LIVESTREAM Spain: Valencia Firebats @ Badalona Dracs, Feb. 11, 17:45 CET (5:45 PM, 11:45 am ET)

By Kyle Pinnell

The Badalona Dracs have an opportunity to continue their perfect start to the 2023 season and further cement their spot atop the Eastern Division of the Liga Nacional de Fútbol Americano (LNFA) Serie A when the Valencia Firebats visit Badalona this Saturday.

Hoping to build off the momentum of last weekend’s 27-7 win against cross-town rivals L’Hospitalet Pioners, the Dracs return to Camp Municipal Badalona Sud for a 19:00 kickoff looking to get off to a quicker start than they did a week ago.

“I think it’s important for us to make a statement to the other teams,” receiver Iván Caballero said. “We have been putting in a lot of work this week and need it to translate to the game. The first two games our offense often was not clicking, but now it is more and more.”

Recently promoted from LNFA’s Serie B, the Firebats want to return to winning ways in Spain’s top division as they are 1-2 through three games in 2023 with their lone victory coming against the Zaragoza Hurricanes on January 22 (20-18). Currently in fourth place in the Eastern Division, Valencia’s two defeats have come by at least three touchdowns, falling 37-15 to the Pioners in week one and 41-20 to the Mallorca Voltors last weekend.

While this weekend’s visitors to Badalona haven’t got off to the hottest start, they still have plenty of talent, including quarterback Kenny Ramos, and defensive tackle Guellermo Calderon, both imports from Mexico. Ruben Ochoa Rodriguez, a returning offensive lineman, also adds strength to the trenches.

“The Firebats also have a lot of talent,” said Oscar Perez, the Dracs’ wide receivers coach. “I expect a tight game and we’ll have to play well. They can surprise us, so we have to be ready for the challenge.”

Even in defeat, Valencia has proven capable of putting points on the board. The Firebats have scored at least two touchdowns each game but will face a tough task in moving the ball against a Badalona team that has held its first two opponents to seven combined points.

On the other side of the ball, the Dracs hope to avoid a repeat of last weekend’s slow start against the Pioners. The Dracs fell behind 7-0 in L’Hospitalet and entered halftime tied at 7 before scoring 20 unanswered points to turn a nervy game into a comfortable victory.

“Against the Pioners it was kind of hard for us to get into the game,” Perez said. “At halftime the score was low. But if we come out this weekend even more prepared and with more character, we can score a lot of points quickly and get off to a faster start.”

The Dracs have spent much of this week working on red zone offense, an area coaches and players acknowledge they haven’t capitalized on as much as they should. They know ensuring their best drives end in seven points is pivotal should they want to reach the league championship come April.

“We need to put our effort into entering the game with a spark and the energy that we need,” Caballero said. “That is one of the things I’m working on more personally, giving good blocks and helping contribute to the pace we need from the start.”

While Badalona’s offense is still learning the playbook and working out the kinks, the defense is quickly rounding into form. The Dracs’ game plan begins by wreaking havoc on defense, especially with their defensive line, which led to five turnovers last weekend. With players such as Kevin Doyle Jr. and Edu Molina on the other side of the ball, the offense will come.

With all their imports now in Spain and several practices under their belts, the Dracs are finally close to full strength and want to get their system humming against the Firebats this weekend. Valencia, meanwhile, wants to get its season back on track before its BYE week and a home date against the Hurricanes on Feb. 26.

Valencia Firebats @ Badalona Dracs, Feb. 11, 17:45 CET (5:45 PM, 11:45 am ET)

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