The IFAF Champions League final pits the hometown SBB Vukovi Belgrade from Serbia and Sweden’s Carlstad Crusaders, two powerhouse teams with big, highly mobile quarterbacks backed up by great running backs and stingy defenses.
Carlstad’s head coach and defensive coordinator, Malik Jackson had his team ready when they played France’s Thonon Black Panthers in the semifinals. The defense shut down the vaunted run offense of the Black Panthers.
Linebacker Olof Flemström was a key to the Crusaders defense, constantly rattling Thonon quarterback Billy Greene and stuffing French national team running back Stephen Yepmo, who often could not make it out of the backfield. Vukovi’s Myles Gates is far more mobile than Greene though and playing within a spread type offense can make things tougher for Carlstad.
Nevertheless, Carlstad’s secondary, led by safety Jack Moro, is difficult to throw against as he reads plays very quickly and can adjust.
The key to to Carlstad’s offense is Anders Hermodsson, a 6’5″, 250 lb quarterback who throws well but will still take off with the ball. He has deceptive speed and adjusts quickly especially when he gets to the next level. His size and power can be punishing for linebackers and defensive backs. In the backfield, running back Brett Koepp complements Hermodsson with his power. He reads his blocks and can change direction instantly. The offensive line is seasoned and the receiving corps with Jakob Dahre and Harry Routledge creates all kinds of matchup problems for secondaries.
Carlstad is very consistent in everything they do, almost relentless. The addition of Team USA gold medal winning coach Dan Hawkins as the offensive coordinator brings even more energy and football knowledge to an already high quality squad.
Vukovi head coach Brian Mayper looks to his quarterback Myles Gates to run the offense. However, he can switch in Tony Washington if needed in certain situations. Gates can be spectacular at times and can dazzle with his mobility, reads and arm. He can however, make mental errors at times and has to be careful in taking care of the ball. Turnovers can be costly against a team like the Crusaders. Nevertheless, Gates can drive defenses crazy finding receivers while on the run, forcing linebackers and defensive backs to step up, leaving their coverages allowing him to throw in behind.
Running back Mihailo Josović was outstanding against the London Blitz and can explode off of either foot which makes life tough for linebackers. There was a reason he was named game MVP for Belgrade. He scored two touchdowns against London and complements his running quarterback very well.
Receiver Tony Washington can at times be the key to Vukovi’s offense. The versatile 6’1″ 210 pound veteran is extremely tough and can step in as quarterback at times. Against the Blitz he scored a brillian 60 yard touchdown after eluding two defenders who had him in their grasp and then outrunning everyone to the end zone. He will be crucial to the Vukovi offense in this game. He scored 22 touchdowns in the Serbian league this year and is always dangerous.
Anders Hermodsson has to keep his eyes on defensive back Dextrell Simmons who reads plays extremely well while outside linebacker Marko Milovanovic makes Belgrade difficult to run against. Alongside him, linebacker Danijel Maksimovic is the top tackler on the team while strong safety Ivan Nedeljkovic leads the team in interceptions.
Carlstad head coach Malik Jackson and Vukovi quarterback Myles Gates have a unique history. Coach Jackson was defensive coordinator at the City College of San Francisco when Gates played wide receiver and his twin brother Michael played defensive back for Jackson.
The sweltering heat of Belgrade with temperatures which have reached the mid 30s (mid 90s) is expected to taper off for Sunday’s game and temperatures in the mid to high 20s are forecast with some cloud. Nevertheless, the turf field has a tendency to retain the heat and will still be searing at game time.
The crowd could be a major factor today with stands expected to be packed with Vukovi supporters. Carlstad will be playing in a decidedly hostile environment and will definitely have to stay focused.
Watch the game live here: Kick off 4:30 PM Belgrade time (10:30 AM EDT)