the line of scrimmage and scampered 38 yards on a screen pass to set his team up inside the five. British running back Glen Toonga waltzed in untouched on second-and-goal to get the home team on the board.

The second quarter began with three straight three-and-outs, but a 19-yard Toonga run kickstarted the Sea Devils’ offense midway through the frame. They would go on to use Barcelona’s aggressiveness against their quick passing offence against them, as Tobias Nill leaked out on a fake wide receiver screen and found himself all alone to catch a 30-yard touchdown pass from Salieu Ceesay and tie the ball game.

It seemed the tide had shifted in favor of the Sea Devils when import defensive back Daniel Brown Jr. picked off Edwards on the second play of the next series, but Ceesay failed to connect with former Dragons’ receiver Jean Constant on an ensuing fourth down gamble and Barcelona was off the hook. A missed 40-yard field goal from former NFL kicker Giorgio Tavecchio punctuated a lull in the action, but the Dragons were determined to get back on the board before the end of the half.

Barcelona Dragons QB Zach Edwards Photo: Barcelona Dragons

Going for it on fourth-and-10 with 1:36 remaining, a scrambling Edwards once again pulled a rabbit out of his hat and found Frenchman Benjamin Plu at the sticks for a first down. A few plays later, running back Antonio Monton took a shovel pass 15 yards up the gut, lowering his shoulder and summersaulting into the end zone after massive hit from Daniel Brown Jr. to retake the lead.

Neither team gained much traction in a scoreless third quarter, but Hamburg started to put things together in the frame’s final moments. Workhorse back Glen Toonga carried the ball 10 times on a 16-play, 66-yard drive but it was Simon Homadi and Ceesay who powered forward on a pair of pivotal fourth down conversions. The quarterback notched the finisher as well, plunging in from three yards out to knot the game at 21 at the start of the fourth quarter.

The Dragons were quick to respond however, as a 16-yard improvised rumble from Zach Edwards got them in plus-territory. Running back Adrian Jimenez powered for 15 more soon after and Tavecchio overcame a low snap to hit a 34-yard field goal and put the Spaniards up 24-21.

The Sea Devils couldn’t come up with a response offensively on their next drive, but the defense stepped up to give them another shot, as Evans Yeboah knocked the ball free from the grasps of an escaping Edwards and Tim Haenni recovered with 2:42 remaining. There was to be no riveting comeback however, as two incompletions from Ceesay and an unfortunate unsportsmanlike conduct penalty set up one final fourth-and-23. The Hamburg quarterback had no chance for heroics, as Barcelona linebacker Cesare Brugnani exploded off the edge for a highlight reel strip sack to seal his team’s victory.

As both offenses faltered in the second half, it was the defenses who shone. Brugnani finished tied for the team lead with 13 tackles, 1.5 sacks, two tackles for loss and the forced fumble, which he recovered himself. Linebacker Alex Posito also had 13 tackles, Alejandro Fernandez notched two tackles for loss, and import defensive end Michael Sam had half a sack. For Hamburg, Miguel Boock led the way with nine tackles, Ambroise Mati had the only sack, and Daniel Brown Jr. notched an interception for the second straight week.

Zach Edwards finished the game 23-of-40 passing for 202 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, while adding 108 yards on the ground. Both majors came courtesy of Washington State receiver Kyle Sweet, who finished with 12 catches for 86 yards.

Explosive Sea Devils receiver Jean Constant was held completely in check by his former ELF team, finishing with seven catches for just 28 yards. Lamar Jordan II led the way with five catches for 77 yards in that category, as young German pivot Salieu Ceesay completed 19-of-29 passes for 179 yard and one major, while adding another on the ground. As always, it was Glen Toonga who was the center of the Hamburg offense, carrying the ball 28 times for 124 yards and a score.

After the Dragons struggled mightily at the opening of the first ELF season, the league’s only Spanish franchise now sits 2-0 to open year two — in a three-way tie for first place in a Southern Conference that many pundits thought would be the weakest in league. There will be no taking them lightly anymore, as they have safely confirmed their contender status by knocking off a traditional German powerhouse.

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.