AFI Game of the Week: Brazil – João Pessoa Espectros v. Recife Mariners

João Pessoa Espectros (João Pessoa, Paraiba)

v.

Recife Mariners (Recife, Pernambuco)

Sunday, September 24th
2:00 pm
Vila Olímpica – João Pessoa, Paraiba

To steal a phrase from Pittsburgh Steelers running back, DeAngelo Williams, this weekend in Brazil’s CBFA Superliga will see quite a few ‘’two chin-strap games.’’ With undefeated records and conference titles on the line in Conferencia Sul and Conferencia Oeste, and the opportunity to secure home field advantage at stake in Conferencia Nordeste, AFI couldn’t pick just one game, so here is a quick run-down of three of the most anticipated, talent-packed contests taking place this weekend. Yesterday, we touched on Cuiaba Arsenal v. Tubaroes do Cerrado and Curitiba Crocodiles v. White Sharks-Istepos. Today it is all João Pessoa Espectros v. Recife Mariners.

The Stakes

The 4-1 Espectros have clinched playoff birth and aim to secure at least one home game in the playoff with a win over their rivals from Recife. The Mariners, at 3-1 secure a playoff birth with a win. The 3-1 Ceara Caçadores, who have beaten both teams, will be watching this scoreboard intently.

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Above: The João Pessoa Espectros hope to give their home fans much to cheer about Sunday against the Recife Mariners.

The Players

Mariners:

  • The super-talented Alex Niznak continues his development as the Mariners signal caller. This will be Niznak’s has come into his own running the Mariner high-tempo attack, since coming to Brazil directly from Sweden, where he played for the Tyreso Royal Crowns.

    ‘’He (Niznak) is a big, tall quarterback who is not afraid to get hit on release. He is patient and knows how to stay in the pocket,’’ said Espectros safety, Edvaldo ‘’Pezão’’ Rosas.

  • Lucas Adolfo is an athletic back with the ability to run tough. His conditioning and the ability to carry the ball multiple times per drive in a hurry-up tempo has been a key to the brutal pace that the Mariner offense has clipped this year.
  • The Mariner defense swarms to the football and is led by linemen, Diogo Sales, Nelson Ferreira and Tulio Albuquerque.

    ‘’Of course there’s a rivalry between both teams but for me this is not the main motivation. For me it’s the chance to compete against one of the best O-lines in the Nordeste,’’ said Ferreira, who scored a touchdown this season on a fumble recovery.

  • The speedy Samuel Braz holds down the linebacker corps., while veteran safety, Junior ‘’The Dentist’’ Borges keys the secondary along with Bruno Top, who has one pick-6 on the season.

Espectros

  • The big boys up front in Joao Pessoa include the massive Lenin Albuquerque Caldeira (6’7, 341 pounds) and import Adolphus Barnes will open up lines and create a passing pocket for whoever is taking snaps in Coach Kevin Veloso’s offense, that has become just as adept at running the ball as passing it this season.
  • Everton ‘’Pingo’’ Antero is a bruising back who runs low to the ground and prefers to run over and through defenders than go around them. Unlike many power runners, though, Antero has elite athleticism, soft hands out of the backfield, and break-away speed. Antero has found the end zone seven times this season.
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Espectros running back, Everton Antero, is a load to bring down. Photos retrieved from the Facebook page of Everton Antero

  • Wide reciever and return specialist, Heron Azevedo is one of the most decorated players in the history of Brazilian American football. Azevedo’s speed allows him to stretch the field vertically, while his route-running ability and toughness also allow him to line up on the inside of a formation, or take a hand-off in jet sweep action. Azevedo has scored four touchdowns on the season.
  • Shercules: The devastating defensive line combination (and hilarious name combination) of DT Bruno Sherman and DE/DT  Marcos Hercules. Sherman plays low to the ground and uses his hands coming off the ball and getting off of blocks as anyone in the country. He can line up as a nose in the Espectros 3-4 look, and is athletic enough to move all the way out to a 3-technique if necessary. Marcos Hercules, a nasty, 6’3, 255 pound (191cm; 115 KG) lineman, has the size, speed and strength to line up anywhere from end to a zero-technique. Hercules is effective on every down, with fast and violent feet and hands that allow him to pass rush, and the pad level and discipline that allow him to play as a ‘’covered up’’ lineman and eat or split double teams against the run. Hercules has forced 3 fumbles this season.
  • The heart and soul of the Espectros is with veteran inside linebacker, Igor Nery. Nery is natural leader, key communicator on defense and has played in as many big games as anyone in Conferencia Nordeste. Nery has one interception this season. His partner in the line-backing corps is Jesus ‘’Son of a Carpenter’’ Emanuel, a rangy, athletic linebacker who is always around the football. Jesus appears out of nowhere, bringing pressure from all over the Espectros 3-4 look and forcing fumbles. He brought salvation to the Espectros defense with four sacks last weekend against the America Bulls Potiguares.
  • Roving safety, Edvaldo ‘’Pezao’’ Rosas (three interceptions) and cornerback Flavio Gouveia (one interception) might be listed as defensive backs, but they hit like linebackers. Throw in import, Carlos Cox, who had two interceptions in his first game in Joao Pessoa, and the Espectros DBs make can make any passing attempt a daunting one.

    ‘’This game is a litmus test for our DBs,’’ said Rosa In my opinion, it’s the most dynamic passing we will face this season. I’m sure our front 7 will get the job done, making him (Niznak) have to think quickly,’’ he added.

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Above: Quarterback, Alex Niznak, and the Mariners high powered, fast-paced offense, will look to put a lot of points on the board against their rival, the João Pessoa Espectros

The Game & Storylines

  • The fledgling rivaly: From administration, to coaching, to athletes, the Espectros were the initial ‘’model franchise’’ in the Northeast, but it didn’t take long for people within the Mariners organization like Julio Adeodato and Lucas Cisneros to start building a powerhouse of their own.

    ‘’We feel we have built a solid program here, we strive to have a solid chance every year creating a culture of excellence in and out of the field that enables the organization to have a chance to fight for a championship every year the key for that is simple, dedicated people that willing to work hard and sacrifice their times for the cause,’’ said Cisneros.

  • As the saying goes, ‘’it’s not really a rivalry if only one team wins all the time,’’ which might have been the case until last year, when the Mariners handed the Espectros not one, but two losses, ending a six year undefeated streak in the region, which leads to…
  • …The wait is over for both teams: Although the Ceara Caçadores might be the class of the conference this season (having beaten both the Mariners and Espectros), the Espectros had not lost a game in the Northeast region for 6 years, until last year when the Mariners beat them twice. The Espectros returned the favor in the most gut-wrenching way possible, but stealing away a National Championship bid in the national semi-finals. From Head Coach, to last guy on the bench, both teams have played the ‘’one game at a time’’ card exceptionally well this season, and one has to think that they feel good being able to openly focus 100% of their attention on the other.
  • In-game adjustments and end-game play-making: This game has a history of being closer than close, features a multitude of veterans, and two of the best coaches and staffs in the country. The question isn’t necessarily ‘’if’’ it will come down to a big play or two, but ‘’who will make those big plays?’’

    ’”We feel like how we face adversity is a key ingredient for us to finally deliver on our goals for the year,’’ said Cisneros.

  • How many snaps will each Espectros quarterback get? Rodrigo Dantas, who led João Pessoa to the 2015 national championship, despite accounting for five touchdowns on the season, has battled injuries this year. This has led to the emergence of utility-athlete and receiver, Vitor Ramalho, as a do-it-all fill in for Dantas. The short, speedy and shifty Ramalho has contributed six touchdowns this season, and as pass happy as the João Pessoa offense is in the capable hands of Dantas, it is just as run-centric on the shoulders of Ramalho – both approaches producing devastating results for opposing defenses. This versatility and adaptability is a tribute to the young, first year Head Coach, Veloso.
  • The Mariners offense and its trigger man, quarterback Alex Niznak, look to be firing on all cylinders. When Niznak and his receivers find a rhythm, they are tough to stop. Their duel against a talented Espectro secondary looks to be a fun match-up to watch.

    ‘’ The more we practice and play together as a unit the more I grow in this offense and the more the guys understand about what we are trying to achieve with our fast paced attack,’’ said Niznak.

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Above: Coach Lucas Cisneros and the Recife Mariners have consistently built towards having one of the best organizations in Brazil. A win in João Pessoa Sunday is another step toward their goal of a national championship. Photo credit: Gabriel Siqueira

The Quotes

  • ‘’We have tried to go one game at a time and not even think about the Mariners until now, the time has come we can’t wait to face them again and to show that we are a much more poised team this season and we will do everything in our power to show our firepower offensively in front of our fans.’’ – Espectros receiver and returner, Heron Azevedo
  • ‘’ This is the big game of the year, with massive playoffs implications that will define the rest of season, also is the big chance for us to show to the country how good the Mariners are. Playing against the espectros is always different, there’s a different motivation, and in the last two seasons that feeling just got bigger. ‘’- Mariners DT, Nelson Ferreira
  • ‘’We have been fortunate to have some extra time to prepare for this game, more time in the gym with Coach Richard and more time on the practice field is always a good thing. I have had some time to learn what this game means between these two teams, in no way do the Espectros intimidate us but we do respect them and look forward to a good game. I believe it is an exciting time for football in Brazil and the next couple games are very important to help finalize a playoff season that will be like nothing Brazilian football fans have ever seen and will be very exciting to watch and follow.’’-Mariners quarterback, Alex Niznak
  • ‘’ Against the Espectros we are always aware that it is a game that will very probably come down to the last moments and we need to have a clean and efficient game with max effort. It`s also very important to prepare everyone to the fact that this is game that is generally filled with adversity and the team that better overcomes them comes out on top. Those are the things we have kept in mind through our preparation for this game.’’- Mariners Head Coach, Lucas Cisneros
Clayton Lovett
Clayton Lovett has served football in Brasil in a variety of roles, including as the member of the coaching staff of two CBFA national champions (Cuiaba Arsenal 2010, 2012). Football is his hobby. Professionally, he is the founder of CS Educacional, which provides educational and competitive opportunities abroad for student-athletes.
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