Humdrum Week 9 thickens plot in ELF playoff race

Not every week of football can keep you on the edge of your seat and Week 9 in the European League of Football was a perfect example.

With the ELF playoff race about to heat up, a few teams seemed to take this weekend off and there wasn’t much in the way of excitement to be had. Consider it a necessary piece of narrative development, as the plot thickens over who will claim the #2 seeds in both divisions.

Here are my thoughts on the games.

Game 1 – Hamburg Sea Devils 28 – Berlin Thunder 20

Sea Devils DL Rotärmel tackling Thunder QB Stitt. Photo: Moritz Eden/City-Press GmbH

The Hamburg Sea Devils bounced back from their first loss of the season by clinching a playoff spot on Saturday, but the team that was once the toast of the ELF came dangerously close to giving away a victory.

Hamburg was much more efficient offensively in this one, in large part thanks to a strong outing from Xavier Johnson at running back and three touchdowns from tight end Adria Botella Moreno, who continues to be one of the ELF’s most underrated players. They didn’t even have to settle for field goals! It was hard to call it dominance, but the team had mustered a 28-0 lead late in the third quarter and looked in complete control. But then Berlin came storming back.

Taking advantage of a handful of Sea Devil mistakes, the Thunder scored three touchdowns courtesy of their biggest stars. Joc Crawford made some big plays as both a runner and receiver, while Seantarrius Jones made several incredible catches with coverage all over him and scored two touchdowns. They ran out of steam midway through the fourth quarter, but it was a valiant effort.

Berlin has struggled with depth of talent — as their league-worst 1-6 record clearly shows — but they have two bona fide gamebreakers who can create momentum out of thin air. Ultimately it hasn’t been a recipe for success for them, but it did do a pretty good job of further highlighting Hamburg’s weaknesses.

As their standout defense continues to get battered by injury thanks to the grind of a long season, there are opportunities for big plays that weren’t there early in the year. When opponents deliver on those chances, Hamburg hasn’t demonstrated the ability to counter on offense and they struggled as the game went on Saturday. Berlin wasn’t able to pull the upset, but the next team might.

Game 2 – Frankfurt Galaxy 36 – Wroclaw Panthers 7 

Frankfurt Galaxy offense lining up against the Panthers defense. Photo: Łukasz Skwiot

The last time Frankfurt and Wroclaw played, the result was the same but their meeting on Sunday couldn’t have felt more different.

Frankfurt’s victory earlier in the year came on a wet afternoon in which Wroclaw looked distinctly like the better team but fell victim to bad turnovers at inopportune times. Those bad turnovers were there again this week, but they weren’t outliers in a strong performance. For the first time all year, the Panthers looked slow, out of sync, and completely outmatched.

Wroclaw was coming off two straight tight losses, games against top opponents where just one or two mistakes cost them, and you expected them to have righted the ship after the bye. Instead, the normally efficient Lukas O’Connor looked lost and confused, tossing four interceptions, including two bad pick sixes to Joshua Poznanski. Their deep receiving corps looked average, Phileas Pasqualini barely made an impact on the ground and the offensive line had a subpar outing. Offensively, it’s time to start ringing alarm bells in Poland.

By contrast, Frankfurt has firmly established itself as the ELF’s best team and is in the conversation for the best in Europe right now. Wroclaw wasn’t terrible defensively, but Jakeb Sullivan proved incredibly difficult to contain and made great plays in and out of the pocket. Defensively, they continue to astound on the back end and have one of the best linebacking corps in the ELF. Sebastien Gauthier is everywhere on the field and logged a spectacular interception on Sunday, adding to a resume that I believe should be considered for Defensive Player of the Year.

The Galaxy continue to build and are peaking at the right time, all while the rest of the ELF elite are stumbling and the Panthers are playing themselves out of a playoff spot.

Game 3 – Barcelona Dragons 30 – Stuttgart Surge 12

Barcelona Dragons WR Jean Constant #5

Coming off a thrilling shootout victory at home last week, it was evident early on Sunday that the Barcelona Dragons were going to have to battle a bit of a hangover. The offense started slow, with dropped passed and an early interception, and you had to wonder if maybe, just maybe, the Dragons‘ magical resurgence would falter. Jean Constant quickly put those fears to bed.

The import receiver continued to be an unstoppable dynamo against Stuttgart, posting three more receiving touchdowns while still dazzling as a returner. The Barcelona offense built as the game went on and the Surge didn’t have an answer. The Spaniards outmatched them at every turn and the game wasn’t nearly this close.

Part of the reason why is because the Dragons seem to have found their defensive mojo. They know they will never out physical another team or pitch a shutout, but they can win by forcing turnovers. It doesn’t matter if a team can drive down the field if Lucas Masero can intercept them in the endzone every time. Brandon Brooks had a big interception of his own and Cesare Brugnani made one hell of a hustle play to force a fumble on what should have been a David Meza touchdown, helping them win the turnover battle. That is a weekly occurrence now and exactly how to win in modern football.

While Barcelona is thriving, Stuttgart has firmly replaced them in the ELF basement. Their defense is lacking playmakers and the offense lacks juice. One can’t help but feel sorry for Aaron Ellis as he continues to deal with protection issues. No team in the league has scored fewer points or allowed as many as the Surge. While not eliminated from the playoff hunt yet, it seems only a formality.

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.