The Swedish semifinals are this weekend and promise two outstanding games. The undefeated Tyresö Royal Crowns (10-0) will host the fourth place Örebro Black Knights (7-3) while Uppsala 86ers (7-3) who finished in third will head to Karlstad to face the second place Carlstad Crusaders (9-1).
Tyresö Royal Crowns (10-0) v. Örebro Black Knights (7-3)
The undefeated Royal Crowns will enter the game against Örebro feeling confident having beaten the Black Knights late in the season, coming back from a 13-6 halftime deficit to win 23-13. Head coach Andreas Ehrenreich has his charges peaking at the right time having beaten heavy favorites, the Carlstad Crusaders a couple of weeks ago.
“We know that they run the ball, and do it well so we will be preparing for that. They have a great defensive line too so our offensive line has to give our quarterback more time. This will be a battle without question.”
Tyresö may enter the game without outstanding strong safety Andrew Preston. Preston hurt his knee two games ago and according to Ehrenreich he is questionable for this game.
Quarterback Colby Kirkegaard was the most efficient passer in the league this year with a rating of 172.4 while throwing for 1,780 yards and 25 touchdowns.
Kirkegaard’s receiving corps is led by national team receiver Fredrik Issaksson and Par Lindelof and the Royal Crowns will be doing their best to get them isolated in man coverage situations.
Running backs Josef Saker and Emil Knutsson have been solid all year and complement each other well.
Linebackers Pontus and Markus Westman as well as Erik Auge lead Sweden’s best defense which also features defensive lineman Okko Outinen and hard-hitting corner Philip Minja. Since returning to Tyresö earlier this month defensive lineman Efe Evweraye has been a difference maker and forces quarterbacks into hurry up situations.
Örebro head coach Randy Beverly also has his charges playing their best football of the year:
“We had a great week of practice with no distractions. We are going into this one confident although having played them not so long ago we realize how tough they are. They are a very physical team and we have to make sure we protect our quarterback.”
Although quarterback Grant Welp is not leading in any categories this season he has been superb in doing what he has been asked to do in a run-first offense. He manages the game well and keeps the offense on the field. The Black Knights have three superb running backs in Veikka Lehtonen, Anton Kallvik and Cesar Hebel who was the team’s leading rusher in the last game versus the Royal Crowns.
Örebro has one of the best defenses in Sweden as well and they are tops against the pass holding opposing offenses to an average of just under 160 yards passing a game. Cornerback Alexander Sundstrom has developed into a true ballhawk and is among the league leaders in interceptions.
The Black Knights linebacking corps may be among the best in the league with Mike Kafagas along with Eric and Josh Murphy. Their formidable defensive line led by Milos Lisanin (aka Lisko Malina) and Aleksi Nystrom puts plenty of pressure on quarterbacks and as a result Örebro seldom resorts to the blitz.
Swedish Semi-finals Kickoff: Saturday August 29, 5 PM (11 AM EDT)
Pay per View: 69 Swedish Kronor ($8)
Carlstad Crusaders v. Uppsala 86ers
This is a matchup that has many football pundits in Sweden drooling. These two teams played each other twice during the regular season and the Crusaders came out on top both times but only by a touchdown in the first game (14-7) and five points in the second (39-34).
Crusaders head coach Malik Jackson:
“We had trouble in both games against the 86ers this year and expect another tough one this weekend. Our defense had to make a goal line stand without almost no time left on the clock to win the second game, so we are expecting much the same. Beating the same team three times in a year is not very easy to do.”
Although they lost to Tyresö earlier this month, their first loss to a Swedish team in two years, the Crusaders are playing excellent football. And new offensive coordinator Dan Hawkins’ impact on the team is starting to become apparent. In fact, this is the first time all year that Calrstad has had the same offensive coordinator in place for five straight games.
The offense is beginning to gel and quarterback Anders Hermodsson is growing more comfortable under Hawkins’ direction. Although he is not the top passer in Sweden this season, Hermodsson is among the top three in overall offense accounting for almost 270 yards per game.
Running back Brett Koepp is a force in the backfield and at 250 lb he is not easy to bring down especially once he gets to the second level. Receiver Harry Routledge had 156 yards receiving against the 86ers the last time they met and reads defenses extremely well.
The Crusaders lost two veterans on defense in safety Jack Moro and Christian Kuylenstjerna but they have been ably replaced as Team USA defensive back Cliff Stokes has joined the team while running back Christian Montclair has been pressed into service at linebacker and performed exceptionally well. Add to this the fact that Olov Flemstrom can rotate between defensive line and linebacker without problem. In his debut with the team, Stokes took back an interception 102 yards for a touchdown.
The Uppsala 86ers enter the game with a quiet confidence having almost beaten Carlstad twice this year. Head coach Mike Mitchell, in his first season with the club, has his team running on all cylinders:
“We know how well we can play against them but they are solid at every position and so we have to rely on team pursuit on defense and smart football all around to beat them. Turnovers and special teams can be the key to this one. The team with the fewest turnovers will have the advantage.”
Uppsala quarterback Jeff Welsh is no stranger to playoff football having led the Dresden Monarchs to the German playoffs and the Kiel Baltic Hurricanes to the German championship (2010) while also taking France’s La Courneuve Flash all the way to the Eurobowl final. And his backup is Jared Stegman, quarterback for Australia’s national team – Team Outback. Not a bad combination.
Running back Jonathan Wikstrom led the entire league in rushing this season with almost 900 yards rushing.
Uppsala’s stingy defense which gives up no more than 15 points a game, features linebacker Cameron Grad who is in the top 10 in tackles, sacks and tackles for loss.