High-flying Lowlanders terrify opposition in semi-final victory over Tychy Falcons

It seems the Bialystok Lowlanders are a fan of ironic costumes.

With a name like theirs, you might expect a playoff game plan designed to rumble along the ground, especially with the physical Glen Toonga ready in the backfield. Instead, the Lowlanders were high flying, launching an unrelenting aerial assault for the ages on their way to a 41-20 semi-final victory against a grounded Tychy Falcons squad.

In a Halloween game that was as terrifying as a horror movie for the Falcons, quarterback Brandon Gwinner was the one doing the haunting. The import pivot completed 14 of 24 passes for 308 yards and five highlight reel touchdowns, showing near perfect placement on the deep ball all day. Tychy running back Jan Szwej did give his opponents a fright with a career performance and 241 combined yards, but it wasn’t enough to keep his team alive in the Polish playoffs.

While the last meeting between these two teams required a fourth quarter comeback from the Lowlanders, Bialystok took control from the opening drive in this one. After some fancy scrambling by Gwinner got called back for holding, the Lowlanders went to the air on 3rd and 16 and showed a preview of what was to come. Tomasz Zubrycki ran off the safety and Gwinner found two-way import Tommy Kaczocha free down the sideline for an easy 56-yard touchdown.

Lowlanders WR Tomasz Zubrycki Photo: Marek Lewandowski

The teams traded three and outs before the Falcons showed some early promise. Quarterback Niklas Gorny heaved the ball to import receiver Rashad Still, who fought off Wojciech Pacewicz for the 46-yard gain. A roughing the passer call against Damian Wesolowski kept the drive alive and three plays later Jan Szwej made use of a great block by right tackle Michal Faber to scamper in from four yards out. Holder Tomasz Nowak couldn’t wrangle the high snap on the extra point and Tychy remained down by a point.

The Lowlanders responded quickly. An electric return from Piotr Pamulak took them across mid-field and Gwinner immediately found a diving Eryk Makowski in behind coverage to take the team 41-yards to the Falcons five-yard line. Jacek Sikora wrapped up Gwinner for a sack on the next play, but Tommy Kaczocha opened the the second frame by taking a jet sweep wide left and diving for the pylon to extend the lead.

Lowlanders DB Tommy Kaczocha #22 Photo: Marek Lewandowski

That was only the beginning of  a second quarter onslaught that would have looked appropriate in a slasher flick. Under pressure later in the quarter, Gorny threw it up for grabs and Mateusz Dzoban came down with the interception. Two powerful Glen Toonga runs took his team into the redzone and Tomasz Zubrycki finished the drive with a great back shoulder adjustment to haul in an eight yard touchdown catch. The Falcons mounted a drive in response and marched their way to the edge of scoring territory before a panicked Gorny overthrew Rashad Still and the ball fell into the lap of Wojciech Pacewicz for the easy interception. The Lowlanders made the German pay for his second mistake in as many drives, taking two big chunk plays to get into Tychy territory. Gwinner went deep again and a streaking Kaczocha got position on Axel Asulian, keeping his feet down for a 37-yard touchdown. Kaczocha’s third score of the game made it a commanding 28-6 lead at the half.

Tychy RB Jan Szwej Photo: Marek Lewandowski

In need of a big play to start the third quarter, Tychy dipped into their bag of tricks and found a treat. On third down, Gorny dumped the ball to Tomasz Nowak in the flat, who pitched it to Jan Szwej for 52 yards on the classic hook and ladder. Szwej leaked out of the backfield on the next play and Gorny passed him the ball directly this time, capping the drive with a nine-yard touchdown. Domik Niedziela hauled in the two point conversion and the Lowlanders lead was cut to 14.

Any Falcons momentum was short lived. Tomasz Zubrycki got a step on Axel Asulian and Gwinner made the 52-yard touchdown pass look easy with a perfectly placed ball that hit his receiver in stride. Gwinner couldn’t pin down the errant snap on the extra point, but his team had already extended their lead to 34-14.

Photo: Robert Bońkowski/Radio Bialystok

Jan Szwej would not let his team go down easy however. The running back exploited a massive hole on the first play of the ensuing drive, spun away from a diving Wojciech Pacewicz and raced 50 yards into the Lowlanders’ redzone. Unfortunately, that was simply a prelude to the scariest play of the game. After being rag-dolled for a sack on second down by Daniel Tarnawski, Gorny was again wrapped up by the hulking defensive end on 3rd down. With his left leg locked in a vice grip, the German was slammed down by two more defenders and immediately grabbed the limb in visible agony. The quarterback was gingerly helped to the sideline by teammates and Rashad Still came up short on a fourth down carry to give Bialystok back the ball.

Lowlanders RB Glen Toonga escaping a tackles Photo: Marek Lewandowski

Gwinner marched the field again and opened the fourth quarter with a third touchdown pass to Zubrycki, this time for 16 yards. With Gorny back under center, the Falcons continued to fight but the result was never in any doubt. A late 31-yard touchdown throw to Rashad Still served as only a jump scare and the Lowlanders cruised to a decisive playoff victory.

While Gwinner picked apart the Falcons defense, his top two targets gave spectacular performances as well. Tommy Kaczocha was superb on both sides of the ball and hauled in five catches for 139 yards, Tomasz Zubricki caught three for 71 and both had a hat trick of scores. British back Glen Toonga added 111 all-purpose yards and Gwinner scrambled for 43 on top of his passing exploits.

For the Falcons, Szwej led the way with his 241 yards and two touchdowns, 175 coming on the ground, while Rashad Still ranked a distant second with 93 yards through the air and a touchdown and 136 overall. Despite having to switch jerseys, Niklas Gorny remained steady completing 18 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns.

With plenty of big plays, the Lowlanders didn’t need to go door to door to bring home the goodies this Halloween. They’ll savor this semi-final victory but everyone knows that their next opponent won’t need a spooky holiday to be scary. The Wroclaw Panthers are the Polish boogeymen and Bialystok will need all its high-flying weaponry to stay in character when they line-up for the championship next week.

Photos: Slaweg Foto, Robert Bońkowski/Radio Bialystokand Marek Lewandowski.

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.