Finland: Wasa Royals snap losing streak with dramatic defensive win over Seinäjoki Crocodiles in Bothnia Cup

The Wasa Royals picked the perfect time to earn their first Maple League win of the year, beating their bitter regional rivals, the Seinäjoki Crocodiles, 15-13 in the Bothnia Cup.

The two teams are located an hour apart just off the coast of the Gulf of Bothnia, hence the rivalry.

With the Crocodiles offense struggling following the season-ending injury to starting quarterback Zack Whitehead, the Wasa defense was able to put all kinds of pressure on backups Nate Robitaille and Arrtu Aalto en route to a tough defensive victory.

Royals quarterback Brandon Gwinner threw for only 54 yards on 9 of 16 passing but ran for 108 and a touchdown. Running back Nico Barrow added the other Royals touchdown while receiver Tommy Kaczocha caught four passes for 26 yards. Kaczocha had one of the Royals‘ two interceptions while Mäenpää added the other.

For the Crocodiles, backup Aalto, who only played the second half, completed eight of 18 passes for 108 yards and a touchdown but was picked off twice. Nate Robitaille, who started the game but returned to his wide receiver position in the second half, did not manage to complete a pass but rushed for 30 yards. Running back Christian Powell led his team with 79 yards rushing on 22 carries and also scored a touchdown.

With the focus of the Crocodiles offense on Powell, until new quarterback Zach Greenlee arrives from the Prague Black Panthers, the Wasa defense stepped up, keeping the league’s premier running back in check.

Gwinner opened the scoring after the Royals forced Seinäjoki to punt on the first drive. On a first and 10, he found a seam over right tackle and weaved his way through traffic before breaking free for a 62-yard touchdown run. Fortune was on their side as the Royals managed to score a two-point conversion on a botched extra-point attempt and took an 8-0 lead.

The Crocodiles, behind the running of Robitaille and Powell, marched down to the Wasa nine-yard line on the very next possession, but a Powell fumble handed the ball back to the Royals. The score remained the same through the rest of the first half with neither team able to find the end zone.

Both offenses struggled in the third quarter with neither able to gain an advantage until Barrow fumbled the ball on a fourth and 10 late in the quarter which the Crocodiles recovered on the Wasa 25 yard line. Two plays later, Powell broke outside on the right and rumbled downfield, leaping over a defender and scoring from 25 yards out to narrow the gap to 8-6.

The fourth quarter saw both defenses stiffen until Gwinner marched the Royals down to the Seinäjoki two-yard line only to come up short on a fourth and goal. With the Crocodiles trapped deep in their own zone, Alto was picked off at his own one-yard line and on the next play, Barrow barged across the goalline to give Wasa a 15-6 lead with three minutes to go in the game.

The Crocodiles offense continued to struggle as Aalto was picked off again by the Royals, this time by Kaczocha, but the Wasa offense was unable to take advantage and punted the ball back.

Seinäjoki finally kicked into gear with Aalto finding Benjamin Plu on a slant for a 39 yard gain down to the Wasa 14 yard line. Two plays later, Aalto connected with Robitaille for a 10-yard touchdown, and with just under a minute left, the Crocodiles only trailed 15-13.

That was a close as they would come though, as Gwinner simply took two knees and the Royals had their first win since August 14, 2020.

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