Carlstad Crusaders blank Stockholm Mean Machines in potential playoff preview

For the first time in two years, the Carlstad Crusaders topped the Stockholm Mean Machines, making a decisive statement that the Superserien playoffs beginning next week will truly be up for grabs.

Just a week after falling to the Örebro Black Knights for the first time since 1999, the Crusaders rebounded in a big way by holding the previously undefeated Mean Machines scoreless. Sweden’s top passer, Tim Morovick, couldn’t find a moment’s respite in the face of an unrelenting Carlstad attack that sacked him seven times and held Stockholm to just 29 yards net rushing.

It was clear from the start that the meeting between Sweden’s top two teams would be a defensive affair, much like the 18-12 slugfest with which they opened the season. Both offences struggled to gain traction through much of the first half and Morovick succumbed to the pressure on four different occasions. Finally, after a bad snap allowed Christian Kuylenstierna to burst through the Mean Machine lines and tee up Morovick for a hellacious shot from Aslan Zetterberg, a shanked Robin Gavelin Miranda punt set the Crusaders up in Stockholm territory with just over two minutes remaining in the second quarter. Import quarterback Danny Farley quickly took advantage, finding Jacob Bergwall on the fade for a 36-yard touchdown behind Mateo Florez Cardenas. Benjamin Banks Egudive blocked the David Nyhlen extra point and the Crusaders went into the half up 6-0.

The Mean Machines opened the third quarter with a new strategy centered on Morovick’s athleticism and the import seemed hell bent on taking the lead. The dual threat passer called his own number for 23 yards around the left end on the first play of the half, then ran for two more first downs to lead Stockholm into the redzone. Morovick’s mobility would be his own undoing, however. On a final scramble up the middle, the American found himself wrapped up by Christian Kuylenstierna, who ripped out the football for teammate Aslan Zetterberg to jump on.

Carlstad Crusaders LB Christian Kuylenstierna #51 Photo: Stefan Akander

Both sides once again fell silent until the start of the fourth quarter, when Carlstad’s newly acquired German-American weapon Niko Lester went deep down the seam and out jumped safety Paul Seifert to bring down a 43-yard pass from Danny Farley. One play later, Sweden’s leading rusher Emil Knutsson bounced it outside and outran everyone for the 22-yard score, extending the lead to 13-0.

Stockholm once again came out swinging in response. Morovick took off for 16 yards on a quarterback draw, then tossed the  screen to the electric Alpha Jalloh, who made a handful of defenders miss on his 20-yard run down the sidelines and into the redzone. After Edvin Almeida Taborda failed to haul in an endzone toss, Crusader pressure once again made an impact. Linebacker Mattias Eriksson came free on the blitz to sack Morovick on third down, before defensive back Darius Lewis forced the quarterback to step up in the pocket on the crucial fourth down, only to be swallowed up by Michael Henriksson and Marco Gudding for the turnover.

Carlstad ate up the clock with a 10 play, 74-yard drive to secure victory, finishing with a one-yard touchdown run from Emil Östlund. The Mean Machines got one more chance to generate some offense but Par Lindelof was called for an illegal forward pass on a third down trick play, killing any hope of points and ending the game 20-0 for the Crusaders.

The star of the game was Crusaders linebacker Christian Kuylenstierna, who seemed unblockable for long stretches of the night. The 28-year old racked up 13 tackles, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble in a performance that should give offensive lines all over Sweden nightmares heading into the playoffs. Mattias Eriksson, Eddie Onamade, Aslan Zetterberg, Michael Henriksson and both Gudding brothers also found their way into the backfield in a complete defensive performance that held the country’s top passer to 15 of 27 for just 123 yards. Morovick did scramble for 84 yards on the ground but lost 56 on sacks, while Timmy Goransson added just a single yard from the running back position. Import Alpha Jalloh, in his second game for the Mean Machines, led the receivers with six catches for 57 yards.

Carlstad Crusaders WR/DB Darius Lewis #6 Photo: Stefan Akander

On offense, the Crusaders were led by Niko Lester, who arrived in town after the Danish playoffs were cancelled earlier this week. The versatile German-American carried the ball nine times for 61 yards and caught six passes for 91 yards through the air. Jacob Bergwall, Carlstad’s leading receiver going into the game, added two catches for 46 yards and a score, while the Superserien’s leading rusher Emil Knutsson amassed 67 yards and a touchdown on 11 touches. Quarterback Danny Farley was an unspectacular 15 of 24 for 191 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Youngster Ludvig Myren was the Mean Machines top defender in the defeat, recording 10.5 tackles and three tackles for loss. Mateo Florez Cardenas added one interception mid-way through the first quarter.

While the result means nothing to the already determined playoff seeding, it marks Stockholm’s first loss in league play since 2017 and presents plenty of questions going into the elimination rounds. While the one-loss top seed should overcome winless Uppsala in the semifinal, a championship matchup against either the Crusaders or an Örebro team that upset them last week will be a challenging test. After a roller coaster final two weeks of play, the Crusaders must now integrate their new stars fully and prove what team they really are going forward. This week’s defensive juggernaut looks like a title hopeful, but can it stick around versus the confident Black Knights?

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.