ELF: Week 11 sets the stage for potential game of the year to wrap up the regular season

And then there were two.

After Week 11 in the European League of Football, three playoff spots are accounted for. Just two teams remain in contention for the final semi-final berth and both recorded wins this week.

The Wroclaw Panthers and Leipzig Kings have very different stories. One is a national powerhouse ripped wholesale from the Polish league. The other is an infant organization pieced together on the fly in a region of Germany not known for high-level football. They’ll play each other next week and the winner will get to go to the show.

To set that stage, some business had to be taken care of in the penultimate week of the ELF regular season. Here are my thoughts on the games.

Game 1 – Frankfurt Galaxy 22 – Barcelona Dragons 14

Photo: Barcelona Dragons

I incorrectly wrote last week that the Barcelona Dragons were officially eliminated from playoff contention, when in fact they had the slimmest of chances remaining had half a dozen ifs, ands, and buts gone their way. A loss Saturday formalized what was already a near certainty.

The Dragons offense simply ran out of steam the last two weeks and their playmakers couldn’t get loose against Frankfurt. Receiver Jean Constant dazzled with a 100-yard kickoff return touchdown, but he was bottled up by a talented Frankfurt secondary. Quarterback Zach Edwards barely crossed the 100-yard mark through the air and was sacked five times by a ferocious Galaxy front.

The Barcelona defense was once again admirable in defeat, coming up with a few big stops, but Frankfurt proved to be too much in the end. Jakeb Sullivan had an efficient day at the office and Lorenz Regler was the standout receiver, catching six passes for 98 yards and a highlight reel touchdown where he snagged the ball behind the back of his defender. Most importantly, the return of Russian-American running back Gennadiy Adams opens up a whole new facet of the Galaxy offense just in time for the playoffs.

In the end, this game was a quiet sendoff for the Dragons inaugural season and par for the course for the top-seeded Galaxy. Right now, they are the undisputed squad to beat.

Game 2 – Wroclaw Panthers 35 – Berlin Thunder 12

Photo: Łukasz Skwiot

After a few off weeks, the Wroclaw Panthers offense is back in top form and it looks better than ever.

Quarterback Lukas O’Connor went to the air a whopping 53 times against Berlin, completing 33 of those passes for 342 yards and three touchdowns. What was scary is that some yardage — and scores — were left on the field. Jakub Mazan had 93 yards through the air, Przemyslaw Banat had 96 and a score, but it was the dynamic Kavontae Turpin who was once again the star. The late addition had 11 catches for 104 yards and a touchdown and provided a new offensive threat for teams to think about by scoring on a 15-yard end-around. With Phileas Pasqualini still able to grind out hard yards, this was a complete route and it could have been worse.

With their season long since rendered academic, the Thunder are clearly using this time to evaluate quarterbacks Calvin Stitt and Bryan Zerbe for next year. The answer is that neither is consistent enough to be the long-term future for this team. The inability of the Berlin offense to stay on the field has hung a talented, but dog-tired defense out to dry all season and star players like linebacker Wael Nasri — who had 18 tackles in this one — deserve more from the other side of the football.

That’s a problem to think about for next year and they’ll have plenty of time to do it, unlike the Panthers. The Polish powerhouse will have their season on the line next week and needs to keep the momentum going.

Game 3 – Leipzig Kings 18 – Hamburg Sea Devils 17

Photo: Mariann Wenzel

The ELF has been trying to generate hype on social media in recent weeks by posting a number of hypothetical questions for fans, such as “if you could pick any player to have the ball with the game on the line, who would it be?”

They can stop posting now. The definitive answer is Michael Birdsong.

Leipzig’s star quarterback has played more complete games than he had against Hamburg, but he’s never been more impressive. It looked as though the Sea Devils had his number in this one, they were up 17-0 at half-time and pressure was in his face. Instead, he clawed back into the game and got in range for one last drive.

With two minutes left, the Kings season hung in the balance on a fourth and six. Failure to convert meant a loss and an almost impossible road to the playoffs. Hamburg brought the house but Birdsong rolled right and nearly flipped over a defender as he lunged forward for the first down. Then he rifled it to Timothy Knuettel for the game-winning score two plays later. It was all guts and pure brilliance.

You can point to yet another early deficit or the fact that Hamburg was without many of their top contributors in their final game of the season to poke holes in the Leipzig victory. I’m not going to. Their turnaround has been one of the best stories in the ELF this season and they’ve got their playoff destiny in their own hands. The Week 12 matchup with Wroclaw will be the game of the year in Europe so far and they are in if they win it.

Game 4 – Cologne Centurions 19 – Stuttgart Surge 9

Photo: Frederik Löwer/Cologne Centurions

Those hoping for an exciting conclusion to Week 11 were sadly out of luck because a combination of solid defense, offensive ineptitude and Stuttgart’s general lack of talent provided a dreary contest with few highlights.

The Surge came out strong and Paul Steigerwald made a nice touchdown catch to give his team a 9-0 lead in the second quarter, but they had no staying power. The Centurions‘ defense, led by Marius Kensy and Mike Taylor, made life hell for Surge QB Aaron Ellis and eventually Madre London turned it on. The result was a game in which the winning passer had 88 yards through the air and the loser had 135. Hardly a recipe for fireworks.

London carried 33 times for 138 yards and a touchdown, adding a receiving score as well. That’s far from his most scintillating outing, but this game was meaningful as the ELF’s first major star crossed the 2,000 yard threshold. Outstanding individual performances like that are what will propel this young league forward and drive fan interest. You just hope those milestones happen in better games.

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.