Leipzig Kings edge Berlin Thunder in defensive battle

In a must-win battle between Northern Conference basement dwellers, the Leipzig Kings emerged with a 19-15 victory in a defensive contest marred by bad quarterbacking and sloppy play.

The Berlin Thunder committed seven penalties for 106 yards, sometimes at crucial moments, and failed to crack a star-studded Kings‘ defense. While Leipzig didn’t fare much better with the ball in their hands, the visitors managed to turn timely turnovers into points.

The Thunder teased a potential shootout by going deep on the very first play from scrimmage, as Joe Germinerio went deep and found receiver Robin Wilzcek for 37-yards down the right sideline. In the end, it would prove to be one of very few offensive outbursts in the contest, as recently signed Kings‘ defensive tackle Vincent Buffet notched a tackle for loss on the next play and Berlin settled for a 42-yard Jonas Schenderlein field goal.

Leipzig looked ready to answer back after a 32-yard pass from Jordan Barlow to Anthony Dable-Wolf flipped the field, but a fourth-down gamble in the red zone was snuffed out by Swedish linebacker Ludvig Myren. Unperturbed, the Kings soon had the ball right back thanks to a savvy interception from another Swede, safety William James, and Florian Finke knotted the game with a 41-yard field goal.

The second quarter opened with an Aslan Zetterberg strip sack but soon followed a familiar formula after an unsuccessful Kings‘ drive. Germinerio heaved it deep for a 33-yard gain to Albert Wiegsigstrauch and after the offence stalled, Schenderlein trotted out to hit a 55-yarder. Barlow’s next attempt to respond for Leipzig was tipped at the line and intercepted by Robbie Kendall, setting up another successful kick for Schenderlein, this time from 56 yards out.

Photo: © Quelle: Ostseephoto

Down 9-3, a promising drive from the Kings was ended when Barlow tossed another interception to safety Paul Seifert, but the visiting defense continued to step up. William James stripped receiver Bryan Zerbe to end the half and cornerback Roedion Henrique decided to create his own offense early in the third quarter. With Jan-Phillip Bombek hanging off his back, Germinerio threw up a prayer and the Dutchman came underneath it, sidestepping one receiver and sending another sailing by with a quick stop, before racing 87 yards for the pick six.

Unfortunately for Leipzig, their one-point lead wouldn’t last long. Thunder running back Jocques Crawford found a seam for 35 yards on the next drive and once Tim Schulz powered the team the rest of the way to the goal line, Crawford lined up under center to finish with a QB sneak touchdown. Berlin went for two and couldn’t complete the pass, leaving the door open for the Kings to come back.

Leipzig turned to local backup Ferras El-Hendi to finish the game and the initial returns weren’t promising, as he capped his first series with an interception to Arne Gehrt. Things turned early in the fourth however, as El-Hendi found Timon Stuwe for a 24-yard gain to get the team in scoring position and Florian Finke nailed a 38-yard attempt after Seantavious Jones failed to haul in a difficult touchdown catch.

There was more to come from the Kings, as the defense force a quick three-and-out on the next drive. A low snap forced Berlin punter Kevin Hummel and Jan-Phillip Bombek tracked him down to force a fumble, which he recovered himself. El-Hendi hooked up with a wide-open Stuwe for a 33-yard score on the next play and though the two-point attempt was unsuccessful, Leipzig was suddenly in front by a score of 19-15.

Bad penalties derailed the Thunder’s ensuing drive and while a string of incompletions from El-Hendi soon gave them the ball back with decent field position, Crawford couldn’t break through the swarming Kings‘ defense and Jonas Schenderlein finally hit the limit of his range, coming up short on a 57-yard attempt. From their 20 yard line, Leipzig pounded the ball with Javier Carrasco and Oliver Bahr until time ran out on a final punt which the Thunder failed to field.

Thunder RB Jocques Crawford getting hauled down by Leipzig LB AJ Wentland Photo: @daviddermerpix

In the end, it was the defenses that led the way for both teams. Linebacker AJ Wentland led the way for Leipzig with a whopping 18 tackles, while defensive backs William James and Roedion Henrique proved to be the big playmakers. For the Thunder, Ludvig Myren set himself apart with eight tackles and three for loss, while Kyle Kitchens and Ben Baierl each had a trio of takedowns behind the line as well.

Joe Germinerio was 12-of-30 passing for 144 yards and two interceptions in a lackluster performance, only adding 13 yards on the ground. The Kings‘ quarterbacking was arguably less impressive, as Jordan Barlow was 6-of-12 for 94 yards and two interceptions before leaving the game and Ferras El-Hendi completed just 3-of-10 passes for 62 yards, a touchdown and a pick.

In the end, Jocques Crawford was by far the most impactful offensive performer for either team, carrying 25 times for 106 yards and a score.

With their first victory of the season, the Leipzig Kings have tied the Thunder for third in the Northern Conference and keep their hopes alive. However, the team must sort out their offensive issues as they are tied with the Stuttgart Surge for the second lowest scoring team in the league.

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.