ELF: Cologne Centurions hold off Istanbul Rams in ELF opener

In the European League of Football opener this past weekend, the Cologne Centurions held off a feisty Istanbul Rams team, beating them 40-38 to kick off a highly anticipated season.

Expectations were low for the Rams after a number of signings that raised questions about the quality of the national players and how they will compare to the Germans and Austrians.

Those doubts were quickly laid to rest however as the Rams came out hot with an immediate third-down stop and a blocked punt by Zachery Blair which rolled out the back of the endzone for a safety giving the league newcomers the first lead of the game.

Cologne ball carrier Paul Kavadia-Lenhardt #5 battling for yards Photo: Marc Junge/Cologne Centurions

Following an interception by the Rams, Australian quarterback Jared Stegman hit Kris Wedderburn on a corner for the first touchdown of the season putting Istanbul out in front 9-0. This was immediately undone though as Stegman gave away back-to-back pick sixes on the two following drives and Cologne went out in front 14-9.

The Rams were able to close the gap with a late second-quarter field goal, but just before the half Cologne wideout Quinten Pounds was foolishly left one on one with the Turkish corner resulting in a 34-yard touchdown bringing the score to 20-12.

The second half opened up just as poorly as the first ended for the Rams after Stegman threw his fourth pick. This led to Centurions quarterback Jan Weinreich taking repeated shots at the Rams secondary and another Cologne touchdown as he connected with Louis Geyer from 15 yards out to extend the lead to 26-12.

The remainder of the third quarter was a wave of turnovers and touchdowns. The Rams hunkered down and began to lean more of the playmaking ability and speed of running backs Tyrese Johnson-Fisher who scored two touchdowns and Jalen Conwell who got one. In between, Pounds scored again for Cologne. Istanbul was back in the game, but by this time the Centurions had found holes in the Rams secondary and began exploiting that weakness.

Istanbul QB Jared Stegman looking downfield Photo: Marc Junge/Cologne Centurions

The final quarter began 34-32 in favor of the Centurions. A short field gave the Rams their first opportunity since the first quarter to regain the lead, but a dropped pass in the endzone by Wedderburn led to them settling for a field goal making it 35-34 Istanbul.

After another Rams field goal, a third Quinten Pounds touchdown late in the fourth quarter took the Centurions back into the lead 40-38. The Rams were able to get the ball back with 2:30 left on the clock, but the drive stalled, and Cologne claimed their first win of the season.

The Rams are a far better team than most expected and put on a solid performance. But if they wish to compete with better teams in the league, they will need to take better care of the ball as this is a game they could easily have won.

In other ELF games, the Barcelona Dragons dumped the Stuttgart Surge 38-9, the Vienna Vikings snuck by Austrian rivals, the Tirol Raiders 29-23, the Rhein Fire upset the defending champion Frankfurt Galaxy 29-26, Poland’s Wroclaw Panthers scored 13 fourth quarter points to down the Leipzig Kings 34-27 and the Hamburg Sea Devils dominated the Berlin Thunder 43-18.

Daniel Mackenzie is a Press Association graduate who works in journalism and communications in the third sector. Daniel began playing football for the London Warriors and Team Great Britain and has since played across Europe.