Carlstad Crusaders use their perfect recipe to win Swedish title against Stockholm Mean Machines

Shutdown defense, a pounding running game and grinding clock control. It’s never flashy. Some might call it unexciting. Others might dub it a war of attrition. Crusaders quarterback Danny Farley called it “the perfect recipe” for a championship, but the import will have a very difficult time writing a cookbook with a Swedish title ring weighing down his right hand.

In a battle of Swedish juggernauts that lived up to the billing, the Carlstad Crusaders had all the right ingredients to hold off a late surge from the Stockholm Mean Machines and take home the Swedish championship with a 14-12 victory. After two years of Superserien dominance from the Mean Machines, the Crusaders reasserted supremacy with their ninth title in the last eleven years. For head coach BD Kennedy, it erases one of the biggest black marks against his team.

“Winning the game feels great, without a doubt. I am not going to lie, it’s nice that we don’t have to hear about the fact that we have never beaten Stockholm in a playoff game anymore,” he says. “Most importantly, I am proud of the team for maintaining focus on the task at hand throughout the entire game. It was a tight game played by two very good teams. At the end of the day, the Crusaders were able to just keep playing hard and found a way to win.”

Carlstad’s physical style of play was favored by many pundits on a day when field conditions were less than ideal, but the team proved early that it hadn’t gone to their heads. After tracking down Stockholm quarterback Tim Morovick for a big sack to stall the Mean Machines first drive, import defensive back Darius Lewis received the ensuing punt and made the first tackler miss before racing 45 yards into plus territory. It was the first indication of an MVP performance for Lewis, who finished the game with 5.5 tackles, three tackles for loss, a sack, a pass break-up and 59 return yards.

“We all rallied as a defense. All year we put the unit before ourselves and we made sure that even though we bent, we never broke,” Lewis said after the hard fought win. “It was another great team effort by the defense and I’m proud of this team.”

Carlstad DB Darius Lewis was named Game MVP. Shown here on a punt return Photo: Tommy Börzsei

Quarterback Danny Farley took advantage of the field position and threw a perfect corner route to Niko Lester to put the Crusaders up 7-0 with the nine yard score. Later in a first half he went to air again and recorded a rare offensive highlight when receiver Kevin Börzsei found a hole in the zone down the left sideline and stiff armed safety Paul Seifert to break loose for the 66-yard touchdown.

On the other side, the Mean Machines struggled to gain any traction. A swarming Carlstad defense kept Morovick off balance for most of the first half and an unfortunate deflection by receiver Pär Lindelöf led to a Daniel Gunnarsson interception. With 30 seconds remaining in the half, a contested touchdown catch from Lindelöf seemed to put the team on the board but was called back for an illegal block by Keanu Ebanks, keeping it a 14-point deficit at the half.

Stockholm came out of the intermission with renewed determination. On the second play from scrimmage, Morovick hit Alpha Jalloh with a short pass and the electric playmaker spun away from linebacker Alex Gudding for a massive 60-yard gain. One play later, the offensive line gave Morovick all the time necessary to finally connect with Lindelöf for a 16-yard score. The celebration would be short lived however, as Player of the Year Christian Kuylenstjerna broke through the right side of the line to block the point after attempt and take a crucial point off the board.

Carlstad WR Kevin Borzsei hauling in 66 yard TD pass Photo: Jonas Domfors

Now it would be the Crusaders turn to weather some bad luck. The Mean Machines held firm at the goal line on the next drive and the chip-shot David Nyhlen field goal was blocked by Rookie of the Year Ludvig Myren. Danny Farley again methodically led his team deep into Stockholm territory to start the fourth quarter but Jacob Bergwall let a redzone pass slip through his hands and Anthony Marques intercepted with plenty of time left for Stockholm to mount a comeback.

Given a golden opportunity, Morovick wasted no time getting started. He dropped a pass into the bread basket of a sprinting Edvin Almeida Taborda for 37 yards on the second play of the drive and a few plays later the league’s leading import scrambled right to convert on an important fourth down. Morovick capped the drive himself and inched across the goal line from a yard out to put the game within reach. Forced to go for two to tie the game thanks to the earlier blocked extra point, Morovick couldn’t find his way back into the endzone. Alex Gudding saw right through the fake to Alpha Jalloh and pulled the quarterback down short to make it 14-12 with 6:57 remaining.

Robin Juhlin recovered Stockholm’s onside kick attempt, but a tough Mean Machines defense still had plenty of time to get their offence another chance. It was not to be. On a field already torn apart by it’s second game of the day, the Crusaders leaned on the power running game that got them to the finals. Niklas Johansson, Marco Gudding, Martin Thor, John Lindgren and Joakim Thoreson paved the way for nine time consuming carries on the final drive and Emil Knutsson bounced around a blitzing Pontus Westman on the game deciding fourth and three to slide for a savvy first down. Danny Farley knelt to end the game and a euphoric Carlstad sideline erupted in hugs and cheers.

Stockholm WR Alpha Jalloh breaks for a 60 yard gain to open 2nd half Photo: Tommy Börzsei

An emotional BD Kennedy couldn’t say enough about his team’s decisive final drive.

“We just wanted to be able to get first downs, use 39 seconds off the play clock between each play and get first downs. Emil Knutsson did a great job carrying the ball. Emil Östlund led the way at fullback. Niko Lester was playing with a banged up shoulder…and the OL, just kept moving their feet,” he raved. “It is an absolutely fantastic feeling and I could not be more proud of our team and our organization.”

For running back Emil Knutsson, who rushed 32 yards on the final drive, this was the culmination of a challenging and rewarding season.

“The feeling of being a champion once again is just the coolest. We were grinding so hard for this throughout all of this COVID-affected season,” he said amidst the celebration. “Everybody was depending on each other and when there was a situation, they just solved it.”

It was another stellar defensive performance for the Crusaders. Outstanding linebacker Christian Kuylenstjerna matched championship MVP Darius Lewis with 5.5 tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack, but added the crucial block that would eventually decide the game. Daniel Gunnarsson was stellar as well, with 4.5 tackles, a pass deflection and a pick. Stockholm’s defense was also  admirable in defeat. Denny John led the team with eight tackles, Paul Seifert was close behind with seven, Jakob Gorecki added a sack and Anthony Marques made the late surge possible with his interception.

Carlstad RB Emil Knutsson following his offensive line Photo: Tommy Börzsei

In mounting the comeback, Stockholm quarterback Tim Morovick was 15 of 26 passing for 217 yards, a pick and a touchdown, with another 38 yards and a score on the ground. Edvin Almeida Taborda led the receivers with four catches for 88 yards but the Mean Machines struggled to stay on the field and Carlstad controlled the ball for 30:50, almost double Stockholm’s time of possession. It was hard running from Knutsson that made the difference, recording 65 of his 86 yards rushing in the second half. Danny Farley further controlled the tempo with an efficient short passing attack, going 20 of 31 for 203 yards, two touchdowns and a pick. Kevin Borzsei led with three catches for 77 yards and a score, but Jacob Bergwall was the one moving the chains with eight receptions for 72.

In the cyclical nature of the Superserien, Saturday marked the start for a new decade in Swedish football in exactly exactly the same way the last one began. When the Crusaders opened the 2010’s with a victory, they didn’t relinquish the crown for eight years. Now that Carlstad has figured out the perfect championship recipe and fielded one of the best defenses in Swedish history, is it yet another dynasty that they are really cooking up?

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.