Finland: Porvoo Butchers defeat United Newland Crusaders to earn 2nd straight come-from-behind win

In a history making thriller, the Porvoo Butchers defeated the United Newland Crusaders in overtime 34-27 to move to 2-0 in Finland’s Maple League.

Before a festive home crowd in at Harju Kentta in Lohja, the Crusaders played their first ever Maple League game after winning the Division 1 crown last season and being promoted to the premier Finnish league.

The Crusaders responded to the occasion, shutting down the Butchers offense on their opening drive and then marching down the field in a 95-yard, 15 play scoring drive for the team’s first ever Maple League touchdown. Running back Kam Harris scored from the 2-yard line to seal the historic drive. The 2-point conversion attempt by Michael Hall was unsuccessful as the Butchers defense answered to keep the score at 6-0.

While many of the Crusaders were new to the Maple League, they were not without veteran leadership guiding the way. Quarterback Robert Johnson, who has led multiple teams to Maple League championships, including the Butchers in 2010, used his pinpoint passing and leadership skills to guide the offense.  Former Finnish National team head coach Tuomas Heikkenen took over as head coach this season and had the Crusaders ready to play at the top level.

The Butchers though, were not ready to succumb to the Crusaders. The offense showed its explosive potential in a three-play drive capped by an incredible 50-yard catch and run by running back Sean McAllen from Jabari Harris. McAllen broke tackles and made moves taking a swing pass to the end zone. Mikko Seppanen capped the drive with the extra point kick to make the score 7-6.

The Crusaders moved the ball again against the Butchers and were threatening to score again when Johnson’s pass was tipped away by corner Toni Nystrom and safety Niko Roiko caught the deflection for an interception at the Butchers 13-yard line. Both teams traded short drives until Porvoo broke through on an Alvin Reels Jr. interception of a Johnson pass which he returned 68 yards for a touchdown. The extra point by Seppanen was unsuccessful making the score 13-6 Butchers.

On the ensuing kickoff, Porvoo tried an onside kick, Seppanen recovered his own kick but in a controversial ruling officials said that he touched it before it went 10 yards. Johnson took advantage of the short field again driving the Crusaders down the field, using the air raid offense he learned playing under Mike Leach at Texas Tech, to score and bring the Crusaders even at 13-13 after another Harris 10-yard run and a successful Hall PAT.

United Newland scored again as Harris got his first half hat-trick with his third TD run of 4 yards. Halls kick was good to make the score 20-13 at halftime. In the third quarter, the Crusaders continued to control the ball through the ground game and short passes until Kam Harris scored his fourth TD of the game on a 1-yard burst. Hall’s kick was good extending United Newland’s lead to 27-13 with 1:21 left in the third quarter. Things were looking bleak for the Butchers in the oppressive 34-degree C heat. Sean McAllen and the special teams breathed life into the men in black with an 80-yard kickoff return for a touchdown making the score 27-20 after the Seppanen kick.

In the fourth quarter, the Butchers‘ offense finally came to life as RJ Long capped an 8 play 66-yard drive with a 26-yard run on a reverse to even the score at 27-27 after another Seppanen kick. Both teams traded interceptions and had opportunities to finish the game in the last minute of regulation, but the defenses stopped each attempt sending the game into overtime.

In overtime, the Butchers got the ball first and the offense continued to grow and develop. After an offsides by the Crusaders, Harris rushed for 10 yards and McAllen completed his own hat trick on the next play with a ten-yard touchdown run up the middle of the Crusaders defense. Seppanen added to the Butchers lead with the PAT.

With the game on the line the Porvoo defense stepped up and put pressure on Johnson and the Crusaders. Defensive tackle Jesse Vuoksenturja sacked Johnson twice on the final drive including one for 9 yards on 4th and 6 from the Butchers 21-yard line to seal the deal for Porvoo and spoil the coming out party in Lohja. Despite the 34-27 loss, Lohja had many things to celebrate. They controlled the ball all game and held a time of possession advantage of 42:32 to 17:28 (minutes) over the Butchers. Johnson threw for 277 yards on 23-40 passing. Kam Harris had 131 yards rushing in 28 carries to go along with his 4 TDs.

For the Butchers, it was a total team effort as the defense, offense and special teams all scored and the team won the turnover battle 3-1. Jabari Harris threw for 161 yards on 10-22 passing and McAllen had a touchdown running, receiving, and on a special teams return.

Photos: Jari Turunen

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