Estadio dos Aflitos – Recife, Pernambuco
Saturday, October 22, 2p local time
A Mariners – Espectros game is about as crazy and unpredictable as a weekend in Vegas with Charlie Sheen and Keith Richards.
Each of the last four mathcups, dating back to last season, were decided by less than a score, and a seemingly endless array of ‘’can you top this’’ for each games ending, capped off by an over the head touchdown pass by Mariner QB, Alex Niznak, to clinch the win in a game a couple of weeks ago. With less than 120 kilometers separating the two cities, their should be plenty of fans from both teams creating an electric atmosphere in Estadio dos Aflitos on Saturday.
Although it’s a first round playoff game, this contest has the feel of a proving ground of sorts for both squads. For the home team Mariners, it represents ‘’making the leap.’’ Although they were the first team in the Northeast to tarnish the Espectros invincibility after decades of dominance, Recife has never beaten João Pessoa in an elimination game. For the defending CBFA National Champion Espectros, this is a ‘’we’ve still got it’’ game; an chance to show the country that they are still the team to beat in the Northeast and remind everyone that the defending champs are still in the mix.
‘’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 gennerally 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. We feel like how we face adversity is a key ingredient for us to finally deliver on our goals for the year,’’ said Mariners Head Coach, Lucas Cisneros.
The Mariners enter this game with wind in their sails, as the timing and rhyrhm of Niznak and his receivers seems to become more in-sync with every game. In the Mariners most recent game, a 44-0 win of the Vitoria All Saints, Niznak threw for 237 yards and five touchdowns on 22/37 passing.
‘’We feel like we are hitting our stride,’’ said Cisneros.
The Mariners like to run their air raid offense at a frenetic pace, with Niznak spreading the ball around to a talented corps of receivers, including Ricardo ‘’Guash’’ Texeira, Vinicius Jah and running back Lucas Adolfo, who is as likely to make a big play catching a pass out of the backfield as he is to break off a long run.
The group that will attempt to slow the Mariner pace is loaded with talent and up to the challenge. Edvaldo ‘’Pezao’’ Rosas, Flavio ‘’Flavinho’’ Gouveia and Carlos Cox lead a ball hawking defense that snagged 11 interceptions this season.
Part of the credit for all of those picks goes to the Espectro defensive line, led by ‘’Shercules,’’ the devastating defensive 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 is as good at 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. His partners in the linebacking corps are Jesus ‘’Manna from Heaven’’ Emanuel, a rangy, athletic linebacker who is always around the football and Pablo Magalhaes, a compact, muscular ball of brute force and energy.
While an opponent knows what to expect from the swarming Espectros defense, first year head coach Kevin Veloso’s offense has left opponents guessing in 2016. With regular starter, Rodrigo Dantas, hampered by injuries for much of the season, he has adjusted a normally pass-happy attack to a style that utilizes the run game; and with much success. Converted receiver, Vitor Ramalho, has been taking snaps, and when he’s not handing the ball to devastating runner, Everton ‘’Pingo’’ Antero (7 touchdowns this season), or receiver Heron Azevedo (who is as deadly in the Espectro jet-sweep game as he is catching passes or returning kicks; 4 touchdowns this season) has played well enough to account for 8 touchdowns of his own.
The big boys making the holes up front for Joao Pessoa include the massive Lenin Albuquerque Caldeira (6’7, 341 pounds) and import Adolphus Barnes (6’4, 290 pounds).
Combating that Espectros offense is a Mariners defense that is statistically the best defense in the entire country. Up front the Mariners are a load to deal with, led by Diogo Sales, Nelson Ferreira and Tulio Albuquerque (Formerly of Waldorf University). The speedy Samuel Braz holds down the linebacker corps with help from the humungous, Eder ‘’Jason’’ Lins, who returned an interception for a touchdown in his most recent game. Veteran safety, Junior ‘’The Dentist’’ Borges keys the secondary along with Bruno Top, who has one pick-6 on the season.
Saturday’s contest also features two of Brazil’s top kickers, in Recife’s Rafael Bandeira and João Pessoa’s Diego Aranha. Bandeira will likely be wary of where he aims his kickoffs, as Azevedo (formerly of Pacific University of Oregon) and Cox combine of one of Brazil’s deadly return duos.
Cisneros feels like he has a special group at the right time.
‘’I feel so fortunate and blessed with the talent and dedication I have from our coordinators, DC Richard Lowry and OC Lucas David. (They) have done a great job of leading our guys and putting together game plans,’’ he said.
‘’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, and the key for that is simple, dedicated people that willing to work hard and sacrifice their times for the cause,’’ he added.
AFI asked some of Brazil’s top American football bloggers to pick the first round. See their thoughts on this game below:
” Espectros – This is the most difficult game to predict any type outcome, but the last match between these teams shows that the absence of Espectros QB Rodrigo Dantas diminished the offensive firepower of the Brazilian Champions (CBFA). As the cities are near each other, the travel won’t be a factor, and a healthy Dantas may be the key to a slim victory. The Mariners have never beat the Espectros in ‘’life and death’’ matches.”
” Mariners – The Mariners usually got cold feet against the Espectros. In the last two years, the Blues won in the regular season, but ended up losing the (conference) title at home. Now they have one of the best quarterbacks in the league and are more mature. They can benefit from the fact that the Espectros will be without their starting quarterback.”
” Mariners – Alex Niznak is another American who has had a wonderful season in the Northeastern Conference and will be an important factor for the victory of the Mariners. In front of their home crowd, this is the year for the Mariners to beat the Espectros n a playoff game.”
”Mariners – The Mariners and Espectros should be a well balanced game, but my opinion is that the Mariners pull out a win, playing in Estadio Aflitos, with all the support of the home crowd.’’