Cologne Crocodiles clinch third place with win over New Yorker Lions Braunschweig in final week showdown

The Cologne Crocodiles knew they were facing a surging Braunschweig New Yorker Lions team that could explode for points in a heartbeat in the final game of the regular season for both teams. 

So the Crocodiles took a page from the Braunschweig playbook, stepping on the gas in the second half to pull away from the defending champions to claim a decisive 33-21 victory.

With the win, Cologne finishes as the third-place seed in the GFL North and avoids a trip to Schwäbisch Hall to play the Unicorns. They will instead play the Saarland Hurricanes in two weeks’ time.

Cologne Crocodile’s quarterback Christian Strong, and his impressive passing game really was given the go-ahead to let loose by play callers on Saturday as the Canadian-British signal-caller threw the ball 51 times for an impressive 355 yards and four touchdowns.

New Yorker quarterback Jake Kennedy also had himself a day. In the early part of the season, the team was known for its strong running game – Kennedy included – but as the weeks have gone by, and imports have arrived, the Wittenberg alumnus has thrown more and more. He threw for a solid 236 yards and two touchdowns. But on the day this wasn’t enough to keep up with the explosive Cologne receiving core.

The Lions were first to get on the scoreboard after a three-and-out and an initial late-drive pick by New Yorker defensive back Darrain Winston Sr. The 22-yard field goal was set up by a 55-yard catch and run from running back CJ Okpalobi who dashed his way between defenders before eventually getting pulled down.

The Crocodiles were however able to finish the next drive off as Strong was able to spread the ball around to his two talented Americans, Markell Castle and Aaron Jackson. Castle finished it off with a four-yard grab over the middle to make it 7 – 3.

After another pick by Winston, Braunschweig was driving again. And again it was Okpalobi who would prove to be Kennedy’s most effective weapon through the air. This time Kennedy hit Okpalobi on a 34-yard wheel-route to get in for the Lions’ first touchdown of the game. 

But if the Crocodiles excelled anywhere, it was in shootouts. After a tedious 35-yard 15 play drive by Cologne that ended in a missed field goal, the Crocodiles were ready to go at it again following a Lion three-and-out with 40 seconds remaining. With little time on the clock though, Strong was forced to attempt a hail-mary just before the half. So with five seconds left to go, Strong danced around the pocket and then heaved the ball from the 50, a mosh pit of players from both sides leaped into the air en masse, but it was Cologne’s Jackson who came down with it in the endzone, putting the Crocs up 14 – 10 at halftime.

As the second half came in, the Lions were determined not to let the game get away from them. They were helped up the field by penalties but were unable to convert a fourth-down attempt on Cologne’s 20-yard line. And then Strong went back at it, chucking the ball about with little reserve. The drive culminated in an 18-yard reception from the seemingly unstoppable Jackson to take the Crocodiles two scores clear.

Braunschweig RB Chuka Okpalobi Jr Photo: New Yorker Lions

Kennedy wasn’t going to go down without a fight. He hit receiver Chrisitan Bollmann for 29 yards, and then his man Okpalobi for 36 and the score, bringing the Lions back to within three points. But Cologne was having none of it and went on an uncharacteristic rushing attack. Running back Sergj Kendus gashed the Braunschweig defense play after the playmaking his way up the field before Strong himself would crash over the line from the three making it 27 – 18.

After some back and forth from both sides, the Lions were in prime position to strike again midway through the fourth quarter. The drive started from Cologne’s 28-yard line and six plays and 21 yards later the Lions were kicking a field goal to again bring it back within one score. The mountain proved too high to climb though and after another Crocodile touchdown, from who else but Jackson, the Lions conceded defeat and took their fourth-place spot going into the playoffs.

Crocodiles wide receiver Aaron Jackson finished the game with 16 receptions, 211 yards, and three touchdowns.

The North has seemingly shown that it is the stronger of the two divisions with even the fourth-place New Yorker Lions looking like a force to be reckoned with. But if the bus ride to Schwäbisch Hall to play the Unicorns proves too much for a team that still appears to be on the rise is another question. One thing that is almost guaranteed, however – all roads to the championship will run through the 2021 Central European Football League champions, the Unicorns.

 

Daniel Mackenzie is a Press Association graduate who has worked in B2B journalism and comms in the third sector; with experience in both education and human rights. He has played football for the London Warriors for the last 15 years as well as the