In the final game in Sweden before the traditional Swedish July break, the Orebro Black Knights, finalists of the past two Swedish championships, will host the Kristianstad Predators featuring Sweden’s top quarterback, Philip Juhlin.
These are two teams who seem to be on a rising curve after a couple of hiccups. The Black Knights last outing against the Carlstad Crusaders, Sweden’s #1 team, saw them give up two big-play touchdowns in the first half but hold the highest scoring team in the league to seven points in the second losing 28-7. Coach Randy Beverly’s squad is gradually buying into his defense-first attitude (he was a defensive back for the powerhouse UCLA Bruins teams of the late 1980s that had some of the finest defensive squads in college football), and have only allowed 100 points in five games good for third in Sweden.
On defense, the Black Knights rely on the Murphy twins – Eric and Josh – and they both have responded creating havoc for opposition offenses. Add teammate Mike Kafagas, who leads the league in tackles, and Orebro has the top linebacking corp in the country. The defensive line is anchored by defensive ends Lisko Malina and Aleksi Nystrom, and is improving with every game. Nevertheless, they and the Black Knights secondary with Johan Stal as their leader and starting corner will have their hands full trying to keep Philip Juhlin and the Predators receivers in check.
Offensively, Orebro quarterback Grant Welp is beginning to find his own and get comfortable. Against the Crusaders he took to calling his own number more consistently. The running game is pure power with tailback Anton Kallvik playing like vintage John Riggins.
Kristianstad opened the season strong but dropped a surprising 69-56 loss to the STU Northside Bulls making every game now critical for their playoff hopes. Head coach Jon Walker is in his fourth year developing the Predators and every year has seen the team take huge strides forward. The offense, with Juhlin at the helm, is exciting to watch. Juhlin has been called a gunslinger and for very good reason. He calls a good portion of the plays himself and is very comfortable stepping out of the pocket, forcing defensive backs to forget their assignments. His roll-out, pinpoint passes can cause havoc in defensive secondaries. He looks to throw to league leading Marcus Johnsson, who is averaging almost 130 yards in receptions per game, which frees up space for the rest of the receiving corps which includes versatile John Stal. Running back Timmy Goransson keeps defenses honest complementing Juhlin’s mobility.
Defensive lineman Charles Ryan anchors Orebro’s four man front both on the field and off. He acts almost like an extension of the coaches for his teammates. At middle linebacker 19 year old Alaudin Azemi is playing like a veteran and in the words of his coach “he is a beast”. Black Knights signal-caller Grant Welp will have to keep his head on a swivel as Azemi likes to move around, blitzing from all angles. Marcus Persson is having an outstanding year at corner and the 21 year old has already recorded a league leading six interceptions.
The game has all the makings of a playoff match up as there is so much at stake for both teams. They will both be battling for the final playoff spot and clinching it could well hinge on this contest.
Watch the game live. Kickoff 4 PM (10 AM EDT)
This game will have a special visitor as Sports Illustrated’s Jenny Vrentas is wrapping up her European tour by visiting Behrn Arena in Orebro for this game. Look for her reports on her week long coverage of American Football in Europe starting on July 6.