Kuopio Steelers shut out Helsinki Roosters to claim second straight Maple Bowl title

It was supposed to be a meeting of Finland’s top two offenses on Saturday, but when the 42nd annual Maple Bowl kicked off Sunday, there was little of that to be seen. Instead, the old adage about defense winning championships was drug out of the basement, unboxed, dusted off, and put on full display as the defending champion Kuopio Steelers shut out the Helsinki Roosters 14-0 to retain their crown.

After a year in which both teams hovered on either side of a 40-point, 400-yard average per game, neither side produced more than 300 yards in the biggest game of the year. The Steelers’ defense forced five turnovers, three in scoring position, to slam the door on Helsinki┬áreclaiming the title they surrendered last year.

“Our defense played strong, but so did the opponent. This game showed the importance of the defensive lines. Both teams clearly have the two best defensive lines in this league. They made it hard to throw and run all the time. Karppisen Kallella had a good plan and so did our coach,” Steelers head coach Pekka Utriainen said after the final whistle blew.

Kuopio Steelers LB/QB Maurice Wright Jr. scoring a TD Photo: Jari Turunen

A defensive game required a defensive MVP and game honors went to Kuopio linebacker Maurice Wright Jr., who was also named the Maple League’s Player of the Year. In the type of performance he has become known for, Wright led his team with 7.5 tackles, scored the winning touchdown as a ball carrier, and set up the other one with a pivotal forced fumble and recovery.

“Kuopio’s defense was just so tight that our throws did not get into a rhythm at any point,” Roosters head coach Juha Hakala admitted post-game. “Our runners made some big slices, but when we got the offense rolling, we fumbled the ball.”

Both offenses started slow, but the Roosters were actually the first to find their rhythm late in the first quarter. Big plays from Mickey Kyei, Rashad Still, and Lorenzo Melchiorre moved them down to the goal line, but that’s where Helsinki’s luck ran out. With five shots from the one thanks to penalties, quarterback Miro Kadmiry couldn’t get the ball near his targets and Kalle Seppanen stopped him short of the endzone on a fourth down draw to force a turnover. The Roosters would sniff the endzone again but never taste it.

Steelers RB Le’Anthony Reasnover rushed a Maple Bowl record 32 times for 125 yards Photo: Jari Turunen

In a stroke of dumb luck, Kuopio quickly swung the field. Joey Bradley’s first pass of the drive deflected off the hands of linebacker Santtu Ayravainen and what should have been a sure pick-six fluttered to a wide-open Isaak Marshall, who raced for a 55-yard gain. A 15-yard Le’Anthony Reasnover scamper took the game into the second quarter and Maurice Wright Jr. powered in the wildcat draw from the goal line less than a minute into the frame.

Sacks from Ikeem Allen and Semmie Radji ensured that the Roosters couldn’t respond on either of their next two drives, but the Steelers fared little better. Bradley and Reasnover combined to lead a 10-play, 59-yard drive to end the half but the result was a 24-yard missed field goal from kicker Markus Ojainvaili to keep it a one-score game.

The defensive deadlock continued into the second half until Helsinki got the ball moving once again. Kadmiry found running back Andrecus Lindley out in space with swings and screens three times for big gains on the drive to get into plus territory, but Maurice Wright Jr. was there to bail his team out. As Mike Gentili battled for more yards on a carry, the linebacker came off his block and ripped the football out of the Italian stallion’s hands, returning it 32 yards the other way. Three plays later, Hannes Harju beat corner Akseli Olin on a double move and was in the clear for an easy 19-yard touchdown catch, making it 14-0.

The Roosters weren’t ready to pack it in quite yet however and with little more than six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, an outstanding 32-yard leaping grab from Rashad Stills put his team inside the Steelers‘ ten-yard line with plenty of time for a comeback. Kadmiry found Kyei in the endzone on the very next play, but the play was called back for an ineligible man downfield. He looked to Kyei on the corner route for a repeat, but underthrew the encore and was picked off by Kenny Floret.

Roosters QB Miro Kadmiry threw for 168 yards Photo: Jari Turunen

Kuopio almost scored again on their final drive, but Jeff Alexandre was called for offensive pass interference. A strong return on the ensuing punt would matter little with 42 seconds left and Lars Steffen picked off Kadmiry’s final shot at the endzone to preserve the 14-0 shutout and deliver the Steelers their second straight title.

Despite a lack of offensive output, Le’Anthony Reasnover carried the ball 32 times, a Maple Bowl record, for 125 yards. Quarterback Joey Bradley set a much less auspicious record, completing the fewest passes in the game’s history by going 7-of-16 for 137 yards and a touchdown. Isaak Marshall’s 55-yard catch gave him the receiving lead for the Steelers, while Hannes Harju caught two balls for 43 yards and a score.

Defensively, Wright’s outstanding performance was aided by a number of other standouts. Dutchman Semmie Radji had 5.5 tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble, Ikeem Allen had 2.5, a sack, and the recovery. Floret and Steffen added the late interceptions, but Adel Bafdile was the top cover-man with 4.5 tackles and two pass breakups.

For the Roosters, homegrown quarterback Miro Kadmiry was 16-0f-31 for 168 yards and two interceptions, while Rashad Stills had seven catches for 80 yards. Roni Salonen had seven tackles, Okko Outinen had 6.5 and Ben Ylipaa had six, but a strong Helsinki defense failed to record either a sack or takeaway on the afternoon.

Just a year removed from the first Maple Bowl win in club history, a Steelers repeat against a full-strength Roosters team means that the balance of power in Finland has indeed shifted. Helsinki hoisted the trophy eight straight times before the pandemic struck, but Kuopio has now claimed it twice since and it will be awfully hard to knock them off their pedestal when you can’t even touch their endzone.

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.