Big name acquisitions shine as Las Rozas Black Demons hand Badalona Dracs their first loss in four years

4 years. 47 games. 188 quarters. 2,256 minutes of play.

That’s how long it’s been since the Badalona Dracs last fell in Spanish competition.

On Saturday, the Las Rozas Black Demons looked entirely unfazed by their opponent’s lofty record, steamrolling the four-time defending Spanish champions to the tune of 29-7. Playing their first game since December 13th, the team from Madrid showed off a quartet of high profile imports acquired in the interim and made a strong statement that they are the team to beat in Spain this year.

Leading the charge for the first time in Europe was Canadian quarterback Chris Merchant, a former Vanier Cup champion and Hec Crighton trophy winner as Canada’s top collegiate player. Merchant looked his vintage self in the debut, managing the game with poise and using his feet to make plays, but just like in his days with the Western Mustangs, it was a bruising offensive line that stole the show and made his job look easy.

Black Demons RB Marcos De La Mata finding running room Photo: Lola Morales (click to enlarge)

Backed up against his own goal line on the second drive of the game, Merchant introduced himself to the Spanish faithful with a perfect pass in stride to a streaking Nicolas Castagno for a gain of 71 yards. The star quarterback quickly got a taste of the quality of European competition however, as three plays later pressure in his face led to an errant throw and an interception by Dracs safety Pol Cunillera.

After a quick three and out, Merchant returned humbled and re-invigorated. He found former Florida State tight end Mavin Saunders for a 24-yard gain in traffic and then took full advantage of an additional penalty, faking a roll to the right and cutting back left for a five-yard rushing touchdown. The extra point was missed but Las Rozas claimed the first lead of the ball game.

The Dracs responded quickly to start the second quarter. Quarterback Cory Benedetto stepped up under pressure and heaved the ball 44-yards to Jordi Rua, who was tackled at the goal line. Benedetto wasted no time, following Eduard Molina’s lead block to take a 7-6 lead on the next play.

It wasn’t until the end of the first half that Las Rozas took full control. A spectacular scrambling touchdown pass from Merchant to Castagno was called back for holding, but the Canadian would not be denied. After Saunders failed to break the plane on the next play, Merchant carried it in himself off the right side and went back to the tight end for the two point conversion to go up seven at the half.

Photo: Lola Morales (click to enlarge)

The Badalona defense stepped up early in the third quarter, stopping Merchant on third and inches and forcing a punt that electric German-American Niko Lester returned for six, but the score was called back. The Dracs would not get close again and William Lloyd led a crew of Black Demon defenders to force a turnover on downs.

Las Rozas would lean on their running game for the rest of the night. Running back Javier Carrasco drove the field and Merchant absorbed a hellacious roughing the passer penalty to put the team in scoring position, but he couldn’t find a target on a fourth down attempt. It wouldn’t matter, as the Black Demons forced yet another three and out and former Clemson standout Darius Robinson broke two tackles on the ensuing punt to place the ball inside the five. Carrasco easily finished the job and Marcos De La Mata corralled an errant snap on the extra point to race in for two.

Badalona made a last gasp attempt to make the game competitive with backup quarterback Sergi Gonzalo, but his deep shot was intercepted by Robinson. De La Mata would add a 13-yard touchdown and the Black Demons flipped Spanish football on its head with a 29-7 victory.

In his first European action, Merchant was an efficient 10-of-18 for 193 yards and one pick, while adding 11 carries for 46 yards and two scores on the ground. Nicolas Castagno led the way with 99 yards receiving on two catches, but Mavin Saunders was the top target, hauling in four catches for 56 yards and making an impact as a blocker.

Javier Carrasco was relentless on the ground, finishing with 14 carries for 77 yards and a score, while Marcos De La Mata added 36 yards and six points of his own. The offensive line of Manuel Lortzing, Jesus Fernandez, Carlos Carrasco and David Contreras left bodies in their wake up front, but it was left tackle Doums Mamadou who stole the show, completely removing Badalona’s star defensive end Mike Taylor from the game.

The Black Demons defense was relentless all game Photo: Lola Morales (click to enlarge)

On the losing side, quarterback Cory Benedetto was nine of 21 for 111 yards and added a score on the ground before being replaced midway through the third quarter. Homegrown replacement Sergi Gonzalo failed to generate more himself, going 10-of-18 for 80 yards and a pick. Receiver Jordi Ruah was the top offensive weapon with three catches for 55 yards, but Austrian standout Dario Dobrolevski managed just one catch and running back Eduard Morlans was held to just nine yards by the swarming Las Rozas defense.

With the win, the Black Demons have created a seismic shift in the structure of Spanish football. Viewed last year as simply the top contender to knock the Dracs off their pedestal, they’ve spent the money and acquired the level of talent to now be considered favorites.

With a quarterback like Merchant at the helm, there is no telling what the team from Madrid can accomplish and Badalona head coach Oscar Calatayud will be counting down the days until he gets a chance to avenge the loss in the regular season finale.

Photos: Lola Morales

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.