ELF’s Week 4 triple-header delivers one gutsy upset, pair of blowouts

There never seems to be a dull week in the European League of Football.

This time around, it was the sudden release of the top ranked team’s NFL caliber head coach in Hamburg’s Ted Daisher, a positive COVID test from that team’s star NFL alumni Kasim Edebali and the departure of another in Cologne’s Chris Ezeala.

If only all the games were equally as exciting.

The ELF’s Week 4 Sunday slate included three promising matchups, but delivered two blowouts by top teams separating themselves from the pack. Fortunately, the remaining contest proved to be a gritty upset that made up for it in spades. Here are my thoughts on this week’s games.

Game 1 – Frankfurt Galaxy 41 – Cologne Centurions 20

Heading in to this weekend, it wouldn’t have been hard to argue that the Cologne Centurions were the hottest team in the ELF. With running back Madre London sitting just shy of 1,000 yards on the ground with just three games played, it was hard to justify betting against them.

What the Frankfurt Galaxy did Sunday was the football equivalent of punching someone right in the face. It was unexpected, effective and utterly humiliating. London did pass the 1,000-yard threshold, but he was rendered an almost complete non-factor by an outstanding defensive effort.

Unlike every opponent the Centurions had faced so far, the Galaxy’s defensive line, led by guys like Marc Anthony Hor and Ville Valasti, refused to be bullied up front. Linebackers flowed through and made the tackles other teams couldn’t. Sebastian Gauthier in particular, is proving to be one of Europe’s best. With the game entirely forced onto his shoulders for the first time, Jan Weinreich buckled and it was 38-0 before Quinten Pounds gave any sort of life to the matchup.

The other side of that coin was that Jakeb Sullivan and his crew of Galaxy receivers were simply, pardon the pun, out of this world. They are finding their chemistry and moved at will up the field, each playing a pivotal role but none shining brighter than another. Anthony Mahoungou, Lorenz Regler, Nico Strahmann, Marvin Rutsch and Cheikhou Sow did their jobs and Sullivan made it look effortless.

The result will be particularly concerning for the Cologne defense, who have been far from lights out this season but largely shielded from criticism with all the focus on London’s production. They got outplayed in every category the same week they lost their best player, former NFLer Chris Ezeala, for the season because of a family issue and that side of the ball will have to be addressed fast.

Game 2 – Stuttgart Surge 27 – Leipzig Kings 24

Photo: Steffen Makai

Another week, another game the Leipzig Kings should have won squandered away, but I want to focus on the Stuttgart Surge for a moment.

This was as gutsy an effort as you’ll see this season from a club that has really struggled. Tough, gritty and all heart from the entire team. The addition of veteran import linebacker Zachary Blair to play beside playmaker Dale Warren gave the defence a real boost. The offensive line, though vulnerable at times in pass protection, had a performance worthy of applause on the ground. Whether it was Samuel Shannon, Ruben Pein or Bryan Yankson toting the rock, they gave them whatever yardage was needed that play.

Of course, the victory would not have been possible without what Aaron Ellis brought to the table. In an era where one tries to avoid being infectious, he fit the description in the best possible way, oozing enthusiasm and toughness. More importantly, he weathered pressure and made the plays needed when they counted.

I believe some on the Surge took offense to my assessment of the team last week, in particular tight end David Meza, who scored the game-winning touchdown with a minute remaining. I’m happy to provide motivation. I said Meza wasn’t a ‘gamebreaker’ and I stand by that, but he showed exactly what I believe he is on the last play. That is to say, a very talented and incredibly consistent tight end able to take advantage of the moment that he was given and help his team win. His touchdown was a well-schemed coverage bust, but he didn’t hesitate. Anyone would want that on their team.

On the other side, Leipzig continued to struggle defensively in crunch time but it was the decision to roll with Dutchman Tom Van Duijn at quarterback for most of the game that left me scratching my head. Jaleel Awini — who threw for 341 yards and four touchdowns, while rushing for 147 and a score as Michael Birdsong’s replacement last week — was available and played for stretches, but was left at receiver for the entire second half. The formidable offence that put up 47 points against Cologne managed just 12 with him out wide. Van Duijn was solid for stretches but off target in crucial moments, including the last play of the game, helping to allow the Stuttgart comeback.

Beyond being defined by whatever incredible feat Alpha Jalloh pulls that week — he scored a pick six, return touchdown, and receiving score in this one –, the Kings identity has been hard to pin down game to game. In fairness, injuries have played a devastating role in that and that doesn’t appear to be getting better, with both Yoshihito Omi and Aslan Zetterberg limping off. It has resulted in a tendency to play to the level of competition, but never exceed it. In the basement at 1-3, they can’t afford another close loss.

Game 3 – Hamburg Sea Devils 44 – Berlin Thunder 6

Hamburg RB Xavier Johnson #24 Photo: Freitag

The shocking release of head coach Ted Daisher by the undefeated Hamburg Sea Devils was undeniably the story of the week in Europe and all eyes were glued to the late game to see how the team would respond. For the first half, it was more of the same. Stifling defence and underperforming offence settling for field goals en route to 6-6 tie at half-time.

Then finally something clicked. Boy, did it click.

After looking pedestrian at best for two and a half games, Jadrian Clark awoke and the offense exploded on a 38-0 run, 28 of those points coming in the third quarter. The defense got the stops, Justin Rogers contributed great field position on the return and Clark would deliver a touchdown strike. Rinse, repeat. Suddenly, Hamburg was the juggernaut we were promised.

It didn’t make for a very compelling game, but you won’t hear Sea Devils fans complaining. The protection was on point, Clark was automatic and Adria Botello-Moreno grasped his moment of stardom. All this while what is turning out to be a truly transcendent defense got in the backfield play after play despite the sudden departure of their play caller and the absence of face of the league Kasim Edebali due to a positive COVID test.

This was a blow out, plain and simple, and the Thunder have little to feel good about. Calvin Stitt ran for his life behind a line still struggling despite the addition of two big Brazilians, Jocques Crawford was a non-factor and Seantarrius Jones wiped out of the game by Rogers. If there was ever a time to burn game tape, now would be it.

I doubted the Sea Devils as a title contender last week because of their offense. Consider me converted.

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.