Behind a stellar defense and the punishing running of Chris McClendon, the Braunschweig New Yorker Lions regained the trophy they had held for four straight years, knocking off the defending champion Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns 10-7 in Frankfurt Saturday with a crowd of almost 21,000 looking on in the stands along with a huge international viewing audience.
In a game dominated by defenses, McClendon carried the ball 28 times for 136 yards and scored Braunschweig’s lone touchdown, accounting for almost half of his team’s offense. Head coach Troy Tomlin stuck to his game plan of run the ball first as almost 70% of his team’s plays were on the ground.
The Lions broke open a 0-0 halftime deadlock, scoring a touchdown on their first second half possession, adding a field goal later in the third quarter to seal the win. Schwäbisch Hall scored a touchdown with under two minutes left but never saw the ball after that.
In other words, the two highest scoring teams in the league, who had averaged 43 points a game between them going into the title game, scored a total of 17 points.
To say defenses ruled the day would be an understatement.
Braunschweig quarterback Brandon Connette completed 13 of 18 passes for 156 yards with Mickey Kyei the leading receiver catching three of them for 57 yards. McClendon did the rest of the damage with his 136 yards to go along with one catch for four yards. In fact, of Braunschweig’s 56 plays from scrimmage, he accounted for more than half, 29.
The Lions ran a total of 56 plays from scrimmage averaging 5.8 yards a play. Schwäbisch Hall ran far fewer, 42 with an average of only 2.8 yards a play.
For the Unicorns, quarterback Jadrian Clark completed 15 of 26 passes for only 105 yards while as a team the Unicorns rushed for four yards total, a far cry from their average of 148 yards a game.
Again, this was a defensive battle royale from the opening whistle.
The first half saw the Unicorns trapped in their own end of the field for the entire opening two quarters, having to punt three times. For the entire season they had averaged only two punts a game. Clark was picked off once with Lions DB Basil Jackson intercepting him at the Braunschweig 27 yard line.
Meanwhile, the Lions, with McClendon running the ball, reached deep into Schwabisch Hall territory four times (18 yd line, 15, 39 and 26) coming away empty handed each time. Lions kicker Tobias Goebel missed field goal attempts of 49 and 44 yards (both short), but it seemed inevitable that the Braunschweig offense was going to find a way to score.
And that is what finally happened early in the second half as another punt by the Unicorns gave Braunschweig the ball in excellent field position, on the Schwabisch Hall 39 yard line. This time it was Connette’s arm that took them down to the Unicorns 10 yard line and McClendon finished the drive off, pounding the ball in and the Lions took a 7-0 lead.
Again, Clark and the Unicorns offense stalled and Braunschweig took over at their own 35 yard line. Connette marched them down to the nine yard line and this time Goebel made good, kicking a 26 yard field goal, extending the lead to 10-0.
In this game, this was a big lead.
Clark still could not get the Unicorns offense untracked and this played into the hands of the tough, Braunschweig ball control offense. The next drive by the Lions may have only been for 22 yards, but in nine plays it ate up over five and a half valuable minutes of playing time.
By the time the Unicorns got the ball back, they had to hurry. Clark was finally able to put together a sustained drive, moving his team 79 yards in nine plays, down to the Lions two. He connected with Joshua Haas and Schwabisch Hall crept closer, 10-7.
But with an offensive line playing superb football and Connette handling the offense, Braunschweig ate up the final minute and forty seconds easily and the Lions came away with their fifth German Football League title in seven years and first since 2016.
Game MVP McClendon was full of praise for the Unicorns while explaining that it was a team award:
“It was a hard fought game on both sides. I have a lot of respect for our opponents, the Unicorns. They have a great team and organization. But tonight our team came out with the victory. We fought until the end in the 2nd half and came out victorious. Winning the MVP award was an honor but the whole team deserves it because it took all of us to win. A big shout out to my Oline, Ben, Bobby, Basil, Garrett and VJ. Couldn’t have done it without you guys.”
“I played that game with a heavy heart. My grandad passed away Thursday and he told me to go win it this year. I did it and so this is for him too.”
“The event was a great success. The pregame fan festival was well done, the stadium is incredible, and the football fans are terrific….20,000 passionate fans and an entertaining game. It was an honor to see my first German Bowl. Exciting to think that I might have been watching a future star in the CFL.”